Rewind to Spring 2018. I spent most of April sorting out our lifelong possessions trying de-clutter in readiness for our new life in France. We wanted to take only stuff that we felt would suit our new house (although we didn’t know what style that house even would be), and also stuff that we really loved.
So, it was a massive de-clutter. An exercise that I remember doing mostly on my own as Martin was first of all, still busy with his job – by this time he was still going in to provide a handover to the poor bugger who was taking over, and then once he left he needed to go “oop North” to get some essential work done on the Motor home – which was to be our home for the next 8-12 months (we thought back then – not realising it would actually be closer to 2 whole years).
I wish I had known more about Maria Kondo back then – I could have done with her system of how to get rid of clutter – but I did what I could – really thinking about the value of each item. And by value I don’t just mean the financial value (although that did come into the equation to some extent as we were paying a lot of money to ship our possessions over to France – they needed to be worth it).
I needed to decide if things had an emotional connection to me – was it a gift from a person who I loved? Orr an item that I had purchased that I found beautiful or useful, and was it going to look right in our house?
Most of the process was done with a great deal of consideration and was well organised. I created inventories of what box each thing was in, and some of the more valuable smaller items were taken to my mother’s house for better safe-keeping rather than run the risk of being damaged. However, as with most house moves – the last few days were disorganised chaos – and some of the boxes at the end were badly packed, not properly labelled and not inventoried. I’m not pointing any fingers – but he who is responsible for the chaos knows he was in the wrong and has been reminded many a time since!!!
Hopefully the ‘motor home weighing police’ are not reading this blog, but I suspect that we travelled down to South West France very much over loaded with a lot of the last-minute stuff that really ought to have gone in the lorry 3 days beforehand – but the chaos prevented.
So, we arrived in South West France 2 and a bit years ago with a basic wardrobe each, and sensible items only – with the rest of our wordly goods having either been sold, given away, or packed away and put into storage.
Over the last year we have brought stuff out of storage – but it’s always been larger bits – a few pieces of furniture to furnish our Garden House that we put up last year, and the seasonal change of clothes. The Christmas decorations box came out in December 2018 and was put back in January 2019, then came out again last Christmas – but by then we had the shell of a house so we kept it out.
But, apart from furniture we have been very disciplined in not getting too much stuff inside the house, as it is still a building site – a work in progress – and to clutter it too much would be madness.
However, with lock down easing and us starting to entertain small groups of friends again. In the UK you are calling this a “bubble” now – well, for us it’s the same thing I suppose – we have our small friend group who we survived lock down through Skype calls with, now we are having real life get togethers.
The first time we hosted the Happy Hour, I had to do ‘Aperos‘ for 8 people in Jam Jars – as all my best china is still in storage – it didn’t matter though – we are all good friends and not concerned about who has matching china – just each other’s company! And Gin!! Of course – always Gin!
But once lock down was lifted and we could go back to storage to start bringing a few bits back to sparsely furnish our new home I was tempted and so allowed myself to bring just 2 boxes of china.
Bearing in mind we have lived without ALL of this stuff for over 2 years. We’ve made do with the very basic equipment that has lived in the motor home – and bought a few more cheap coffee mugs for when we had the builders over. There were a few items that I had actually missed for fleeting moments over that time span – but mostly it was all forgotten.
So, last weekend in the morning we went to get some bits and pieces, and in the afternoon, whilst Martin was out……….. I opened the boxes.
I thought it would take about 20 minutes to go through the boxes and sort out what things would be useful now, and which would be better being re-packed for use later on.
But my heart had different plans. Every item that came out of the box stirred up something in me. Some sort of memory, or a feeling or an emotion.
The salad bowl that I clearly recall buying – I wondered how I had ever had a life in which I thought nothing of spending a ridiculous (crude) amount of money on a bowl to eat salad from. Without any thought to it. Back in the days when it happened we were both working in such well paid jobs that we thought nothing of spending money on a whim – but I do really love the salad bowl still….I just may be too frightened to use it ever ha ha!! It felt as if I was looking back, observing a life that I now feel so disconnected with. I would never dream of (or want to) spend money in that way now. But, back then I would do it without any thought.
