In the Summer of 2020, I finally got round to converting two bedrooms in my home into my very own photographic studio. As a statement, that probably poses at least a couple of questions, including:
- How did you have two spare bedrooms to do that with?
- Why build a home photographic studio anyway?
But this article is not about answering those immediate questions – although you can just look at my website for the answer to the second one!
What I want to discuss in this article is what was, for me, the hardest part of the whole process. You know what? It wasn’t taking down the stud wall that separated the two bedrooms – there are plenty of YouTube videos that show exactly how to do that (and it also meant I could buy myself a reciprocating saw!). Nor was it finding somewhere that I could hire a skip for three weeks for a reasonable amount - the ‘Next Door’ app got me plenty of recommendations for the best place (Forceshift in Boston, Lincs – if you happen to live in my neck of the woods). The hardest part wasn’t deciding what colour to paint the walls or what type of flooring to install – again, there’s plenty of advice available online for anyone setting out on a similar project.
Far and away, the actual hardest part of the whole project – for me anyway – was getting rid of all the accumulated clutter/junk/treasure that I had carefully squirrelled away in those two ‘spare’ rooms in the few years since they had actually stopped being bedrooms. Now, let me just say here for the record, I do have Marie Kondo’s lovely little book ‘Spark Joy’ - I knew I had it somewhere and I found it in one of two cluttered bookcases that were on either side of the partition wall that I took down, once I’d moved the bookcases. At some point in my life, I must have even read some of Marie’s book because, on a carefully bookmarked page, I read the telling phrase “it might come in handy”. Marie is very scathing about this phrase. She says:
“It might come in handy? Believe me, it never will. You can always manage without it. For those embarked on a tidying marathon, this phrase is taboo!”
I’ve never met her, but I think I could be one of Marie’s biggest challenges. The reason I think that is that I’m a terrible hoarder of stuff that – one day – might just come in handy. My excuse is that I come from a long line of hoarders. My grandfather on my mother’s side had a garage full of tools and bits and pieces that might just come in handy one day. His small grandchildren - me included - would watch avidly as he worked in there making toys for us to play with – I particularly remember a wooden boat. Later on, as my interest in photography developed (oops!) and grew, he built me a darkroom in the loft of my parents' house. Don’t tell Marie, but he built that darkroom with stuff he’d kept in his cluttered garage in case it came in handy.
When he died – at the ripe old age of 96 – my mother and I had the unenviable task of clearing out his stuff. This was not just the treasure trove of his garage (strangely, to the grown up me, there was little or no actual treasure in there) but also the rest of his house. For anyone who’s ever had to do this, you’ll know what a heart-rending experience this can be. One poignant snapshot of this is the little pile of Imperial Leather soaps we found in the corner of his airing cupboard. As kids, we always bought our grandad a bar of this soap for his birthday and for Christmas. After all, even if you have everything, you still need to wash every day. But, what with having six grandchildren and spending the last year of his life in a care home (that had its own soap), he’d never managed to use it all up.
My mother – in her turn – was also a great hoarder and, in the fullness of time, my siblings and I also had to clear out our parents’ house and deal with all her clutter. Having gone through this sad experience twice now, perhaps one of the greatest bequests I can make to my son is to NOT make him have to sort through piles of stuff that I have kept simply because “it might come in handy one day”. So, what was my solution to this? Should I just have put everything that did not ‘spark joy’ - or was not of immediate use – into the skip? Aside from the fact that, if I was to do that, I was going to need a much bigger skip, this would have seemed such an awful waste.
The one thing that I knew NOT to do is to put my stuff in self-storage. It seems to me that there has been an explosion in self-storage facilities in recent years. I’m sure you’ve seen them - “Secure Storage from £30 a Month” – and that’s just the cheaper ones! They seem to be an incredibly seductive, simple solution to your ‘clutter’ problem. You make a few trips over to the storage facility, put all your excess ‘might come in handy one day’ stuff in a big old container and lock the door. Then you forget all about it. Out of sight, out of mind. From time-to-time, you might glance at a bank or credit card statement and wonder what that monthly charge of £30 is for, but then life will distract you and you’ll forget about it again. But, one day you’ll realise that this temporary solution to your cluttered house has been in place for several years and that you’ve spent well over a thousand pounds on storing some boxes of old junk in a shipping container on the outskirts of town.
Despite knowing this, I was sorely tempted to do it – as a ‘temporary solution’. I’m proud to say that I resisted the temptation. But I did spend some money on getting my loft boarded out professionally, along with shelves installed in the ‘V’ of the roof trusses. This gave me an extra 25 square metres of storage space for as long as I live in my current house. It’s a much cheaper solution than paying someone else every month to store your stuff for you! It also has some added benefits – you have to make the effort to clear what you already have in the loft. Obviously, you need to do this before the date that you’ve booked for the guy to come round and board out the loft. What this gives you is a deadline – and there’s nothing more motivating than a deadline. You know you’ve meant to clear the loft out for ages, but you’ve just kept putting it off. But when you’ve booked the installation, you just have to get on and do it.
Oh, and while I was doing that, I thought I’d better get some extra rolls of loft insulation delivered and roll those out to supplement what was already up there. The loft-board system that I got installed has specially designed risers that are screwed to the roof joists. The loft boards are installed onto the risers and the gap underneath gives plenty of room for bringing your insulation level up to the latest recommended depth. So, for the price of a few rolls of insulation, you’ve made a lifelong saving on your future heating bills. While I was at it, I also got the loft board installers to fit a larger, fully insulated loft hatch. The result of all of this was that it’s no longer a cross between an expedition and an exercise in contortion to get up into the loft. And, once I’m up there, I’m no longer risking an expensive, painful and rather sudden entry into one of the upstairs rooms in my house. The company I used to do all of this are called Instaloft. The work was all done in the space of one day and included the removal of the tank stand that had sat there uselessly ever since I’d had the heating upgraded. It all cost just over £1200, but for that I have got an extra 25 square metres of safe storage space and easy entry to the loft.
All of this makes putting stuff back in the loft a lot less of an effort. While I was at it, I also finally got rid of the old dilapidated cardboard boxes that my Christmas decorations had been stored in for years and replaced them with some stackable, see-through plastic boxes with lids. I’m proud to say that I didn’t immediately fill up all the extra loft storage space that I’d had created either.
Fortunately, a social media post from a neighbour provided a partial solution to this. The post explained how he’d been helping out a young mother and her kids who were about to move from a Domestic Abuse Refuge into unfurnished accommodation. He’d donated as much of his spare ‘stuff’ as he could and wondered if anyone else could help out? His plea was well timed – the ‘covid clearout’ is something that many families had got on with over lockdown and so there was a lot of good quality, excess to requirement items that people wanted to donate.
So it was that I drove over to Carla’s new place with a carload of my stuff – single bed, nearly-new memory foam mattress, kettle, breadmaker, pictures for kids’ bedrooms etc. etc. Helped by her eldest daughter, Carla and I made several trips from the car, up the three flights of stairs to her new flat. She was, naturally, very touched by everyone's generosity, but there was one particular item that really caught her attention - a bedside light in the form of a globe with a detailed map of the world on it.
“Ooh! Is that for us too?” she said.
“Yes, if you want it?”
“I’m going to have it for my room – don’t let the kids see it, they’ll want it too” she laughed.
So whatever Marie Kondo says, it had come in handy one day. I’d only put it in the back of the car as an after-thought. Had I not done this, it would probably have spent the next decade languishing in a box in the loft. Instead, it’s now bringing a little bit of light into the life of Carla – a young mother who has survived a terrible time in her life. Now that really does spark joy.