The lorry groaned as the enormous skip landed with a metallic thud on my driveway. This was going to be spring-cleaning on an industrial scale.
Five years ago, a sudden job offer precipitated a hasty move to Dublin from our old farmhouse in West Cork. We had far too much stuff to take with us, and yet we had to quickly clear the house for incoming tenants.
As a solution, I rapidly constructed two storerooms with floor to ceiling shelving, and hurriedly boxed up all our old bits and bobs. Two sheds were also left behind, chock full of rusty old tools and building materials.
Five years on, I felt like an archaeologist going through the evidence of our lives of half a decade ago. Back then, it was a different world. I was in my 30s and we were a young family with two small children. Now, we have been married over 10 years, I’ve broken the 40 barrier, and we have four kids. Secondary school looms ever nearer on the horizon, but back then we just had a toddler and a pre-schooler.
As I sorted through the boxes, I kept finding tiny gloves and shoes that had lain untouched for half a decade. These caused memories to flood back, provoking a nostalgic pang in the heart. Some old clothes were still perfect, and these were washed and made ready for use by the younger kids. I found little drawings and scribbles.
At times it felt like boarding the Marie Celeste. There were little bowls of change and hairclips, little boxes of items, which had stayed just as we left them back in the summer of 2013.
I discovered wedding presents and ornaments which I had forgotten existed. There was a stash of cards received for my 30th birthday, which seems both like yesterday, and like a lifetime ago. There were toys dating back to my own childhood, which the kids took to with relish.
Nearly everything triggered a memory, whether it was destined for the skip or not. Plenty of items were pressed back into service, but some held too much sentimental weight to be thrown out. Yet I was trying to be as clinical as possible. None of this had been needed for half a decade, I told myself. It felt like some sort of psychological exercise, to get rid of so much old junk.
Our possessions own us as much as we own them, I often think. Our things may give us pleasure, or utility, and they may have beauty, but in return they demand a certain background nagging sense of responsibility for each item. Even when they are mouldering in a store room in another country, hundreds of miles away, they subtly remain in a recess in the back of our minds.
It was cathartic to throw away old televisions, busted sofas, cracked windows, chipped crockery, rusty radiators and a remarkable assortment of random junk.
There was a childish pleasure for both me and the kids at being allowed to smash things, as we threw them into the gaping jaws of the enormous skip. A couple of days work saw the skip loaded so high that I needed a ladder to get on top to crush things down. My mind became clearer as the store-rooms cleared.
The day came when the lorry returned, to nearly capsize as it lifted the heavily laden skip aboard. As it rumbled down the driveway, I felt a weight lift.
Yet just then, my eyes fell upon the tangled woods next to the driveway, which had been inaccessible since hurricane Ophelia felled six enormous old trees. Now, to dispose of those – somehow. I trudged wearily to the shed to sharpen the chainsaw, thinking once again: “We do not own our possessions – they own us.”