The Cottage Smallholder

stumbling self sufficiency in a small space


jackdaws nesting in our chimneyA few years ago Danny admitted that he had considered leaving me.

“The problem is that you are so untidy. You have too much stuff and too little space. At one point I just felt I couldn’t cope.” He stared at me with a slightly pop eyed look. Probably expecting an explosion.

I could only agree with him. Luckily he has very little in the way of possessions. Even the Min Pins have more toys. His arrival at the cottage had a big impact on my life and a small impression on the space. Until he tired of living out of a suitcase and suggested that his own wardrobe would be a better option.

I averted disaster by buying a small shed. Not as a chilly walk in wardrobe for Danny rather a place to move all my stuff that was compressed in the wardrobe. We spent a morning shifting the stuff from wardrobe to shed.
“When are you ever going to use a shooting stick? That outboard motor’s leaking oil. What about this roll of lino? We have carpets.”

“The lino is for lino cuts.” I often buy in bulk. It’s cheaper, if you actually use the stuff.
“OK, keep the lino. Why don’t we just chuck the rest?”


He has benefited from his magpie princess. Once I raised the money for a weekend away by selling some early 20th century fishing rods and reels that I was storing in the barn, just in case.
“Surely if you take up fishing, you’d want a super, lightweight rod and reel. This stuff is over a hundred years old. You wouldn’t cut a dash on the riverbank and they’d be difficult to use.”
Cheffins auction rooms obliged.

Before the terrible day when he hired the giant skip and cleared some of “the tat” from the barn, we usually had a selection of replacements if something got broken. Some of them were older than me and a few still worked with a little care and the gentle touch of an oily rag.

Things have got out of hand over the past few months at the cottage. Even I am finding it hard to locate ingredients in the larder and cope with the buffeting landslide when I open a “stash” cupboard door. Suddenly the idea of the practical use of space is appealing.

As D is away on business this week I decided to take a few days off and tackle the kitchen. Already I’ve found lost treasures. A Rose Elliot cook book, my phone charger and an unrecognisable object under the cooker which could have been an ancient potato or a large anaesthetised slug. It was guzzled so fast by Inca that I’m still not sure.

Already I’m fighting the seductive trill of the magpie daemon.
“Why not just shift some stuff into the attic before Danny gets back and think about it later? He’ll never know. You might need the weighing scales without weights one day. You could probably make your own weights if you put your mind to it.”

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  1. Oh how this post rings warning bells in my head! Four years ago I moved house to start a new job and as I already had a holiday booked I paid for the removal people to pack up my house for me in my absence. As I had 10 days after I returned and knew no-one I unpacked everything and was ruthless about getting rid. I found it very cathartic and it got easier each time I put an item in the “got to go” box. Living in a flat about a charity shop does make the disposal of stuff easier and can be done before I have second thoughts. Obviously the hoarding is an inherited trait which includes the ability to throw out other people’s stuff! I remember years ago having a clear out at home and realising that as quickly as my mum and I were removing stuff from the loft my dad was stashing it in the garden shed! No wonder the car wasn’t filling up very quickly.

  2. Chap I work with has a kind of intermediate approach; he can’t bear to chuck anything and so relegates redundant stuff to the store cupboard or garage for a respectful six months or so and THEN gets rid. I’m far more ruthless and if I acquire a new item of clothing, for example, I actively seek something to take to the charity shop. Makes my girlfriend Moby wince…

  3. I agree with Kj. Mess clutters my brain. A tidy, space without unnecessary stuff is my idea of bliss.

  4. Oprah did a show on this that I saw. The suggested approach was to move everything out of the room or shed etc eg. make a pile on the lawn. Then you have one minute to choose six things. You get to keep those and the rest goes. No adding, no second guessing, no nothing. It just goes. Maybe you could try something like that.

    Personally, I hate clutter. I find it a burden. I take great delight in chucking stuff out.

  5. Isn’t it lovely how all we fellow hoarders can offer support and encouragement to each other?! I sympathise, too with those people who live with hoarders – we’re not easy to be around if we’re in full “save that wrapping paper, we can use it again. Oh, and keep that tray from the roast – I’ll use it to raise seedlings in” mode!!