Then there was the giant trifle bowl – the memories of Trifle Wars – a game concocted for a charity fundraiser that I organised for Macmillan Cancer Support – all came flooding back. And then of course the “mini” trifle bowls that were actually big enough as giant trifle bowls for most people! My days of trifles are long over – so now it is a bowl for lemons and limes – always in plentiful supply in our house – not just for the gin and tonic – also my ayurvedic “yellow drink” that my darling hubby makes me every morning!
I laughed at my new cupboard full of milk and cream jugs – all white – all different sizes, and it amused me that we don’t really need them as we don’t drink either milk or cream nowadays, and rarely have gravy either – but I still love them. I’ll use them for water and remember when an afternoon in M&S would result in spending the equivalent of a week’s wages (in those days term’s – more likely 2 months money in today’s terms).
My little egg cups raised a smile too – just a few days previously I had been thinking I would really love to have boiled eggs for breakfast – but our plastic motor home ones are so big that any other than ostrich eggs would disappear so far down they get stuck so need padding out with paper towel to use. And it’s funny that every time I have boiled eggs that are too small for my egg cups I think of my mother in law -there’s a humorous story in my memory bank somewhere).
And my little Dorchester Hotel canapes dish – that drunkenly showing off to my work colleagues at a fancy Charity event we were all at I pinched it and then used it as an ashtray for the next few years. That came out too – and stirred up so many emotions and memories – I still remember popping it in my handbag like a trophy, and everyone laughing. I wouldn’t dream of doing it now – but then I wouldn’t be sat in the Dorchester Hotel in a “Joseph Ribkoff” cocktail dress either would I? It will never be used as an ashtray again (those days are long gone for me) – but I think it will be reinstated as an olive dish so I can tell the tale to people who I am sure will be shocked that I was ever “that sort of person”. I’m shocked myself!!
Looking back, I can’t remember when I began to change – when I started to see the life I was living as some sort of a hamster wheel hell – out to work to earn enough money to pay the mortgage on an over-priced house that we used to escape from at every opportunity, earn money to pay for childcare and then for holidays to compensate to my poor kids for the guilty feelings that I had for putting them in childcare – spending a fortune on clothes for work to “fit in” with a corporate crowd of people in a work environment that I never felt at ease in – and then maybe worse – changing jobs to find that the suits I had spent a small fortune on for the old job were of no use to the trendy, casual London office environment and another small fortune to get jeans that had the right rips in the right place on the knees. My this time my Joseph Ribkoff dress didn’t fit me – but it would have been better placed that the expensive suits I had shelled out on for the previous job.
As I say, I don’t know when I STARTED to feel that way – but by the time my Dad had been diagnosed with cancer I was definitely in a place where I really took stock and worked out that no amount of material belongings will ever take the place of a person. And no matter what a person has – they can’t take any of it when they leave this earth. And I learned the hard way – that even working for a cancer charity – when your loyalty is suddenly with your family – those corporate bosses don’t give a flying fig about you. Unable to manage a yo yo life of managing family life, visiting a dying father (and step mother), a house that didn’t clean itself, AND a demanding job that required loads of travelling and being away from home – I chose to put my family first and opted for a huge loss of income and instead of visiting Marks and Spencer to buy more white jugs my trips to there were limited to the little service stations branches to buy Dad the little tubs of Welsh Rarebit that he had a fancy for when he had lost his appetite for everything else.
So, why the strong feelings connected to my material possessions if I am no longer a material girl?
Nowadays, I get so much pleasure out of the connection that an item gives me with a person. Every day I touch and use things that connect me to a person. My Tibetan Singing Bowl that my son Ryan brought me – every morning I use that in my Reiki routine.
