The Therapy of Baking and Why It Can Be Helpful to Not Be a Minimalist

 

Sometimes bad things happen. Things that you think only happen to other people. When you hear the stories you gasp and say ‘how awful, how terrible for them’. And then you move on. Until one day it is you being told the terrible news that something bad has happened.

Your brain goes in to a dream like trance – I think the official term is shock. I remember when I got the call from my sister to say that my Mum may not survive and if I wanted to see her one last time I would need to come to the hospital immediately. In the time between leaving for the hospital and trying to contact my husband I took to sweeping the floor.

There is comfort to be found in the domestic, in the mundane, when big bad things happen that your brain can’t quite process.  Busying one’s hands while one’s mind tries to swim through the reality of shock is oddly soothing.

Today I made one of my favourite cakes – the Bill Granger vanilla buttermilk cake. I made it to take away for the weekend to share with our extended family. I mixed up the ingredients in my Mum’s metal mixing bowl – it would be called vintage now. I sifted the flour using my Gran’s sifter. I remember using it as a child at her place in the country. There was always a cake at Gran’s house.

As my mind was reeling over the bad news we received the night before, I found solace in holding the bowl that my Mum had held and mixed, just as I was. And holding the strong metal handle on the sifter I thought of my Gran, and I thought of all the bad news they would have heard over the years; the deaths, the sicknesses, the losses… the sorrow, the sadness.

 

And now it was me. Holding their things. Being propped up by both of them. The scrape of the sifting handle being turned to sprinkle flour into the creamed butter and sugar. The clink of of the wooden spoon on the metal bowl as I stirred the in eggs, and I thought about both of them and their strength of character and their will to keep going, their mettle. To keep going, to not drown in the shock of bad news or from the sorrow of loss, or the fear of what will come next.

Often I curse myself for holding on to things, to stuff; for being so sentimental. Cursing the clutter and often wishing I could be as clinical as Marie Kondo. If it doesn’t spark joy – it goes.

But today I was thinking ‘thank goodness for my sentimentality’. Whatever those mundane domestic objects were imbued with over the years served as a crutch for me today. Their stoic utilitarianism brought the strength of my Mum and my Gran to life. The act of beating, stirring, and mixing was a salve to my troubled thoughts. To the chaos of shock, to that feeling of not being able to catch my breath.

Who knew baking a cake could be so therapeutic?

Decluttering versus sentimentality

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Image via Pinterest (alifesdesign.blogspot.com)

Decluttering, it seems, is the new buzzword. Holidays come around and every man and his dog plans to declutter. I’ve said it myself, (ahem) several times. I’ve done it in varying degrees, but obviously not enough, because I wouldn’t need to keep revisiting it.

Why are our houses so cluttered? What is it with our preoccupation with things, with stuff? I’m not sure I can answer this in one blog post, as I suspect the answer is complex and layered, and varies for each individual person. I’d say a lot of our own individual history informs our behaviour towards ownership and the collection of goods.

My Mum was a hoarder, not the psychological-illness-type of hoarder, but hoarded enough to qualify for the title. And my siblings can verify this as clearing out her place after she died was a joint effort. Even though the task was monumental, in a way I was grateful to her for holding on to lots of the things we came across.

There were lots of old photos, but there were cards that we’d made as kids, pictures we’d drawn for her, school reports, behavioural cards (from being badly behaved at school!), newspaper articles that were relevant to our family. But also paraphernalia that related to her story, letters between her parents, photos of their family dog, so her story, but also our back-story.

And now I have at least a couple of boxes in my garage of the same things – school diaries, photos, letters between friends, letters between my husband and I, before I joined him in England. And I have boxes in each of the kids rooms with their hospital bands from when they were born, cards from their birth and first birthdays, their coming home from hospital outfits, a couple of outfits bought just for them that I can’t bear to part with, odd pieces of paper, like the first time my daughter wrote her own name, the first drawing that was clearly a person.

I’d never dream of getting rid of these things, and I lug them around, from house to house and curse myself for being a hoarder as well. But then there are things like the shelves and shelves of books, that I’ve read once and am pretty certain I won’t read again. But for what ever mysterious reason, I can’t bear to part with. Racks of clothes in my wardrobe, that haven’t seen the light of day for a very long time (when your clothes are gathering dust in the wardrobe, it really is time to let go).

And here’s the thing, I’ve gone on decluttering frenzies and delivered bags of clothes to the Salvos, only to look for an item to wear the following season and then realise it’s gone. Then I curse myself all over again for trying not to be a hoarder. So how do we strike a balance?

When we were clearing out Mum’s place, between us, we probably found at least 20 sets of keys. There were also padlocks, not of the same number, but more than the average person could use in a house for one. Some had keys inside, some didn’t. Funnily enough, I still have some of those padlocks and sets of keys from Mum’s kicking around my place now. I don’t even know how I came to bring them home. Like Mum, I probably thought, ‘I’ll need that one day and then I’ll be really annoyed for not keeping it’.

But alas, I’m not giving up my quest for a minimalist home, I just have a feeling it might be lifelong quest.

Got any tips for letting go? Pray tell…