I picked up pebbles when I was young. Entranced by tales of fossil hunters and gemstones discovered on beaches, I trekked back and forth amid the summer holiday shells in Cornwall and the rocky rubble on the north coast of France. I picked them over and came back each time with double handfuls of pointed mussel shells or curled snails showing iridescent patches, smooth stones worn by tides and marked with interesting lines and patterns. Always I had to pick just one or two to take home. Once I found a lump of quartz crystals as big as four fists. That one is with me still.
For a while, because I was a teenager, I collected pictures of the Manic Street Preachers on an early Geocities site. I printed them out and stuck them to my wall with tiny pieces of Blu-Tack. Later on, as I moved between homes in my late teens and early 20s, I took with me a mutating collage of words and phrases painstakingly clipped from magazines, newspapers, posters. It was a cut-up work-in-progress, the words clumping together to form new meanings by association every time I moved. They grew organically on doors and walls in tiny flats painted in scrupulously cheap neutral tones, until they took up more space than there were walls.
The act of collecting, comparing carefully, and often integrating or arranging in order.
My bookshelves, since I was old enough to own bookshelves, have always been overflowing. I used to buy one a week at charity shops, until I discovered student loans and bought dozens at a time and stayed up late in bed reading. Some I’ve read until they fell apart, and kept the husks. Some I’ve never read from cover to cover, but they have memories attached; they are physical, and come with inscriptions or associations or the fact that they have existed since 1786. Some I read and gave away, passed on, decided not to keep on shelves waiting for the right mood to strike.
Since 2006 I’ve collected oil-based perfumes from obscure perfume houses, pouring hours of time into swapping packages of tiny 1-dram vials internationally with people I know only by their forum names and avatars. I’ve tested perhaps six hundred, and still owned perhaps a third of of those, choosing to wear one a day on instinct or at random, until four weeks ago. Now the collection is full of small holes. Moth-eaten.
The disposal of something accumulated.
Three skirts in bubble-wrap mailers, to Yorkshire, Berkshire and Liverpool. A disco ball inexpertly wrapped, that rolled off the post office counter and luckily bounced. Books hand-delivered, posted, gifted, sold, taken box by box to charity shops. More than a dozen packages, each one themed, to friends in cities I will not visit before we leave. Fourteen parcels of perfume, each vial taped closed, accompanied by a couple of tea bags and perhaps a lollipop. My first car, bought in Norwich and delivered one snowy evening by three men, driven six weeks later to Ambleside for our honeymoon, driven away by a couple with a young son in the back. A camera. A pair of boots. Eventually, our bed.