Unpacking past memories

Stacks of boxes languishing in my garage thanks to ‘unpacking fatigue’


You may have noticed that recently I’ve not referenced my dad’s columns so much. I am finding that I am able to compose my columns without his help, unlike the early days, when I would read the columns he had written forty years ago and use them to inspire mine. It was a lovely way of keeping a connection with my dad, and I felt like he was holding my hand as I found my feet in the first few years of writing the Countryman’s Daughter column.

This week, however, when I came to sit down, I didn’t have any clue about what I was going to write, and decided that I would go back to my previous habit of reading Dad’s piece from the corresponding week in 1982 and see if something in it would inspired me.

So all I needed was to dig out the column. And that’s where I encountered a problem. Where was the column? It was then that I remembered it was among a big pile of unpacked boxes that are still sitting in the garage waiting for attention after my recent house move. And I have no idea which box it is in. 

I went into the garage to see if any of the labelling on the boxes would give me a clue. But they didn’t, and they were piled up in such a way that it was impossible to see what was written on the lower boxes.

Why do we collect so much stuff that when it comes to moving house we always get a number of boxes that remain unpacked? Their contents are not deemed sufficiently useful to warrant priority treatment, so there they sit for months, or even years, until we forget they exist at all. While preparing to move this time I found several unpacked boxes languishing in the shed from the last time I moved nine years ago. You’d be forgiven for thinking that after nine years I’d realise that it was time to do the sensible thing and get rid of them. But no. I brought them with me to this house, no doubt to stay unpacked until my next move.

I am naturally a bit of a hoarder and hang on to things that have sentimental value, even if they never see the light of day. What will ultimately happen to them, who knows, but I work on the theory that when I’m dead, it will no longer be my problem, it will be my children’s (thankfully they don’t read my column).

The reason we leave boxes unpacked is a result of ‘unpacking fatigue’, brought about by weeks of packing and unpacking. We just cannot face yet another box. Over the process of the move, we have to make endless decisions about what to keep, what to ditch and what to donate to charity at both the packing and unpacking stages that we just can’t face having to keep on making those decisions. So we leave a few boxes for another day. And that day never comes.

The contents of those boxes are often items of sentimental value, which we find the most difficult to throw away. In my case, it is things like my dad’s folders containing his columns, or whole bundles of letters that I have kept from my parents, siblings and best friend from when I was on a gap year at age 18. I can’t bear to throw them away, even though I know they are not being kept in the best conditions to look after them. Boxes are designed to protect items in transit, rather than to preserve them, and so it is not the best idea to leave precious stuff locked in cardboard for the long term as it will be susceptible to damage from damp, bugs or rodents.

To make a move less overwhelming, experts suggest using a priority labelling system, so as well as writing what is in the box, where it came from and where it is to go in the new house, you label it with a letter. ‘A’ would stand for ‘unpack first’, B for ‘unpack second’ and ‘C’ for ‘unpack last’. It means you can stage the process so that it feels easier to manage.

I’m hoping it will be a long time before I have to put it to the test. 

Read more at countrymansdaughter.com. Follow me on Twitter @countrymansdaug

This column appeared in the Darlington and Stockton Times on 2nd December and Ryedale Gazette and Herald on 30th  November 2022

Moved into action

The kitchen in my new home. Can anyone find the kettle?

I think of myself as someone who doesn’t readily worry about life’s curveballs and if obstacles cross my path then I will find a way to overcome them.

But I have been pushed to the limit these past few weeks with the challenge of moving house. It is said to be one of the most stressful life events that we have to face, and boy has that proved true this time. Although I have a large support network of friends and family, it has still been exceptionally challenging.

I wonder if it is because I have been ‘triggered’? This is the expression that is in common use now to explain why certain experiences can spark in us what might seem to others a complete overreaction. But the reason we do that lies in some past trauma that has been dormant in the subconscious, something we have managed to bury in the hope that it will never be exposed to daylight again.

But then, BOOM! The memories of that trauma erupt when we are confronted with our trigger. It could be a smell that reminds you of a childhood drama, a piece of music that transports you back in time, or the repetition of the experience that caused the trauma in the first place.

Is the reason that I am finding this time so stressful because it has triggered memories of being forced to move out of the family home six years ago? Last time I moved it was after I had fought tooth and nail to stay in the house we loved following my divorce, but in the end it just wasn’t possible and I had to sell.

Our house sold quickly to a lovely couple living in a rented property with cash at the ready. I naively thought that because I was going to rent and a chain was not involved that it would be a fairly straightforward process. Silly old me. The solicitors on both sides seemed to have a deep seated aversion to communicating with their clients, never mind each other. Finding a new rental property was nigh on impossible without a moving date, and the solicitors seemed unable to fix one. Eventually, after months of procrastination for no apparent reason, I got so frustrated with the lack of progress that, against the advice of my solicitor and estate agent, I contacted my buyer directly. She was equally frustrated and we had a very reasonable discussion about when to move, and between us agreed a mutually convenient date which we took back to our solicitors.

