Sunday, 28 June 2020

The Clear-Out

After a long fine spell, the normal NI summer has resumed: one or two warm and bright days, followed by three or four cool, wet and windy ones. At this time of year, I don’t enjoy being stuck indoors day after day. Besides, the editing of my poetry manuscript was largely finished and I was mainly doing background reading for my next writing project. On the spur of a moment, I decided to begin another long-neglected task: the clear-out.

My wardrobe occupies much of one bedroom wall. It has a long hanging rail, chockfull with trousers and shirts, and a shelf above, which was overflowing with jerseys. I couldn’t recall the last time I’d sorted through it. T had suggested I do this, several times. But I’d been avoiding it. She sat on the bed and encouraged me.

On the upper shelf were several folded piles of jeans. I pulled them out and started to try them on. Some were narrow leg, others straight or flared, but few of them now fitted me comfortably. T got a roll of bin bags from the kitchen and soon one was half-filled with my discarded jeans.

Then I turned to the trousers. Some were ancient with turn-ups. Others were casual cords. I found two suits that I’d bought when I began work at QUB, some twenty two years ago. In my department, it was expected that a professor would wear a suit. I followed the dress code at first, and then my attire became more relaxed. By the end of my time, I was wearing cords or jeans to work most days. Another charity bin-bag became filled with these work clothes.

My favourite jerseys were piled on top of the long shelf. Underneath were many others that I’d not worn for years. Some were odd styles and colours, some were faded, and some had even been eaten by moths. T laughed at some of my older jerseys but wanted to keep others for herself. We opened a fresh bin-bag for charity and another for clothes that I could wear for gardening.

Looking through my clothes was like looking back through my life. I remembered occasions when I had worn something or who had bought it for me. I also realised why I had been putting this task off. I had to be feeling strong enough to do this sorting out, because I couldn’t know what memories I would encounter. They could be amusing or troubling or anywhere in-between. I found plenty of these, and recounted funny, embarrassing or sad episodes for T.

In the end, I became quite exhausted by this work. We had three full bin-bags for charity and one for the garden. And I hadn’t even sorted through the shoes. We’d save that for another day. When I rested, I read that plenty of people had been through similar clear-outs during lockdown and newly-opening charity shops were being inundated with donations. As people go out and meet others, a key question will be – what sort of lockdown did you have? For many, this seems to have been a time for reflection and of taking stock.


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