29. Finishing the paper

Stella opened the door.

‘I think we can finish the first pass through the paper today’

‘So that’s the plan?’

Way back when we started, there was paper all over the house. Some of it was un-opened post, most of it was in tipping piles. The first step had been just to tidy the piles, square up the corners but to leave them where they were so that if Stella knew something to be in one pile or another she could still find it. 

The next step was to put the piles into individual boxes, leaving the boxes where the piles had been. Then, eventually we moved the boxes onto the landing. With all the unsorted paper in one place, it was easier to go through it bit by bit. We filed the paper to be kept in some small drawers. The next stage would be editing the contents of those drawers. Whenever there was some leftover time in a session, we’d do paper. The stack of boxes had been getting smaller and smaller.

Final two boxes of landing paper done!

‘I knew we’d finish the boxes, so I bought some cakes for our coffee break to celebrate.’

There was even time to carry on with the books, refining the piles and doing more alphabetizing. We went an extra half hour, Stella’s stamina is increasing.


30. Inherited belongings

Some time ago, Stella inherited some things from an aunt. This was one of those   complicated family situations that happen in families.

‘Most of this has been left to me, but I want to share it with the rest of the family.’

‘Okay, why don’t we first separate out what you want to keep?’ 

That was actually a fairly quick pass.  The next question was which things to go to who.

‘This requires the wisdom of Solomon.  People are going to compare what they received and I need to make an even division’

The situation is made more difficult because some of the family live abroad.  Stella had already contacted the shipping company and had instructions from them about what information they needed to set the prices.  We organised the different lots into piles which we would measure and photograph for the shipping company.  All the aunt’s things were in the dining room spread out on the table and the floor.

‘Let’s put the sorted piles in the sitting room so we can see what we are doing’

The sitting room had been clear for a while.  It was great to have a place where we could work. We started each pile on a large piece of packing paper with the recipient’s name on it. Some sensitive papers turned up which Stella needed to think about so we stopped for the day, returning the individual piles to the dining room with the labelled packing papers ready for the next session.


31. More books!

Stella is a great reader and many others in her family are readers.  There are lots of books to sort.  This time we were looking for inherited ones. We pulled some out of a cupboard in the spare room.   They became another pile in the dining room.  The rest joined the various categories around the house.
It is very quick to write this, but our three hour session was hard work walking up and down the stairs shifting piles of books from one place to another.  Each time we work on the books more and more duplicates are found, and then Stella has to decide which copy she wants to keep, which copy should go to another member of the family and which ones can go to a charity shop.


32. Here, there and everywhere

Stella met me at the door with,

‘My nephew who is getting some of the stuff is planning on visiting from the States.  I want to get the house to a point where I can offer him a bed.  I think it shouldn’t be too hard to do.  Then the next time he comes, he’ll know he can bring his whole family because I can put them up.’

That’s what we started, doing little bits here and little bits there.  The most important part was that Stella had regained enough confidence in her home to entertain house guests.

Our next meeting was more preparation for the nephew’s visit.  We consolidated the box room.  There was a box of stationary we had sorted before we re-packed and re-sorted.

‘I’ve got a place now to keep cards and I want to use up all these before buying anymore’ 

We re-packed the sewing/needlework cupboard so more could go into it.

‘It’s amazing how much more space you get just by packing things neatly.” said Stella.

In the kitchen, we packed away some things and put out a new tablecloth that looked very pretty with some decorative plates.   

‘I’m not very secure standing on steps.  Can we do the food cupboard? The one we didn’t do when we were last working on the kitchen. You can go up the steps for the top shelves.’

‘When we started, all you wanted was a livable home.  You didn’t say anything about house guests.

‘That isn’t enough any more.  I’m a bit more ambitious now.  I want to get to the bottom of things. Just going through things once isn’t enough is it?  I now really understand what you mean by ‘a first pass’.  In that first pass, things reduce themselves and looking at them in more detail suddenly seems possible.’

‘Because we’ve been preparing for the visit, we haven’t been doing paper.  Since our last visit I found a small collection of unprocessed paper.  I filled an orange recycle bag.  No big deal.  Never thought I would be saying that.’

 After lunch we did our newest default project: books. 


33. A whole year!

‘There is still a lot to do for my nephew’s visit.  I think we should work on different things.  There are still a few books to sort.  Why don’t you do that and I’ll do some work in the kitchen.  The sills need washing and I want to clean the platters.’ 

This was our year’s anniversary.  Over our coffee break we  discussed how much progress had been made. 

‘I really like being in the house now.  I remember when you first came you said how great it was that there is a nice house underneath all the stuff.  I know I liked the house when I first moved into it, but I had forgotten that. I’m really excited about showing the house to my nephew.’

‘Can you come next Saturday? Someone is coming to measure up the couches for new slipcovers and I would like you to be here.

We finished off bagging up a few more things for the charity shop.


34. Time for the video tapes to go....

The woman coming to measure living room suite for slip covers was expected at 11:00.  Stella had sent me an e-mail saying that she wanted to start bang on time.  Usually we have a bit of chat before setting to.

‘My nephew’s visit went well.  He and his family had just moved and were still dealing with boxes and disorder of their own.’ 

‘Your house is now well within what anyone could have while digesting boxes of stuff.’

