Books I bought but never read over 35 years ago when I went to university; clothes I have had since my teens, in the belief that I will one day grow into them again; an Apple computer cemetery in my loft, full of information I no longer need and probably never did in the first place.
I feel as if I am in an episode of Dr Who, as the Stuff Monster comes to get me from the moment I rise, to the moment I go to sleep. Then, often in the night, the Stuff Monster wakes me to tell me that there is Stuff I haven’t dealt with: bank statements, credit cards, mortgages . . . I can spend two hours in the small hours, moving money around online just to keep my head above water. Yet still I wake drowning in the Stuff mire that has become my life.
So, this week, I made a momentous decision: I am going to kill the Stuff Monster. I don’t want an interest only mortgage that I will never be able to pay off, yet have to spend the next seven years worrying about what happens when the bank comes knocking for payment in full when the term is up.
I don’t need John Fowles’s A Maggot, a book to which I gave a scathing review many years ago and have no intention of reading ever again; I don’t need the broken Apple laptop that now I am too embarrassed ever to declare that I owned, let alone be seen with in public.
I do not need the eight ladles in my cutlery drawer, evidence of my having lived, at one point, in four different countries at the same time. I don’t need the pine warehouse that is my entire downstairs – furniture bought in Camden market when the man I was going to live with told me how much he loved it and was looking forward to sharing when he left his live-in girlfriend after she lost enough weight so that she would “be attractive enough to meet someone else” (in summary: he didn’t, she did, and then he decided she was attractive enough to be worthy of him, after all).
I don’t need the drawers full of single ear-rings, the lone partner of a pair I once loved and thought that maybe, one day, I might happen upon, despite it having been 30 years since its sister disappeared under mysterious circumstances. Likewise, the single black Chloe shoe, whose partner disappeared on a Cardiff street after a rugby international under circumstances I have never fully been able to explain.
The recession has hit most people hard, some very much harder than others; and yes, I know that I still have a better life compared to most people in the world, let alone the country. But all changes in circumstance have to be addressed, and often we miss the obvious and lose sight of what it is that really matters: it’s not Stuff, it’s people.
We cling on to easily replaceable Stuff, mortgages included. In Paris, hardly anyone owns a property, and the rental market thrives. Many years ago, I made money on a property I bought at the bottom of the market and sold at the top; but property is not the sure-fire investment it once was.
When I sit down and really think about what gives me most pleasure in life, it is my friends and family and, a lot of the time, meeting new people. After two and a half years, I recently returned from Los Angeles, where I met so many people from around the world, all with different stories to tell. I loved the experience of living in a country that wasn’t a European one – much as I love our Continent, I had always wanted to experience the United States. While LA is not typical of the States as a whole, I thrived on the energy of a city that has been built on what I love most: film and television.
It has been wonderful to be back amongst the people I have known for decades, but of course there are things I miss about LA, not least the weather. But there are other things LA gave me that, being back full time in the UK, have made me realise that the life I had carved out before I left may not fit as well as it once did.
I am now 53 years old. I am single, have never married and have no children. I am a veritable tiny purse when it comes to relationship baggage. But as a woman of my age in Cardiff, the city in which I was born and which has developed to become a truly cosmopolitan European city, I find little to occupy me socially.
While I have many friends here, most are in partnerships and have children or grandchildren, and their schedules are hectic. After 28 years in London and also six in Paris – both cities that cater wonderfully for the single person of any age – I find booking meet-ups with friends a month in advance (and invariably having them cancelled half an hour before) extremely tiresome.
I know that people have lives and I am glad that they are content in living them to the full, having entered new phases of their lives; it has made me realise, however, that I, too, have entered a new phase and must look to what I do to enjoy whatever remains of my life.
Two weeks ago, a friend said to me: “Let’s say you have 25 years left; you have to decide how you want to spend that time.”
Twenty-five years. I recalled how quickly the last 25 have gone and how I regretted not having done so many things – learnt a couple of languages, travelled more, written more books.
It was a Eureka moment for me.
I don’t want to spend the next 25 years waking in the middle of the night to do sums and then spend the rest of every day worrying about why those sums don’t add up. I don’t want to be sitting by myself in a restaurant or bar, wondering what might have been if I had made different choices. I don’t want to die in a whacking great big house in Cardiff and nobody know I have gone until my editor questions why there is a blank page in the paper.
So, I am selling everything. When I announced it on Facebook, my friends reacted with horror, wondering how I could sell such a lovely house. But all I am selling is bricks, mortar and Stuff that has been clogging up my life for longer than I care to admit.
I made Stuff my emotional fortress, but it’s time to burn the drawbridge and return to concentrating on my first and only true love – my writing. My friends and family are still there, irrespective of whether that Etam dress I bought for £17.99 in 1973 goes in the bin.
It is time to shed skins and brave the world once more.
What’s the worst that can happen? I’m not even going there.
At the moment, I just think I have nothing to lose but my chains.