In which I keep a mustard velvet bow tie, a glove pattern and a moth eaten hat, and get rid of everything else.
I am attempting to sell everything I own. The short version, for those in a hurry:
I'm doing it so I can move on and have more room and less dust
I'm doing it to make some money to live on
I'm doing it to create deadlines to write some new stories
I thought I'd sell everything and write the story of each thing, both the history of it for me and a fictional story from the object's POV. All the things I have stories, I thought. It is a way of making tidying up creative, I thought, so I don't get bored.
Every object does have a story, but , I realised, I don't necessarily remember it, or even know it in the first place. All the things have a story before they came to me which I don't know.Like the hat I cannot remember buying which says "Made in Bangladesh" (there's a story) or the 1940s suitcase I bought in Deptford Market which was full of confetti (there's another)
Marie Kondo says clothes first, so clothes it is. I did a big pile of all my clothes and it looked like this:
And that didn't even include costumes or things in drawers as I didn't have enough room (I'm a bit squashed up against the door in this picture)
I have a lot of vintage clothes, from 1920s to 1990s (1990s apparently counts as vintage now, which makes me vintage now, I suppose, but not in a good way). Most of them I haven't worn for years but I haven't been able to part with them. Why?
The story of how I started collecting vintage clothes
I try to remember when it all began.
I left home at 16 or 17, I can't remember now. Too young anyway. I left with two carrier bags of tatty clothes whilst my mum was visiting my grandparents, I had to get out of the house because it reminded me too many horrible times, leaving my sisters was like removing a limb, but I still did it, to survive, and I felt bad about it for years and years afterwards, leaving my sisters and my mum. I went to live in a hotel on the seafront in Southsea. I had inherited £4000 from my Great Aunt Marion. She lived in a council felt in Sheffield but she had had a very glamorous life, she told me she had been a "special dancer" and had married a handsome man even though she had forgotten to divorce her first, less handsome, husband. She was always saying she was ill and crying wolf and one day she called out for help and everyone ignored her a bit because she had said it too many times and then she died. It turned out she had a bit of savings and that all got divvied up between us kids. She had previously sent me a Happy Father's Day card on my 8th birthday which had scandalised me.
Me and my sister had never had any money before. We knew what it was like to feel hungry. The sole fell off my shoes once in the school corridor and I flushed hot with humiliation. I put a lot of effort into covering up the weirdness of my stepdad so no one would notice. He hammered new soles onto my broken shoes and shouted all the time. I was scared of him. I was embarrassed of being poor and not having nice clothes. I got a beige silk shirt and a beige pencil skirt from Tammy Girl for my thirteenth birthday and I couldn't stop staring at it. I have never been so happy in my life as the day I got that outfit. I carried it out of the shop swinging the bag with joy and my stepdad snatched it out of my hand in the street and screamed at me "that's how you get mugged!" and people stared and I was so ashamed. Looking back on that moment now I just don't think he could stand to see me so carefree. I fell in love with clothes in that moment.
I was young when I got that money from Auntie Marion (as we called her) and I was convinced that this would be the first of many inheritances, because that’s the kind of thing that happens in Charles Dickens books. Little was I to know that was the only surprise windfall I would ever receive in my life , apart from one £10 win on a scratch card 20 years later.
I took my inheritence and went to a vintage clothes shop called "Ashmans of Southsea." I felt as though I'd fallen into a book or a black and white film. There was a lady there, the shop owner, wearing a kimono and a turban smoking a sobraine Black Russian and smelling of roses. She spoke like Jessica Rabbit and she laughed like Sid James. I loved her immediately. I began spending my inheritance right there and then on 1930 silk velvet opera coats, quickly followed by framed prints of Robert Doisneau photographs and hair extensions, till it all got used up by that, and by living in a hotel, and I didn’t even have bus fare and had to walk 3 miles to college. I bleached my hair silver and moved out of the hotel into a damp flat which I filled with Art Deco crockery. I was so happy, even after the money ran out. The environment I created, this charity shop wonderland, meant I could live in a fantasy world. Living in a fantasy world gave me courage. I had absolutely no doubt in my mind that fame and fortune were just around the corner, because I was wearing a vintage apricot satin dress and very cherry lipstick, which was all you needed, right? Reality didn't stand a chance, it had nothing much to offer me.
Going through the pile of clothes on that first day of my tidying up, years later, I found a hat with the label "Ashman's of Southsea" on it. Moths got to it last year after I did a story telling gig in Brompton Cemetery for London Month of the Dead and it got wet and I didn’t dry it properly, I just stuffed it into a drawer. I don’t expect things like to get stuffed in drawers. I sewed sequins on it to cover the love bites that the moths gave it and kept it wrapped in tissue paper.
You are supposed to keep whatever gives you joy, but keeping things doesn't give me joy anymore, not because I’m depressed but I’m just not into stuff anymore.
I filled eight bin bags with clothes.
That day I do decide to keep some things- my granddad's yellow velvet bow tie and my nana’s glove pattern. I sell the red dress I wore to Rome on my 40th birthday. I sell the dress I wore to stand in a shop window in Rye to play the silent girlfriend or associate or assistant of Houdini (i didn’t really know who I was, I just wore a nice dress and was quiet). I sell dresses I cannot remember wearing.
I don’t know why but bagging it up and taking it to the charity shop felt like cheating to me, so I washed each item, ironed and repaired it, decided which ones have good stories worth telling, and prepare to sell the lot.
I think I bought old things because I imagined their romantic previous lives, a Hollywood version of the previous centuries decades which was nothing like the reality ... and I disdained new things as they just didn't have that MAGIC, plus that hunt (for new stuff) was just about money (which I didn't have much of) and not about knowing where to look.
The next day after my clear out I go through Deptford Flea Market and I see Peter wearing a crow on his hat. Peter has had a stall on Deptford Market for ever.
I have bought load of stuff off him over the years. Today he has lots of things I like. I don't buy anything, I take pictures of them instead. I'm getting into it.
I come home and decide I am going to write the story of the red dress. Or perhaps the story of all the red dresses dancing like shoes get to dance in fairy tales. Or the story of an amateur chemist. Or the woman who take photos of ghosts.
Then I price everything up, and off I go to market......