My little ceramic spoons that I use to measure out spices in virtually every evening meal I cook – my daughter Sian bought me those. The other week when one of them dropped to the floor when I was drying up and broke into two pieces – I cried as if my heart would break – as I feel such a strong connection with Sian through the spoon. Luckily Martin knows exactly how my mind works with these sorts of things – so as soon as he got home he made it his priority to carefully glue the pieces together so I have a mended spoon.
Everywhere I look in our house there are things that make me feel a connection to people I love in some way. Even the white Marks and Spencer jugs – connect me to my dad because it reminds me of the Welsh Rarebit.
Recently my Uncle Peter made us a very kind and generous offer for something for our house – he had a spare set of kitchen taps going (as a person does – much like our friend Jan just happened to have that spare staircase in his garage). He asked me if we would like them. I said yes, that would be lovely – it would be wonderful to have something gifted from him in our house – and he joked that if they dripped at night, they would be a constant reminder of him!!
So, after checking that we could overcome the UK to French “differences in opinion of the plumbing systems” Uncle Peter got his neighbour to pop the taps in the post to us.
This is probably the best point to mention that these are no ordinary set of taps – they are in actual fact a very beautiful set of taps by ‘Perrin and Rowe’ – and should we have decided to buy ourselves a set of these we probably wouldn’t be able to afford the kitchen to put them in to.
When a week passed and the parcel had not arrived, I began to feel a bit concerned – the postal situation in both countries is a bit haphazard at the moment – but at this point I was not too worried. I told Uncle Peter they had not arrived he said “you won’t miss the parcel – it’s quite big and bright yellow”.
But when another few days went past I did begin to get really worried. I imagined that maybe a French postal worker somewhere in France was currently the flavour of the month with his wife as he showed her these beautiful shiny new taps that he was about to fit in her kitchen.
As part of my ongoing Reiki practice and training I have been practising the art of ‘manifestation’ – asking the Universe to grant you something for your highest and greatest good. Ordinarily I would not ask for anything material in this way as I feel uncomfortable with that – but in these circumstances it felt OK to be asking that the taps arrived safely. I sat on my mat, as I do, having a bit of a conversation – part in my head and part out loud, asking the Universe to make sure that the taps would arrive safely to me, that I wouldn’t want to begrudge the said French Postal Worker of the chance to impress his wife with his findings, but that I really wanted these taps so that I would have something tangible to connect me with my Uncle. Now, there’s a long story that could be told here – but I will say the short version. I’ve not seen my Uncle for many years – family fall outs when I was much much younger meant that “if she didn’t see him, then I didn’t seem him either”. So, it has only been in recent months that we have re-kindled our family relationship. And he’s been very poorly and in hospital, and with the lock down situation being so crazy I really don’t know when I will get to see him, so all of this suddenly became really important.
So there I was – asking for the taps to arrive safely – making sure the Universe realised I wasn’t being selfish or greedy (they are REALLY good quality and very indulgent taps) but it is the connection with my Uncle that is important. All my Dad’s side of that older generation have now gone – even the in laws on that side with my Uncle George only just recently dying – so all I have left of that generation now is my mother and my Uncle Peter. And being a sensitive and sentimental little soul as I am – that is all so important to me.
So….later that day – just after lunch – Martin was out for the day and I was here alone. I suddenly saw the little yellow post van – ordinarily the Post Lady turns round at the bottom of our track and pops the letters in the box…but this day she drove up the track.
I ran out the house excitedly saying “le grand jeune packet” – “oui” she said – opening the back of her van. And out it came – bright yellow!!
“Ooh la la” I said. It’s funny as it doesn’t take long living in France before we started saying this!
She probably thought I was a little mad as I was clearly very excited. I said “merci, merci” about a hundred times to her. She said “votre maison is tres jolie”. They all love it – the police when they came the other week said the same.
So, there I was with the parcel – feeling very excited and grateful that they had arrived. As I opened the parcel I was like a kid on my birthday.
