EVERY year sensible householders do a good tidy-out of their homes, and there is nothing in the world more satisfactory. We make lovely piles of things for the local rummage sale: a single glove, diaries we haven't used, some completely scentless lavender bags, a chipped vase, and one roller skate. We go through our writing tables like a whirlwind of destruction, tearing up old letters and receipts until we reach that sorry, but seemingly inevitable, base of paper clips and elastic bands spread over an area of dusty lining paper, to which are stuck a tube of glue and a piece of candy.
The only danger in this laudable enterprise is that unless you are careful, you throw everything away, including a Shakespeare First Folio and the family silver.
Sentiment, which at the start of the proceedings acts as a brake, loses its power after an hour or so, and whereas at 6 o'clock you lay the beloved's letters to one side, so sure are you that you will want to read them again when you are old and sitting by the fire, at 7:30 you put them in the fire. A measure of restraint is required unless the whole of one's past is to be swept into the municipal dust cart.
Sometimes the drag of sentiment and nostalgia is so great you have to shut your eyes as you relegate objects to the trash can: the pink plastic elephant given you by little Jimmy, the whistle from a Christmas cracker, etc.: and sometimes, before you have reached the climax of your cleaning operations, you put them all back in the drawer again, along with the two inches of flex, the rusty nails, and the broken golf tees you feel might come in handy one day.
The same applies to books. These have a way of accumulating to a remarkable degree, particularly as the impression one has is that during the year friends have borrowed nearly all of them and forgotten to send them back.
Nevertheless, when the time comes to dust the bookshelves, there is always a redundancy lying horizontally across the top of the vertical ones: So something has to go. (Actually there is no reason why anything should have to go save for the belief, indoctrinated into us when young, that except for huge tomes on Renoir, books should be shelved upstanding.)
The sorting out of books must be approached with caution, since all members of literate families appear to be ultrapossessive. Though unable to give plausible reasons why they should wish to hold onto a 1910 Guide to Berlin, or a thriller unopened for 20 years, they take great umbrage if these are found in the Jumble Sale pile.
For my own part, I have found it almost fatal to start rereading as well as dusting, as this is infinitely delaying. I now take a rush at it, hoping that in my purgative zeal I will not inadvertently cast away first editions signed by their authors or find out, too late, that the ``History of the Crimean War'' is someone's favorite reading.