Words are not enough

Words are not enough

Well here I am in the first week of my six months long service leave. I’ve made quite a few grand promises (to myself and others) about the things I was planning to do whilst on leave, but when I booked the time off, I had no idea that I would actually be at home full-time, every single day.

My plan was to swim regularly at the pool, pick up some more exercise classes, and meet friends for coffee. Some of these have been put on hold or are happening virtually, but I’m not complaining. I feel lucky to have a comfortable home and a loving husband. So many people are under so much strain and I really feel for them.

Being stuck at home means that some of the other things I was planning to tackle are simply unavoidable. I’ve got no real excuse for not writing more, and I can’t really worm my way out of weeding the horribly overgrown garden. Nor can I avoid sorting through all the paperwork that’s accumulated in my office. There’s old teaching material, tax returns from the last 12 years and hundreds of old photos. It could realistically take me six months just to sort through all these accumulated memories.

I hate sorting through old photos. It makes me unbearably sad to see people (and pets) I’ve loved and lost. Even photos of my children make me feel teary. They look so sweet and innocent and I can’t bear the idea of them being hurt by anyone.

I’m often regarded as unsentimental by my family. Little do they know that this is often just a cover for being overwhelmed with emotion.

My mother (who would have been 91 today) was a master at not showing her emotions but those who knew her realised that this was just a way of covering up feelings that she couldn’t express or deal with very well. Things often went unsaid but we always knew that she cared about us. The fact that she loved us was evident in the food she made, the neatly made bed with a vase of freshly picked flowers, the little note that arrived in the mail just when you were feeling all alone. She would often arrive and do all your ironing, even though she hated ironing.

So in these trying times, perhaps we should use this time to let people know that we care about them. You don’t necessarily need to use words.

Simplify your life

cat ashtrayThere have been a lot of articles in the paper lately about how to simplify your life. These range from helpful suggestions for de-cluttering your home, to articles about being less connected to our digital devices. All of these resonate with me because I have reached that age where my elderly parents and in-laws are needing to move to smaller accommodation more suited to their needs.

This means that they need to divest themselves of all the memorabilia that they have collected through their lives and many of these items (some lovely, some less lovely) are making their way into our home. It’s quite a challenge because my husband and I are also going through a phase where we would also like to get rid of a lot of the things we no longer need, but they are being replaced by things that our parents no longer want or need. It feels like there is an endless stream of stuff that no-one really wants or needs that is insinuating itself into our lives. The problem is that it’s not just stuff of course. Every item has a story or a childhood memory attached to it, so whilst its easy for me to say ‘we don’t need that in our home’, it’s less easy for the person to whom the memory is meaningful.

I have read a few articles about how to deal with the problem of too much stuff, and the solution I like best is to take a photo of the item as a keepsake, and then divest yourself of the actual item. Another suggestion is to keep one representative item from a whole batch. For example, keep one teaspoon from a whole collection. Keep one linen tea-towel from a pile of a dozen. This can feel a bit less like you are being ruthless and uncaring.

I am only too aware that it is not the stuff that’s the problem. It’s the emotions that are attached to things that trip us up. We are human and need to recognise that our attachment to things is natural but we also need to recognise that there is only so much stuff that we need to remind us of who we are and where we have come from.