It feels funny to write this, after so long away from the stark white paper of Medium, the empty space that begs for the sentences to flow and the words to be printed on the page. Where do I start? Where does this end? I honestly don’t know…
“Julia. Julia. Julia.”
I form the syllables and words, say her name, repeat it. It’s funny but it doesn’t hurt as much as it used to, just saying that one word. I’m here, deep in a garage, with a tiny lamp and the light fading to darkness, looking at the nearly 300 coloured plastic sacks that fill the floor to ceiling. This is mainly her stuff, a set of sedimentary layers of her life — different house moves, different clearouts and the final one of course.
I put all this stuff here after she died, out of sight and out of mind, until now at least. It was simply marked as something ‘to do later’ but I secretly feared this moment, the difficulty of sorting through the stuff from my very own dead person. But they’re not really gone, I’d attest — they’re still alive and kicking inside my head and so what I’m worried about is the pain of going through that stuff, the sweet, the funny and the heartbreaking. I guess I’d rather boil my head than sort all this stuff, but I go ahead and get it started anyway. At the time, these decisions feel like a burden but they have a funny way of turning out differently.
The Garage is disappearing — the flat we used to own has now sold, so we had to collapse two garages worth of stuff into one. After a couple of sessions moving stuff, my daughter then helped me go through everything and this gave me the true fortitude to get started and keep going until the end.
Bag by bag, we travelled back decades. Here, the late eighties and early nineties thread. Over there, something from 2010 or thereabouts. A bag here of shoes, belts, scarves. Baby clothes. Paperwork. Coats. Dresses. Linen. Handbags. Many of them with memories attached.
Here, a dress she once wore with me to a Christmas event at PWC, sometime late nineties. Over there, the sweatshirt she was wearing when I first met her. The coat she wore on our first date. A pair of shoes that when you see them, somehow the whole person grows virtually into them, so you can see them standing there. And over there, something I can remember her wearing oh, just the other day it seems. My brain is saying “I saw here in these, you saw here just the other day, walking around in these clothes. That must mean she is nearby or not far away” and in a way, that’s true. She’s never very far away.
Layers and layers, memories and memories, like an onion we went, peeling the strata and sedimentary layers away. Bags and Boxes, hangers and piles, we moved them, sorted them and tackled them all. And as we worked, we sorted everything carefully, keeping textile waste in one pile and sellable items for local charity shops in another. As a pro tip here, I used to volunteer for a charity shop for a few years so I try not to give them damaged or dirty clothing, as it makes their life hard and it can’t be sold. Oxfam will recycle your textile waste (into paper) but please put it in a separate bag if it is ‘cattle trucked’, so they can sort it quickly.
So over three days, my daughter and I sorted over 150 bags in the end. I kept about half a bag of stuff that I hadn’t been reunited with in years but the rest is going elsewhere. There’s about 20 bags of textile waste and the rest are being picked up next week, so I feel somehow ‘lighter’ already with this stuff about gone from my life. It feels fucking wonderful actually! Because it’s just another part of letting go of Julia. I was really scared about sorting this stuff but the feeling was way better than expected, the way it turned out:
What I felt was all the wonderful memories, the stories I told, the slices of time I shared with my daughter — “Oh, I remember wearing those braces at PWC and having the mickey taken out of me because they had flowers on them” or “Your mum wore this on our trip to X” or “These were your first little leather shoes”. And in those stories, the telling of the history, the sorting, the work of diminishing the pile, there was a cathartic dissipation of something. Like waving goodbye to all the stuff with a wistful look at the memories they triggered but actually happy to see it all go. Like waving goodbye to relatives that have outstayed their welcome at your place.
You think you have fucking clutter problems thinning out your mug collection? Or wonder if 12 glasses are too many? My garage of bags fucking wins!
And so I’m not finished with the moraine of stuff that’s still in the garage but I have condensed two full garages one that is 35% empty. That’s a good start.
Getting rid of all of this stuff was just part of the process for me of letting go. It was actually okay and not too hard doing this, as having my daughter there allowed us to share the positive, keep the momentum of the work going and write the end of this chapter marked “Julia” in our book.
Selling the flat also means we can finally pay all the taxes and debts due but more importantly, it lifts a huge anvil off my head. With our situation over the last 18 months being really tough in terms of the financial side of things, I haven’t been able to plan. We haven’t had a holiday in about 3 years and I hadn’t been able to afford to get any shoes repaired or dry cleaning done for a couple of years. For about 30 days out of that time, I’ve had no money at all with no clue of where it was coming from. It has made me phenomenally grateful for everything I had then and have now. Having so little made me value some things so much more and this will be the subject of another article — about food, love, sustainability and gardening.
That lack of ability to plan, to put some nice things into my future, has been really tough. I don’t mean planning for work — that’s absolutely fine — I mean planning for life. Places you want to go, people you’d like to see, going to a concert? Seeing a film at the cinema? There were many things that just weren’t possible, because budgeting was tight.
Starting the Garage also got me clearing out more stuff at home and over a few months, I will lose slowly most of what’s left. I’ll keep going until I have only that which I need or truly treasure. That’s one side benefit from this clearout — that it now holds no fear or emotional trap for me any more and that getting rid of it is strangely therapeutic. The poor bastards at the Cats Protection League have no idea what’s about to hit them :-)
There’s also the sword of Damocles that the house sale has removed from my head. Constantly juggling bills and payments creates a great deal of stress and worry but it also means you become very short term in your planning. It’s just a matter of surviving, getting by — rather than making nice plans for the future. That has changed now — I can see all these possibilities and branching futures, that seemed closed off or narrow to me in the past. It honestly feels like walking with a huge weight lifted off.
These are just the whinings of a middle class middle aged white man who is very privileged to have what he has, even though he has lost much. What this has taught me is to value some things for which we have no name — but are based around fear, worry, debt, the future, security, comfort and surety. I guess I’ve had my own little taste of a tiny bit of what it’s like to work on a zero hours contract. This is one reason why I support outlawing these contracts — because it makes you fucking depressed! I didn’t really realise it at the time but all this stuff going on has made me quite down, but in a way that I didn’t notice as it grew into me gradually. To then work with and manage this for 18 months was long enough for that to feel like normality.
With my planning and future branching brain back and happy, the future looks amazing and exciting again. With the worry of short term financial insecurity now sorted, I feel so free and unburdened, I could skip right now! It’s all relative but the place I’m in today is that I’m free of two things — that I’ve finally accepted and come to terms with Julia dying and that I now have the rest of my life to go ahead and live.
So this chapter has now closed. It felt in my mind like a big leather book, with me shutting the back cover with a ‘whumpf’ and a little puff of dust.
I may have some final bits to do but in my mind, it has needed these years to process, figure out and come out the other end of such a huge life change. Now that my freedom is back, I’m also wiser and more grateful for everything I have — especially things that have no value but are infinitely priceless.
My next job is one I’ve been meaning to do for a while — and that is to thank all the people who messaged me at the beginning of this journey or held my hand as I went on it. You may not even know you helped, which is why it’s important for me to say thank you, so that we both do it all over again.
Thanks for reading this — it feels like I have returned to my very own storyline after an absence. Like I missed season 2 or something. Lol.
Love to you and your family and friends.