‘I want to have another go at the bedroom again and I have something to show you.’

We went up to her bedroom and she opened the door of the en-suite bathroom which as far as I knew had been the only untouched room.  She had cleared it herself.’

‘I kept six of those little wine boxes we had been using for paper so I could divide the bathroom junk into manageable bits.  Like you’ve told me, it’s not so daunting, just doing one box at a time. I’ve even taken a bath in the bath tub instead of a shower in the guest bathroom.’

The biggest surprise was to come.  At the end of Stella’s bed were some of the boxes of videos we had made early on.  Stella had brought  a roll of black bags which she handed to me.   

‘I want the tapes bagged up so I can throw them away.’

My jaw dropped.  Only the other day Beverly had said to me, that at some point the diary would come to an end.  She asked me when I thought that would be.  I said when the old videos get thrown away.  I told Stella.  She laughed.

When I was ready to start taking the bags downstairs, I asked Stella if she wanted me to put them in the kitchen by the backdoor which is where we’ve put bags of rubbish in the past.  There is no where outside to keep the rubbish between the times.  

‘No, she said.  I like the way the kitchen looks now.  I don’t want a bunch of black bags cluttering it up.  It matters to me now the rooms that I’m living in.  I don’t mind that we’ve got a ‘box room’ because I’m not using that room on a daily basis. That’s why we are doing my bedroom.  There are those boxes of videos in the box room and I do want to get rid of them, but I really want to have my bedroom back again.’

Following Stella’s instructions, I put the black bags went in the spare room until rubbish day along with the out-dated computer that had been sitting in the middle of the bedroom floor.  Once all that stuff was out of the bedroom, Stella pulled out the hoover and started vacuuming the now exposed floor. 

We had a very nice lunch to celebrate the success of the year and came back just to tidy up.

‘I’ve gone back and done the various quizzes on the website and I can actually measure how much progress there has been.  As bad as it was, I was always clean and I always had clean clothes to wear.  That was something to hang onto.’

Stella had fresh flowers in vases in both the sitting room and the kitchen.  She had told me that once upon a time she used to have fresh flowers all the time.  It made me smile that she now had them again.


35. Stella's family is coming round....

E-mail from Stella saying that all the videos we had bagged up have been removed.

When I arrived, there were more fresh flowers in sitting room and in hallway.

‘I’m having my sister, brother-in-law, and nephew for dinner.  I’d like to use a real tablecloth instead of wipeable plastic one on the kitchen table.’

In her bedroom, table for TV had moved to bottom of bed.  There was a stool with artistic arrangement of throw and hat on it.

‘I want to move big plastic bins from my bedroom, some of which are empty and some have the remaining videos that I’m not quite ready to throw away, but will be, from the bedroom into the box room.’

In order to do this, we first had to empty the BIG boxes of videos we had previously put in the box room into bin bags.  We also collapsed a number of cardboard boxes which were now surplus to requirements.

‘I want space.  I don’t want all these things.’

While bagging up the videos a few were identified as having sentimental/memory value, so we set those aside.

When we’d moved the boxes from her bedroom,

‘I don’t need anything else done here today. I want to hoover up the area where the boxes  have been standing. I can do the next bits there myself along with the bathroom boxes which I haven’t started on yet.’

‘Having your family to dinner is much more important.’ I replied.

We did some work in the spare room and put some old linens in a bag for charity. 

‘When we first started working together, in spite of what you said, I tended to over-estimate what could be achieved and now I under-estimate.’


36. Maintaining

Stella e-mailed saying that rings and a christening gown needed to be found.  Then subsequent e-mail saying that the rings had been found.

‘But, I’m not worried, like I was when I lost the box of business papers.  I just said to myself that, I will wait for Chrystine.’

When I got to Stella’s, there were more fresh flowers and more entertaining of friends.  She’d had people around for dessert after a lunch.  One friend had even invited a work partner to meet at Stella’s.  As Stella put it:

‘This wasn’t just entertaining, this was messy entertaining.’

First place we looked for the family christening gown, it was there.  Stella had planned that the looking process would not just be looking it would be another pass where we’d clear more things.  She said:

‘I still want to make spare room useable for guests.  If we work on those boxes of photos, I think we’ll be able to do it.’

We sub-divided boxes of photos and letters onto two shelves in a cupboard.  This will be their permanent home and broke down more empty boxes.

‘My birthday was last week. My sister gave me new kitchen pans.  She was impressed that the old ones were thrown out immediately.’

‘I’ve almost found an odd job man to do some things around the house.  As a last thing today, can we shift the furniture around in the small bedroom so I can order the bookcases?’


Our last diary entry

Chrystine Bennett writes:

This is my last diary entry.  Our visits dropped from once every two weeks to once a month and then even more rarely.  Sometimes she rings me up when a ‘pile’ starts looking suspect.

From the very beginning, we always did what Stella wanted to do.  It is her house filled with her things.

Is her house ‘finished’? No, of course not.  No one’s house ever is.  Our lives change.  The things we like change.  Post keeps arriving.  Bills have to be paid.  That is the process.  

I don’t promise that staying decluttered won’t sometimes be boring, but it doesn’t have to be unpleasant or scary no matter how it looks when you first begin.