O M G, I’ve finally got round to having my decrepit little old house renovated…

First steps were to declutter most of the accumulated debris of the last six decades—a process that has occupied me intermittently over the last year or so. Even without the stimulus of needing to empty the house for the builders, it’s a wonderfully liberating experience to create space for a thorough purge of all the dirt, grime, and moth-ridden carpets. It feels sooo necessary to do this; it’s not just the physical space, it bestows great blessings for mental welfare. Even sorting through an ancient drawer is liberating. Marie Kondo is only the tip of the iceberg—and people will create their own mix of practical, psychological, and spiritual elements in all this. [1]

Clearly, the principle is to retain Stuff that one really values or needs—assessing what’s important to keep, useful (not so much “might come in handy one day”), or a meaningful part of one’s history. So I guess I’ve given away to charity shops about half of the books, clothes, and random baubles that have been filling my house for the last thirty years.

Those that remain I’ve packed away into boxes: still a zillion books (reduced from several gazillions), and a few clothes. As to the kitchen, I have a few pots and pans, but I’m resistant to gadgets—I thought I was being quite avant-garde when I got an electric kettle (cf. new-fangled Popular Beat Combos).

packing boxes

I may aspire to the Simple Life, but for one who keeps banging (or harping) on about musicking and performance in society, I have a ridiculous amount of books on music.

Writing about music is like dancing about architecture.

Some books I keep because it’s just possible I might still refer to them in my old age; others because I find them significant for my personal story. My Chinese collection is the crux; working through them affords an opportunity to reflect on the way my fieldwork and concerns have evolved. Some books I give away without qualms; others I keep largely out of sentimental attachment. The CHIME library in Heidelberg has taken many volumes, including Li Shigen’s mimeographs, precious to me, at least (see Some precious Chinese sources).

I’ve tried to assess my collection of the great Anthology of folk music of the Chinese peoples, far from complete, but still extensive—saving only those volumes that are meaningful to me or that I might follow up. And how many crime novels by Philip Kerr, Michael Connelly, or Tony Hillerman do I really need?

In an age when CDs are becoming obsolete, I still find myself unable to dispose of quite a few, both world music and WAM. As to all my old photos (mainly from fieldwork), getting them digitised saves several shelves, but even my fieldnotes and A/V fieldtapes fill rather a lot of boxes—digitising them will make a major project for some enterprising archive. Suitably, among this collection are notes on the purification of the ritual arena, rousing prelude to Daoist rituals.

And so the coast is clear for the house to be taken apart and put back together again; by the autumn it will be a bijou Belvedere of Tenuous Vacuity 微虛觀, a kiosk among the gecekondu settlements nestling on the borders of Bedford Park (“Come and live in Chiswick, your statistical chance of survival is relatively high”).

Here’s another variation on the Ken Dodd song, for that uncle who’s got everything:


In this ambitious rebirth, I’m blessed to have such a brilliant team. Even Gary the Storage Guru is a source of wisdom and inspiration. Still, a builder trying to explain stuff to me like shutters and recessed bookcases is in a similar position to a neolithic handyman who calls on a caveman thinking about getting his cave spruced up a bit:

“These days something called a ‘house’ is catching on—maybe you’d like to try one of them…”

For the considerably later invention of the sandwich, see note here.


Man having trouble with umbrella.

The upshot is that for the next few months I am an itinerant ashiq, a dervish of no fixed abode—albeit one currently obsessed with kitchen and bathroom design. I can hardly claim to aspire to the frugality of Hanshan and Shide, or the abnegation of the desert hermit; true ascetics would dispose of all their possessions and live happily surrounded by squalor, like the Tantric sadhus of Bengal. That’s clearly not where I’m at!

* * *

While my kitchen is relatively gadget-free, I find myself curiously attached to my little red trivet, because not only is trivet a cute word but it reminds me of yet another story from my Cambridge mentor Paul Kratochvil:

When a well-meaning friend gave him one (double entendre not unintentional) for his birthday—an arty triangular one—he made suitably gratified noises, but was bemused. Back home with his wife, he looked at it again and mused, “WTF? I don’t even play snooker!”

[1] Among copious research, see e.g.
(“Clutter problems led to a significant decrease in satisfaction with life among older adults. Findings suggest that general procrastination tendencies may enable a lifelong pattern of responses to one’s environment that become increasingly maladaptive throughout the life cycle—simultaneously delaying disposal decisions”),

Rogers teddy bear
and, on attachment security and material culture (with the WWI Rogers teddy bear a star exhibit),
More popular articles include

This note indebted, like most things, to Augusta…

2 thoughts on “Decluttering

  1. “Kolay gelsin” as we would say in Turkish. May your task be easy. Having the guiding support of a decluttering expert like Augusta will certainly make things easier. Take it easy but take it.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s