The new old home

So – the move is done.  I have been in for a few days, the unpacking is almost completed, and I am (after many years of living in 1960s and 70s houses) reminding myself of the joys of living in a 150+ year old house, with not a straight line in it!  Almost every piece of furniture upstairs has had to be sured up with wedges to make it even vaguely level.  My miscellaneous vintage home wares and country furniture actually look like they belong here, rather than being an anachronism. The cat has moved in and seems to approve of her new abode.

What have I learned, as the detritus of my life has emerged out of boxes?

I have too many shoes.  No, really, I do.  Because I have never seen them all out at the same time in the same place, I never realised just how many pairs of very similar shoes I have.  I haven’t depressed myself further by counting them – I just know I have too many.  I understand why – I have difficult feet to find shoes for which are both stylish and comfortable, and therefore I tend to stockpile when I do find suitable ones, even if I don’t actually need shoes at the time.  But this is ridiculous.  I would have ample for most eventualities even if I gave half of them away.  Which is what I shall do.  The hospice shop at the top of my street is in for a surprise!  I have already sent half my handbag collection their way…

I have too much stuff relating to projects which I shall never finish.  Freecycle is helpful here – gifting my stash of fabric which I know I shall never make clothes from, and the things which were in job lots which I purchased for one or two pieces which I have used.  More challenging will be the process, which I must undertake, of getting rid of a proportion of of my yarn and fibre stash – realistically, much of it is in colours I now know I am unlikely to use.  I can make a couple of nice bundles and donate them to my local Guild of Weavers, Spinners and Dyers for someone else to enjoy.

For the moment, I must set aside training as a traditional upholsterer. In this much smaller house, I do not have the room for the supplies, beyond my toolbox, or for pieces of furniture waiting to be worked on, and in a mid-terrace house it’s not realistic to do the amount of hammering involved, without seriously annoying the neighbours.  If I can find a workspace away from home, I can re-visit this, but for the moment I must leave it, and not beat myself up about it.

I have too many books.  I must admit this is a surprise – as I had already culled several boxes of books (to Oxfam) over the past few weeks, I didn’t expect this to be an area that would cause me problems.  But I have realised that as well as the books on the shelves, I had nearly as many again lurking in piles beside my favourite armchair, under the desk, under that pile of magazines that I never seem to get round to finishing, on the windowsill…I need to assess whether it is realistic that I will read them in 2015.  If not, it’s Oxfam again…

It really is possible to declutter, even things that have been around for years through umpteen housemoves, without feeling bad.  I have always had guilt about getting rid of things which were, long ago, gifts or which have some association with someone or some event.  I’ve been able to ask myself, as things emerge from the boxes, whether I am keeping something just through habit, or whether I am making an active decision to have it in my home.  Things (of no great value, but nice, and often recollected from my childhood) which I have inherited from my beloved grandparents, I have kept – a vase, a rug, the child size chair which they brought back for me from a holiday in Spain in 1973 and which now provides a suitable home for my very grown-up bear.  I have allowed myself, also, one small storage box of ‘nostalgia’ items.  Interestingly, it’s only half full.  The one area where I will have to put in some time is my office – I seem to have reams of paper and piles of files kept in case it ‘comes in useful’.  Going through several years’ worth of work output will be tedious, but should free up several shelves as I think it’s likely that very little of it will be relevant in the future (and most of that is probably on computer/backed up anyway).

Moving to a much smaller house has been a great discipline.  There simply is no argument with not having anywhere to put it!  The world really won’t come to an end because I only have a few tupperware food storage boxes rather than twenty.  If I can’t store it, I probably don’t need it.

I stockpile things as if I am expecting a siege.  The reasons for this, I know, go back to my childhood, but I must accept that in 21st century England it is unlikely that I need to stockpile groceries, ironmongery or toiletries.  At all costs I must avoid multibuys.  Any possible financial saving must be set against the costs in terms of my tranquility at home as I struggle to find houseroom for things I won’t need or use for ages.  What price turning my home into a warehouse for things I can buy any time I need them, just by walking up to the shops?  Is a few pence of saving really worth the aggravation of the item falling out every time I open the kitchen cupboard?!

