Over Christmas, I wrote a post about how we’ve scaled back our living expenses. About how I don’t really feel defined by the things I buy any more; at least, not in the way I used to.
But the other night, at a National Theatre performance by Daniel Kitson, the comedian was talking about all the personal stuff he surrounds himself with. He described his house as “the lunatic asylum of my life”, with walls plastered in objects and pictures from his past. He said that looking at all these things “felt like remembering who I’d been, and realising who I was.”
And I know what he means. All the photographs and images that we’ve chosen to hang on our walls; all the pieces of furniture, whether functional or decorative; even the most banal, unlikely of objects, somehow become a part of us, if they’re around us for long enough.
And these items – the wallpaper of our lives – can be pretty difficult to say goodbye to.
A couple of years ago, I tried to get rid of an old car seat that we’d used when Austin was a baby. It had been passed on to us by relatives, and was never involved in an accident, but I wanted to get a new one for Gwen. It took up loads of storage space; it had to go.
I decided to put it out on the street in case anyone wanted it. I placed it carefully on the front wall, took one long, last look….
And then picked it up, and bolted indoors, with tears in my eyes.
I couldn’t bear to give away the car seat that we’d used to take home our first born child.
I’m even worse with pictures. As well as making several back-up copies of each snap, I’ve also been printing out all the images we’ve taken since the children were born. There are hundreds and hundreds of the things, not even in albums (I don’t have the time to organise them at the moment), but in shoeboxes, under the eaves in the loft.
And all over our walls, of course. Alongside the pictures that D and I have bought over the years, which have followed us round from home to home, and settled with us here, in our little patch of South London.
The grizzly bear fishing for salmon, and the snow-bound forest, both bought by us respectively from the Natural History Museum Wildlife Photographer of the Year Exhibition, just before we got together. The print I bought at All Tomorrow’s Parties, the first music festival we went to as a couple. The paper-cut picture of children with their parents in a forest, which D bought from Paper Moon as my Christmas present this year.
And, the other day, the lovely Samantha Barnes sent us a picture of another grizzly bear, which will be hung in Austin’s room. Bears have a big significance for us (in fact it’s Austin’s nickname), so no doubt this picture will soon become part of our family wallpaper, just like all the rest.
So maybe, in my Christmas post, I didn’t get it quite right. Perhaps the object we choose to have in our homes and our lives, do define us as people. They’re the physical reminders of times past. Of hopes realised or discarded. Of ideas and dreams that may still one day come to pass.
This week, on Our Time of Gifts, I ordered some photos of the children, to be sent to my Grandma, who’s almost 90. She’s long since instructed us not to buy any ornaments or other clutter for her flat; she has enough, and is done with furnishing her surroundings. But I thought it might be nice, as she lives at the other end of the country, for her to have some pictures of the little ones who are in her life, so she can (if she so chooses) pepper her home with their smiles.
Disclosure: Sanantha Barnes sent us the grizzly bear print for free. But we paid for everything else mentioned in this post, and, as always, my views are my own.
This post is part of Our Time of Gifts, my year-long adventure in sharing. Each week, I’ll loan or giving something away, then see what the universe brings to my doorstep.
Click here to find out more about Our Time of Gifts.