With the date set, I was able to go in search of a home. I booked a removal company for that date and when they asked me where I was moving to they thought I was joking when I said ‘I don’t know, probably somewhere in the York area’.

A frantic search followed where I was on the property apps first thing every morning looking for any new rentals that appeared. In and around York, the good ones were being snapped up immediately, and the fact that very few would allow dogs meant the available pool was even smaller. I was barely sleeping with the worry of it all.

It was a Tuesday morning, just 13 days before moving day, that I spotted a beacon of hope. A three-bedroomed house with a secure garden popped up that looked like it would fit the bill. The listing said there would be an open day the next Saturday for potential tenants to look round. But I simply could not wait that long. I begged the agent to phone the landlord to let me view before then. By a stroke of luck, he was at that every moment inspecting the property and said I could go and see it immediately. I raced round and, without properly looking at it, blurted, “I’ll give you six months’ rent upfront. Can I have dogs?”

I don’t think I’ve ever felt relief like it when he said yes and, six years down the line, despite the tricky start, I can honestly say we ended up being very happy in that house.

So as I reflect on that experience, typing this among the unpacked boxes in our new home, I’m sure that when the dust has settled, we really are going to be very happy here too.

Read more at countrymansdaughter.com. Follow me on Twitter @countrymansdaug

This column appeared in the Darlington and Stockton Times on 7th and Ryedale Gazette and Herald on 5th October 2022

No place like home

My boys were distraught when we announced we would be moving house
I wasn’t attached to our old house, but I underestimated how attached my children were to it

In my dad’s column from 22nd August 1981, he mentions the fact that we would soon be moving house. After 14 years, we were decamping from our small 19th century cottage to a larger, brand new house further up the village.

I remember feeling terribly excited, the 14 year old me not appreciating ye olde worlde charm of our little dwelling. The wooden beams, cast iron fireplaces and fantastic garden couldn’t compete with two bathrooms and a downstairs loo (and anyone who has performed the toilet dance while waiting for the one and only WC to become free will understand that).

But the abundance of facilities wasn’t the only attraction. After having shared a bedroom all my life, I was finally going to get one all to myself. Granted, it was only a box room, but I couldn’t wait to have a space to call my own. In fact, according to the original floorplan, my bedroom didn’t exist, but Dad persuaded the builder to shave a bit off some of the other bedrooms and squeeze in a fifth, for which I (and no doubt my sister who otherwise would have had to share with me) was eternally grateful.

I have very fond memories of both of those houses and still refer to the village as ‘home’, even though I have been away from it for longer than I lived in it. I still feel a strong bond which I simply will never have with the place in which I live now.

It wasn’t evident on the surface that my own children had such a bond with the house we lived in when they were small, but it was memorably demonstrated to us when we decided to move in the early 2000s. My husband was Dutch, and after having lived in the UK for many years, he had the prospect of a better job in The Netherlands. How nice, we thought, for our children to get to know their Dutch family better and to experience life in a different culture.

We knew our three boys, then aged between 10 and 15, might be reluctant at first, so decided that when we told them, we would sweeten the blow with a promise of a meal at their favourite pizza place (others might call it an attempt at bribery, but I can’t possibly comment). About an hour before we were due at the restaurant, we sat the boys down and broke the news, ready for any questions they might have, expecting some protestations, but confident that the lure of pizza would win them over.

Oh boy, how we underestimated the impact of our revelation! What next ensued was the kind of drama you only see in the Queen Vic when the Sharon Watts is having a barney with Phil Mitchell. The middle one threw himself on the floor screaming, the eldest ran up to his room screaming, while the youngest stayed on the sofa, screaming. After half an hour of extremely loud and bitter screaming, we had to admit that our strategy had completely backfired. I had to phone the restaurant to cancel the table, then spent the rest of the evening trying to console three bitterly upset, bewildered and still screaming children.

My husband and I didn’t feel particularly attached to the house we lived in at the time. It was a nice house in a good location that suited our circumstances, but it wasn’t anything special, at least, that’s what we thought. What we had completely failed to appreciate was that our children felt completely differently. It was the only home they had ever known, and so of course to them, it was special. All their friends lived around there, they all went to school together and they each had their own bedroom, a space they treasured. They felt about that house just as strongly as I did about my childhood homes, but until that moment, that thought had never occurred to me. No amount of pizza could make up for uprooting them from where they felt they belonged and making them start again in a completely new country. 

Of course, if we had moved, I’m sure they would have eventually settled in to their new surroundings, but, for a number of reasons, we ended up staying where we were anyway.

Never again, though, did I underestimate the value of ‘home’, wherever in the world that happened to be.

Contact me, and read more, at countrymansdaughter.com. Follow me on Twitter @countrymansdaug

This column appeared in the Darlington & Stockton Times on 27th and the Gazette & Herald on  25th August 2021