I took to Freecycling away my life. It’s a bit like playing God, Freecycling. One offers, say, a rusty girl’s bike, or an ancient cobweb-strewn bookcase, and 20 replies later have to decide who should be the lucky recipient. Should one, for instance, be clinical and take the first request. Or emotional, and go for the single mother with the sob story. Or irrational, because someone makes a joke. The ones who never received anything were a strange set of people who went for just about everything I offered with a breezy ‘yeah, I’ll have that – I’ll pop round later’.
It was odd seeing all the things I had collected over the years disappearing into people’s cars. As I handed over the ride-on bikes and push-along cars in my mind’s eye I could see little forms furiously peddling up the drive, or waving flushed with the success of their first solo cycle. Even bookcases, heavily used over the years but unnoticed, went out of the door with memories and regrets. ‘You don’t understand what it’s like parting with things,’ Zena reproached me when I broached the subject of the hideous and enormous Barbie castle yet again. ‘Believe me, I do,’ I told her.
But, in all – the emotional scales of the Big Give-away were tipping to the positive. There was the sheer joy of ridding myself of clutter I realised I didn’t need and could replace easily and cheaply if I really wanted to. And there were the truly heart-warming recipients of long-unused items: the dictaphone I had bought my dying father to record his life story went to a lady who wanted to revive her comatose mother with the sound of her children’s voices; the foot spa that went to the sensory room of a special needs school; the little bookshelf that a hard-up couple were going to paint for their little girl’s bedroom.
The more I divested myself of possessions, the more I began to realise that there was something to be said for those religions that advocate the absence of material things. I began to picture myself in my dotage, wandering the country Sadhu-like with a small knapsack of essential items. Some days I became so full of the joys of decluttering that I got carried away. On one trip to the tip, having joyfully dispensed with assorted bits of metal that I had been pointlessly keeping for years, I merrily threw away the old suspension coil that had been rolling annoyingly around the back of the car for several days. It made a very satisfying clang as it landed in the bottom of the metal skip at the household recycling unit.
I felt a faint tinge of disquiet as I drove away that increased the nearer I drew to home. ‘I hope I did the right thing,’ I said to Gully nonchalantly, when I entered the house. ‘But I threw away that old springy coil thing in the back of the car’ …
… ‘You know that springy coil thing, I just chucked in the skip,’ I asked the helpful tip attendant precisely seven minutes later – three of which had involved much shouting. ‘Well, I need it back – urgently.’