I couldn’t wait to open the taps up, and then tell Martin they had come, and then straight away phone Uncle Peter. He was laughing at me recalling how I had been saying that the taps should come to me, that they were not for someone else – like a mantra – and he said it reminded him of when I was a little girl – charging around chanting “November the 28th” when anyone asked me my birthday. And that’s just how I felt – like a little kid who had been given the best present ever. But still, not excited over the acquisition of a lovely material item – but excited and thrilled that I have the taps that are going to remind me on my Uncle Peter every time I use them – even if they do drip at night (which I hope they don’t as we sleep on the mezzanine directly over the kitchen area!!
Obviously we won’t put them in our temporary kitchen – but hopefully it won’t be too long before the taps are fitted into our permanent kitchen. We have made some progress in this direction. Our recent tile shopping trip was successful and I managed to find the perfect tiles within about 30 seconds of being in the shop – quite how I couldn’t find them on our previous trip to the same shop remains a mystery – perhaps I was looking for something different back then. But this time it was very easy. We have 103 square metres of them on order – or at least we thing they are on order – it’s always hard to tell in France – we are going to phone them up on Monday to make sure.
Now the tiles are chosen the rest is finally coming together. We have decided on a smart black shower to go with the black slate shower tray. We’ve also overcome the issue we had with the toilet being in the wrong place by 1cm!!
We’ve found doors we like – all we need to do now is work out how to order them.
And, after 2 days solid in IKEA in Bordeaux (yes seriously – two days – we stayed overnight at the docks in the motor home with our favourite “mock sea view apartment outlook”, I finally decided ten minutes after getting home that I don’t want the grey kitchen anymore – I want black instead – but no matter – we had not ordered anything so again, we now just need to navigate our way around the ordering system.
So, it seems that whether I like it or not – at the moment I am very much a material girl – there is so much needing to be ordered – and so much money to spend. But I am hoping that because we are taking such a long time in making the decisions we will only be making though purchases once – no mistakes – we can’t afford to.
The life we have chosen for ourselves is hopefully in the long term going to be one that is very simple. It’s not been particularly simple to get to this point, but we hope that our investment in a house that is so well insulated the fuel bills should be tiny will mean that our outgoings will be so small that our modest income will be more than enough – and we can live the life of the fisherman in the Fisherman’s Tale – a Buddhist story that was the catalyst for this change in lifestyle – the point when we decided to stop chasing our tails trying to earn enough to support a lifestyle that we didn’t enjoy to the extent that we needed even more money to try to escape it at weekends.
The Fisherman’s Tale
One summer, many years ago, a banker was vacationing in a small village on the coast. He saw a fisherman in a small boat by the pier with a handful of fish that he had just caught. The business man asked him how long it took him to catch the fish, and the man said he was out on the water for only a couple of hours.
“So why didn’t you stay out there longer to catch more fish?” asked the businessman.
The fisherman said he catches just enough to feed his family every day, and then he comes back.
“But it’s only 2pm! said the banker. “What do you do with the rest of your time?”.
The fisherman smiled and said “Well, I sleep late every day, then fish a little, go home, play with my children, take a nap in the afternoon, then stroll into the village each evening with my wife, relax, play the guitar with our friends, laugh and sing late into the night. I have a full and wonderful life”.
The banker scoffed at the young man. “Well, I’m a businessman from New York! Let me tell you what you should do instead of wasting your life like this! You should catch more fish to sell to others, and then buy a bigger boat with the money you make so you can catch even more fish!”
“And then what?” asked the fisherman.
The banker’s eyes got all big as he enthusiastically explained. “You can then buy a whole fleet of fishing boats, run a business, and make a ton of money!”
“And then what?” asked the fisherman again, and the banker threw his hands in the air and said “You’d be worth a million! You can then leave this small town, move to the city, and manage your enterprise from there!”
“How long would all this take?” asked the fisherman. “Fifteen to twenty years” replied the banker.
“And then what?”
The banker laughed and said “That’s the best part. You can then sell your business, move to a small village, sleep late, fish a little, play with your kids, take naps in the afternoon, go for an evening stroll with your wife after dinner, relax, sing, and play guitar with your friends. You would have a full and wonderful life!”
The fisherman smiled at the banker, quietly gathered his catch, and walked away.