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Harriet Walker: Moving house is a Sisyphean task


Most people start the New Year feeling bilious and over-full. Not me: I've kicked it all off rather emptily. I mean that literally rather than existentially, because I've just moved house and I have no furniture.

It's a lovely time to relocate, this month which is equal parts dreariness and naïve optimism; when all the telly adverts are for honing the body you have into something entirely unrecognisable, or for starting a collection of collectables that you'll never manage to collect.

January is the time to embark on interminable projects, and moving house must be one of the most eternally unfolding and unsolvable. Just when you think you've covered all bases, packed everything away and tied up the loose ends, something further arises and you realise you're no nearer finishing than you are starting, caught bang in the middle of a creaky-looking rope bridge like Indiana Jones, with each side of the chasm equally unreachable. To move house is to be caught in a cycle of ongoing Sisyphean tasks that never reach any conclusion. That's how it feels spending every day on hold to British Gas, anyway.

It took me two attempts to move out of my last place. The reason? Too much old shite, as the Emperor Joseph II didn't quite say to Mozart. Too many boxes, too much hoarding, too much toot that I haven't been big enough to jettison during the journey of my life.

I keep clothes that don't fit and artefacts I don't like, pictures I never look at and books I haven't read. Two thousand (approx) different fabrications and flavours of soap; 500 half-empty bottles of shampoo; seven bin bags of shoes, and a cutesy garden lantern despite the fact I've never had a garden and have moved to a flat with no garden. Nevertheless, I ENDEAVOURED to take them all with me in a van designed to fit roughly half that volume.

It is all here with me now, after two journeys in the van and an Apocrypha in the boyfriend's Ford Focus, towering over me in cardboard boxes whose brandings and slogans make no sense whatsoever in their new context. "Always sell your eggs in rotation" reads one that's crammed with towels. Next to it is a Cuisine de France crate, once filled with croissants but now with crockery. Down the hall, there is a fancy fashionable carrier bag of the sort you sometimes see celebrities with, overflowing with bathroom ephemera and a loo brush.

Still, all this mess – or "potential", as I have philosophically renamed it until I see some viable method of actually putting it all away somewhere – makes me feel like anything is possible. I feel very January. I am the Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen of my own demesne, and I shall scumble glaze the drawbridge, just as soon as I've worked out how you switch the heating on.

Since I moved, I've spent the week in a strange purgatory, at home but not at home. I've done a lot of trudging – it turns out, when you move house, everything you need is a semi-long trudge away to local shops you haven't yet become familiar with. One day soon this trudging will be par for the course, but at the moment I find myself going the wrong way, taking the wrong shortcuts (oftentimes a longcut, it transpires) and generally wandering, in search of screwdrivers, door hooks and other things I've never been particularly interested in before.

The really exciting parts of moving house – the furniture and fittings, the moment it takes shape from a slum to something sprung fully formed from the mind of Cath Kidston – are things that happen despite your efforts rather than because of them: the kismet of finding and meeting not a life partner but a sideboard that you really like the look of; the placing of knick-knacks just so, in order that they appear artfully strewn rather than painstakingly placed. These are not things I really know how to effect.

So I'm trudging on, from out-of-town DIY centre to north-London junk shop, in search of the equivalent new body and new-year collectables for my new home. I'm thinking of things like cushions. I find myself peering in other people's windows and wondering how their scheme would look in my new gaffe. (The answer is always "distinctly inappropriate", seeing as I only tend to look in the windows of the really nice, big houses on the other side of the street, a single armchair from which would render the rest of my new flat Lilliputian.)

It's what some people like to term "a project". But I've never been into those – I'm hardwired for instant gratification, but I'm learning to bite it back. It'll be worth all this old shite staying in boxes for another three months when I find that perfect mid-century modern display cabinet for it all. In the meantime, I'd settle for just being able to work out how to turn the heating on.