What to throw out? Tubs of limewash, old gates, a pile of stone - they may all come in useful

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It is generally at about this time of year that I nerve myself to conduct a purge of the buildings round the farmyard - the problem always being to decide whether an object has some potential use or whether it is junk. Much depends, of course, on how you want your premises to look. One mason who did some work here advocated the indefinite retention of everything. "After all," he said, about a pile of stone, "stood in a corner there, it don't eat nor drink nothing, do it?" He had a point; but I have a point as well, and that is that the place should not become like a tip.

So where do we begin the annual clear-out? Most of that stone is still with us, 10 years on. Some has been put to good use, and the rest may come in handy any time. If we wanted to make space, we could shift it out and add it to another pile along the edge of a spinney, but it is better off under cover, where rain and frost cannot damage it. Clearly, it has to stay.

Next to it stand three substantial tubs of limewash, left over from refurbishing one end of the house. Will they ever come into their own? The idea was that if the new rendering should crack or flake off, we would have spare limewash, exactly the right colour, with which to repair the damage. But now, a year later, nothing has shifted. Furthermore, scratched in pencil on a beam in the woodshed, we have the recipe from which Adrian, our master builder, concocted the final, creamy coat: in an emergency, we could re- create the colour from fresh ingredients. So should I throw out the tubs? I think I'd rather hang on to them for the time being.

What about the four farm gates jammed into a corner of the yard? They are all damaged, and not worth repairing. On the other hand, they make excellent temporary barriers, if one suddenly needs to construct an ad hoc enclosure. Hard by them is a cattle-crush - a narrow cage of steel tubing designed to trap a single beast so that one can dose, inject or otherwise treat it. This, too, is inactive for probably 364 days a year, but all the same ...

Back under cover, access to my work bench is almost blocked by a stack of fence-posts, planks and lengths of four-by-two salvaged from earlier structures. All this dry timber would burn splendidly: one good blaze- up would clear the lot. On the other hand, most of the pieces will eventually give good service in some other incarnation - a sheep trough, a nesting- box for the chickens, a new stile - and even a carpenter with my Neanderthal skills will enjoy working with them.

It is at the back of the work-bench, in the far corner, that the most difficult decisions lurk. What about this box of fallow deer antlers, lovingly collected against a rainy day? Time was when they fetched pounds 5 per kilo. Then the trade collapsed, and they became worthless. Should they now go to the tip - or might the market revive?

And what about this carton of two-inch nails, bought in a moment of weakness? "Ten pahnd for a fiver," the man bellowed, and, like an idiot, I fell for it. He made no secret of the fact that the nails were seconds, lacking points. "They'll still go in," he insisted - and he was just about right. They will go in, but they are a pain to use, and after eight years I have about 9lb left, fused into a rusty mass. They really should go to the dump - and perhaps they will, along with 20 tins of paint long past their use-by date.

I pass over the long-handled Tipperary spade, bought in the county of that name, the antique, heart-shaped turf-lifter which we inherited when we arrived, the blade for the old hay-knife, and a dozen items of similar antiquity.

If I hardened my heart and threw them all out, the shed might look a bit neater. Yet I am fairly sure that, come February 1998, they will all still be in situ. A certain amount of clutter gives the farmyard interest and character; I feel that without it the place would be impoverished.