Fitted kitchen cupboards hide a multitude of sins. Or, in this case, stuff.  My kitchen here has few cupboards – four small wall units, one base unit plus a corner unit with a carousel for pans.  But it does have three open shelves running the length of the kitchen, which I have used to display/store my crockery (including vintage tea things) and vintage enamel bowls and jugs.  I now know exactly what I have got.  Duplications have become apparent, and have been weeded out.  I can see that I have enough – plenty – and will not be tempted to acquire more.  The cupboards contain only consumables, and some cookware.  I only have what fits comfortably in the cupboards (less than half of what I had before).  So far I have managed to cook a range of meals without feeling the lack of any vital piece of kit.  My surfaces are largely clear, and the kitchen feels very tranquil.

At the end of the first week in my new home/olde worlde cottage, I am keen to pare down my possessions even more.  I want to have even more space around me, to reduce the visual noise of my stuff.  I realise that I only really tolerate the ornamental in my home if it also fulfills a function – my ceramics are bowls or tea cups, regularly used and not merely gratuitously ornamental.  Even the cat is a vermin-control operative!

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The online vintage community

A friend of mine has recently opened a shop in Wellington, Somerset (3 Mantle Street TA21 8AR), selling painted furniture, Autentico chalk paints, and offering workshops in paint techniques.  I must admit to a little ambivalence about painted furniture (I’ve seen it done badly too often, in my view wrecking otherwise perfectly nice pieces of furniture) but when it is done well, and on appropriate furniture, it can be delightful.  I am very impressed with Cato Cooper’s paint technique, and also with the paint she sells and uses (personally I prefer the finish to Annie Sloan), and she doesn’t distress everything to within an inch of its life!

But talking to Cato, and encouraging her to use Facebook and especially Twitter to promote her business, has made me take stock of how I use social media and how it has benefited me.  I must admit to not being a fan of Facebook.  I use it (as an individual, not for my business) to keep in touch with a few friends, but keep it fairly compartmentalised.  My Twitter account, however, is indicative of my passions – art, heritage crafts, vintage, rural.  Through Twitter, for example, I have sourced rare breed fleeces for felting and spinning, I have found out about a living willow course (and enthused about it afterwards), booked myself onto a print-making course, found stockists, and I have come into contact with a huge, overlapping community of like-minded people with shared interests.

I have particularly enjoyed discovering the thriving online community of vintage enthusiasts out there.  March will be the first anniversary of #vintagefindhour, which has expanded to an hour and half because it has been so successful!  It takes place 8.00-9.30pm on Wednesdays, and is the brainchild of Sarah-Jane at www.vintagehomeshop.co.uk (see my earlier blogpost about meeting her).  Using the hashtag #vintagefindhour, Tweeters from all over the country (and beyond) share their vintage finds and treasures, things they have just bought/found/inherited/restored, and show things they have for sale.  The feedback is prompt and enthusiastic, and all manner of conversations and connections are started.

It is especially nice when people who have got to ‘know’ each other on Twitter actually get to meet up in real life! My first ‘TweetUp’ was last summer at the Giant Flea Market at the Bath & West showground, where vintage Tweeps from Somerset, Bristol and France got together – some stall-holders, some just visiting.  The next #vintagefindhour TweetUp is planned for Easter Saturday, when many of us will be converging on the Vintage Bazaar to be held at the Cheese and Grain in Frome, Somerset.  Plans are already being made for buying and selling (saves on postage!) and putting faces to Twitternames.

Meanwhile, I have encouraged @CatoCooper to engage with Twitter to raise her profile in the online vintage community, and have been re-tweeting pictures of her shop and furniture.  Already, because of Twitter, she is selling handmade bears produced by another vintage Tweeter in Devon!  I had been concerned, when we moved to Somerset 16 months ago, that it would take a long time to find people who shared my interests, and that I would be quite isolated for a while – not a bit of it! A few minutes a day on Twitter give me access to scores of interesting, funny, clever and inspiring people who are ‘into’ to same kinds of things that I am.