Tuesday 9 December 2008

The ever-expanding universe of junk

I never expected to leave my home of the last 20 years, except in a wooden box, and it may yet come to that. Suicide begins to seem quite a painless option compared with the Herculean task of sorting through a lifetime’s accumulated possessions before moving.

There are essentially two sorts of people: hoarders and chuckers. My parents comprised one of each and I took after my mother, the hoarder. She was the sort of person who carefully folded the Christmas wrapping paper for re-use next year, and kept tins full of odd buttons and short pieces of string, convinced that they would come in handy.

As luck would have it, I moved into my current house just as she was moving out of hers, so all the accumulated junk that my chucker brother failed to divert to the tip ended up here. Complementing my own world class collection, which has been expanding at a slightly faster rate than the universe ever since. When I started to run out of space I expanded the house with a couple of attic conversions, then bought the old smithy next door.

All to make room for a vast agglomeration of old clothes, toys, essays, letters, postcards, theatre programmes, magazines, unpublished novels, draft profit warnings, press cuttings, paintings, photographs, mementoes, commemorative mugs, unwatched videotapes and, above all, thousands of unread books. Believe me, I could go on.

One particular gem is a complete run of Railway Modeller from 1966 to 2007, when even I had to admit that I had no more shelf space. I have not been particularly interested in model railways since my teens, but once I take out a subscription I am very loth to cancel it.

It would not be so bad if I had the faintest hope of making a killing on the Antiques Roadshow, but I only collect things that depreciate in value. The last time I went to my friendly local dealer with some surplus books, including several first editions for which I had searched long and hard and paid quite highly, they offered me £20 for the lot, and I think that was mainly because they quite fancied the box I had put them in. Suggestions that they might have got their decimal point in the wrong place were greeted with mild hilarity.

The temptation to dig my heels in and make my wife-to-be live here is almost overwhelming, but for the fact that she could not bring more than a change of underwear with her unless I clear some of this stuff out. Added to which, it seems a bit unfair to ask a sociable career woman to relocate to the middle of nowhere.

Objectively, I can see that it would do me good to move. In fact, I suspect that it would do most people good to move, and do not quite understand why the Government is bending over backwards to prevent this happening through the normal process of mortgage repossessions. It is doubtless frightfully hard luck on anyone who was seduced into the property market for the first time in the last couple of years of the bubble, but they were presumably adults who read the statutory warnings before signing on the dotted line.

Surely the only way that the housing market is ever going to stabilise at a realistic level is if those who have bought properties they cannot afford vacate them and allow them to be re-sold at more sensible prices?

Though there may be a simple way to avoid this harsh and cruel fate: reclassify your house as a business, since these regularly seem to go bust only to be bought back by the original owners for a token sum, minus their inconvenient debts. I shall take a lead by registering mine as a junk shop.

Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

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