Jean-Paul Sartre once said: “Hell is other people.”
But of course what he meant to say was “hell is moving house” – because whether you’re moving into a new house, rental flat or hobbit shack by the beach, the act of sorting, packing, editing, binning, transporting and rearranging all your belongings is a devilish endeavour that should be rarely attempted in one lifetime.
And it doesn’t matter what gender you are: packing your gear and moving stumps is no less than a referendum on your past achievements, hopes and future ambitions, box-sized parcels of dreams held precariously in the hands of clumsy student removalists.
First of course comes the cleaning. It is amazing how much filth one house can contain (surely the claim that dust is actually human skin must be a myth?).
And just where do all those 5c pieces come from? They’re everywhere, breeding like tribbles from Star Trek, getting into the bottom of cabinets, drawers and even shoes.
The spiders in the house immediately arc up once your bring the vacuum cleaner up to their corners on the ceiling: “What are you doing? I come in peace, human. I mean you no harm. I … I … argh!”
Like counting tree rings or carbon dating peasants found in peat bogs, you can measure the time line of your own archaeological dig by the detritus you find on the ground.
If you find old K-Tel products (such as the classic album, Difficult To Strip To Hits), a slinky, a fondue pot, a Rubik’s cube or a shoulder pad, you truly are a long-term couple. Chocolate bars gone out of fashion (Texan Bar, Space Food Sticks or Scorched Peanut Bar) similarly mark your progress.
Perhaps you’ll find a Tang label affixed to the kitchen floor and crushed can of Tab behind the fridge. Maybe a tribble trapped in the washing machine. Old TV guides with Big Brother circled and later crossed out mark your evolving taste in entertainment. You could even find an old tape with Austen Tayshus performing Australiana and wonder how you ever found it amusing.
But the real test of the relationship is deciding what, to paraphrase Elaine from Seinfeld, is “packworthy”. Here you might find your opinions differ wildly from your partner.
You might think that giant stone mortar and pestle is a waste of space, but your wife insists on keeping in just in case the in-laws visit and want some specially ground black pepper … perhaps followed by an after-dinner board game of Risk given to you as a Christmas present (and gathering dust untouched in the bottom of a cupboard for years).
But you can’t object too much, because you have to argue about the merits of keeping that giant pig club from your trip to Vanuatu, the Wii console you never opened but suddenly can’t bear to part with, the croquet set you never used or the leather pants from four sizes and two decades ago that you still dream of fitting into. (Menfolk, it is pointless arguing that you only need one set of dishes: every well-breed person knows that you need both your daily dishes and the good china, just in case the Queen decides to visit.)
Once most of the grunt work is done, the vacuuming is complete (destroying civilisations of bacteria mere generations away from becoming sentient), the packing boxes purchased and the essential items packed away, the nostalgia phase sets in.
One of you will inevitably find an old photo album. You’ll sit down and cast your mind back to your youth. Didn’t you look so glowing and optimistic back then, despite the hint of teenage acne, King Gee boots and bad ’80s hair? What would your younger self think of you now, your achievements, your progress in life?
Would they pat you on the back and say, “Well done, sir/madam”? Or would they regard you like one of those unhealthier doubles from those creepy health care ads and wonder, “What the fuck happened to you, man?”
Perhaps it doesn’t matter. Here is your chance to edit your life according to your new beginning. You have a chance to keep the memories you want and the objects that reflect them. The bins will fill up and new life will spring up in the freed-up spaces. You will have room to conjure new memories together.
Just remember to keep enough tokens of your best youthful dreams. And choose your battles over space wisely. Because maybe keeping that lifesized Bruce Lee statue or pair of jousting sticks in the living room is a battle best lost.
And no relationship is worth jeopardising over those old K-Tel records.
My ebook military thriller, The Spartan, is out now on Amazon.