Decluttering with Astrid (45)

People’s Stuff, Part 2

There is only one way to counter a vacation dip, and that is to book a new vacation. It was even recommended in a newspaper article I read the other week, which meant I didn’t feel the slightest bit decadent looking up hotels and Airbnbs in Barcelona a week after coming back home from Iceland. In fact, it felt the sensible thing to do… After all, I was simply following the newspaper’s advice, and it never hurts to look, does it. Okay: so I know I have to pay particular attention to price and location, but I always seem to pay a great deal of attention to all the things featured in the photos, too. If a house is packed full of stuff, I swipe on by immediately…

When we traveled around Iceland this summer, we spent a few days in a wooden hut that was bursting at the proverbial seams with stuff. My other half was already looking doubtful as soon as he had found the key (which lay in its wonderfully typically-Icelandic hiding place: next to the front door) and opened the door. This was clearly a place that was inhabited by someone. Many ‘someones’ in fact. That was evident everywhere you looked: books, family photos, lots of ‘mom-is-the-best-but-in-Icelandic’ drawings hanging in the kitchen, games, more games, rugs, craft projects, shelves filled with knickknacks, windowsills full of little fripperies. I hadn’t spotted any of these things when I had studiously inspected the Airbnb photos six months earlier. That night, I thought about what I would do if this was my house, and I came to the conclusion that I would throw at least three-quarters of the stuff out.

It’s odd that I would prefer a more minimalist house, as that personal touch is what makes Airbnb so nice. I once read a newspaper article about the beauty of home exchange and Airbnb, in which a man explained that he found it so special to be able to step into someone’s life. To read a school schedule on a fridge door in Berlin. Or to page through a photo album of a family in New York. Or inspect the flyer for a course of some sorts that’s pinned to a board in the hallway. But I don’t wish to take a shower amid the (used) toiletries of strangers. My boys found a closet in the loft which had some obscure toys that kept them happily entertained for ages, making this the nicest house we stayed in on our Icelandic trip (as far as they were concerned, that is), but I saw nothing but dust bunnies and dirty cups. And then I looked at the family photos once again and pondered on who the coats that were hanging on the rack in the hallway belonged to.

The guest book had an instant photo pasted in it that had been placed there by a group of French people. Two of them were wearing Icelandic sweaters, which they had found in the chest of drawers, they wrote. They had been cold and thanked the owners for the ‘loan’. It certainly seemed weird to me, having an unknown Frenchman wear my sweater, but I believe the owner was okay with this scenario. She had e-mailed us three times to let us know that we could really use everything in the house, even food from the pantry.

Yup. Using other people’s stuff is always a little complicated. But we were very careful doing so; we fixed the squeaky roller blinds, tidied everything away when we were leaving, left a new bag of rice and bottle of ketchup in the pantry, and put the key back in its special hiding place. And we sighed with relief. Off to the hostel with its nice empty, anonymous rooms…

Astrid, together with Irene, is the founder of Flow Magazine. She lives with her partner and two children. Each Tuesday, she writes about the sense—and nonsense—of decluttering.

“Week 45 – People’s Stuff, Part 2”