It’s a rejection of history, an attempt to make everything homogenous, with everything from diet to furnishings dictated by a small group of lifestyle experts determined to impose one neutral style.I’ve been trying to analyse the embarrassment, distress and anger I felt when my well-meaning friend swept everything off the shelves and identified items to be binned: the acute pain as she shrieked, ‘What’s this old cat food doing here?So, tired and emotional after weeks of preparing for the big day, I reluctantly agreed when a friend – a compulsive tidier who is positively evangelical about the virtues of decluttering after downsizing to a small flat – offered to come and help.‘You’ll feel liberated – and it helps to have a friend do it with you,’ she promised.But I didn’t realise just how traumatic it could be to allow someone into the darkest recesses of one’s cupboards.I should have known that I was in for an uncomfortable ride when she stepped through the door armed with more bin bags and cleaning equipment than Kim and Aggie from How Clean is Your House? You may be happy to disclose all kinds of intimate secrets in conversation with a friend, but let her spot a cobweb in your sitting room or chipped china on your shelves and you feel as if you’ve been stripped naked in the town square.It’s a kind of editing, both of the physical evidence of their lives and of their memories.
A couple of years later I found myself thinking, “Where’s this? ” about pictures and things such as paperweights and watches – especially watches, as they’re so personal.‘I’m wary of the TV experts who show hopelessly cluttered people how to do it,’ Gloria adds.My beloved Lucy had died last year at the grand old age of 23, leaving me utterly bereft.She had been a wonderful companion, and I kept her things because I could almost feel her presence in them.As she probes every murky corner, you suddenly suspect that the home you thought was charming and bohemian harbours a billion bacteria and a thousand useless ornaments.
I hadn’t counted on the terrible mixture of shame, guilt and embarrassment that overwhelmed me with every cracked and dusty object she insisted on consigning to the bin.In the same way, I still have my late husband’s old wellies outside the front door, which I find reassuring, and I hold on to some of my children’s stuff – my daughter’s first red velvet coat, their Beatrix Potter books – even though they’ve long left home.