    I’m naturally very messy, and find it so difficult to put things away. I’ve still got a few “boxes of doom” around the place, mostly in my mum’s loft (I’m 25). I keep meaning to deal with them, but when I open them up I get swept up in a wave of nostalgia and can’t bear to part with the offending items. Sometimes it’s because it was a gift from someone that I never liked and have never used, but feel so guilty about that I can’t throw it out and commit myself to using it in future (which of course I don’t) and sometimes it’s because I have attached silly memories to whatever it is. I still have crayon scribbles drawn for me by some nameless child from my work experience at a Frankfurt Kindergarten 10 years ago!!

    The worst thing is when you realise that you’re a sad case, and you get that feeling of doom that you’ll never change, your house will never be an uncluttered haven of calm and you’ll always have a box of doom hiding somewhere in the house. It’s then that I get really ruthless and throw away all those things I’m keeping cos it would make me guilty not to – and I WEIGH what I’ve thrown, it’s remarkably satisfying that way!! I have also tried putting things into a “yet to decide” box – if I don’t know for sure that I can throw them away, I box them up (neatly) and label them with the date, and if I’m not filled with the joy of reunion when I look through that box next time, they go.

    It’s nearly spring and I’m finding myself in need of another chuck out. Who’s with me?!

  6. Hoarder here too… Hope to soon have a tidy up, but you just never know when you are going to need that thing you throw out!!! Have you checked freecycle out??? I have been looking at it the past few days, but feel it may only add to my hoard rather than take away from it.

  7. magic cochin

    I recognise myself too! I’m definitely a hoarder (and Cliff is too – but I probably have more stuff!)

    Your post struck a chord – this weekend Cliff was away so I tidied my studio and adjoining office (displacement activity instead of getting on with some new linocuts) now I can see my desk and the floor and can reach the other window and open the blind!!!! It’s sunny this morning and I’m sitting in a lovely bright space. Thank goodness I did because I’ve got a client collecting a commission on Thursday and she wants me to design and print some table name cards for a wedding while she waits!

    I’m going to keep this a tidy civilised space from now on 😉


  8. Oh how I recognise myself here! There are only the two of us and I never have enough space. I constantly ask myself how families manage. I cannot bear to throw anything away and always put stuff in the shed or up in the loft. My husband says that one day we will be lying in bed and the loft will come down on top of us! I buy books on how to be organised and enjoy reading them but of course they only add to all the other books!! I read somewhere that you should only keep things that are either useful or beautiful, so perhaps I’ll start to use this as a guide. I look upon things as part of my life, much better than a diary, remember when I bought this, used this, who gave this to me? etc etc ….well thats my excuse.

  9. stephen

    hey, ive been reading your blog for some months now but this is my first comment! i have to say im sideing with danny on this one! i live with my partner and his parents, all of them have a problem! not with throwing things away but buying useless junk and keepinhg broken things! using something and not putting it back and hording things ‘just incase’!! we usually have a skip every other month that is filled within a day or two! and i have had no choice but to keep ‘accidentally’ breaking things beyond any hope of repair… like the two fish tanks that i accidentally hit with a hammer several times! i really diddnt have a choice! it was either keep climbing over them or get rid of them! and the 4 bin bags of clothes with rips, buttons missing, faded or too small that i boiled washed and shrunk! (opps!!) we have 3 seperate lofts in the house all are full of bags and boxes of ‘stuff’ the garage is full the 3 roomed celler is full! they are all getting better but i do have to nag! i think the best thing to do for you would be to be brutal, start in the kitchen and work your way through the house room by room, sort into piles of: ‘couldnt live without’, ‘i dont know what it is’ and ‘i havent used in the last 6 months’. everything in the latter two of the piles throw or sell, then go through the first pile again, proberably best to do this with danny and be brutal, it wont be easy but it will be worth it! the money you make from selling of things you dont use can be saved incase of emergency. you will feel alot better when you have cleared out everything, things will be easier to find and you will feel ‘lighter’ if that makes any sense! 🙂 i really am not evil or anything for taking my own drastic action, the people concerned dont normally notice until they find space i made in a cupbord and fill it with more junk again! 🙂

  10. Usually when you write, I find it rather spooky and don’t leave comments because you’ve already said exactly what I wanted to say.

    However, I’m firmly with Danny on this one. You see, I married a squirrel and an untidy one. I have a bet with myself to see how long it takes him every day to start a sentence with, ‘Have you seen the..?’ Or, ‘Where is the ..?’ Worse – when he says, ‘I put it here and now it isn’t there any more.’ Implying that I’ve moved the thing!!!

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