Skara Brae made me think of the stuff in my house

I am currently reading Bill Bryson’s At Home: A short history of private life and in it he mentions Skara Brae, the neolithic village located in the Orkney Islands off the northern tip of Scotland.


This ancient village was uncovered by a storm that swept through the area in 1850. Underneath a grassy hill, at the time known as Skerrabra, was found Skara Brae, this mostly intact and ancient, stony village which today is a popular tourist attraction.

This glimpse into the life of a people dating back to 4000-1800 BC has made such an impression on me, I had to investigate further. And the result of my investigation into this historic village made me reflect upon how we, our family, live today and how my life is affected by the incredulous amount of stuff that we claim to need in order to live so-called satisfying lives.

It has occurred to me time and again that I cannot function like a ‘normal’ person when the house is in disarray.

This is never more true than at Christmas time, or shortly thereafter.

Or in winter time.

Or when it’s someone’s birthday.

Or when we have visitors.

Or when we have animals here.

Or…(clearly I have a problem here)…

…when we I am trying to polish up the house to list it so I we can sell it and move to a house where each kid will have their own room.

Funny how I managed to talk about this exact topic under very different circumstances exactly one year ago this month…2200 pounds of stuff got carted off to a landfill in a faraway land.


This house we live in is small and when life happens in it and I’m moody and cranky and overwhelmed, I do one of two things:

I plunge into a depression (which is rather counter-productive but for some reason I manage to plunge more often than not), or

I go on a purging/cleaning frenzy like some kind of possessed maniac.

Currently I’m the possessed maniac. And the end result of a very tidy, clean, sanitary and uncluttered bedroom and washroom is very encouraging to my battered psyche.

The problem is that if I stop now (and I do feel kind of tired and out of steam) the rest of the house will not catch up to this state of cleanliness and clutterlessness, and then life happens and suddenly I find my two clean rooms cluttered up with stuff again.

This is what launched us into a stupid argument the other night. The girl wanted to play with a toy that was hidden behind a pile of crap I placed in front of it because I did not think she was going to want to play with THAT particular toy this close to bedtime and when she did I thought I better move the pile of crap someplace else so that she is at least quiet (because it’s this close to bedtime) and I didn’t know where to move the pile of crap to so I moved it into the hallway which is near the kitchen and then a thing fell off the pile and I picked it up and threw it toward the moved pile of crap and it fell on the floor and made a noise and DH got mad at me because he thought I was having a fit about the clutter when all I wanted to do was move the pile of crap so Sonja could play.

Get it?

I said “there’s no place to put the stuff” to which there is a standard response which I won’t repeat here (and no it wasn’t anything nasty or dirty).

The point is there is an endless accumulation of more stuff going on, and unless one stays on top of the purging and clearing out old and outgrown, one ends up drowning in the stuff.

Someone has to clean the stuff or dust it or display it.

Someone has to pack it if one wants to store it.

Someone has to physically get it out of the house if no one wants or needs it anymore.

No matter how you look at it, a lot of the stuff is just stuff. It means nothing.

Yes, I am insane.

I think about those people who lived so many many years ago, and how their focus was about survival, staying and keeping warm, shelter, food and staying alive in general, and not about where to put excess toys or clothing or storage bins full of stuff you can’t even remember having put in there and for what purpose.

I so much like the name of this village, Skara Brae, that I am considering naming a dog, when we get one again, after it.

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