by Sheila Connolly

For the past decade or more, I’ve harbored the fantasy of buying a cottage in Ireland. At first I was fixated on buying the site where my Connolly family originated, but I was discouraged by several things: (1) I had no job at the time, so no money, (2) the place was falling down since it hadn’t been lived in for half a century, (3) the farmer who lived next door used the space behind the house for his very large manure pile, and (4) there was a rather aromatic piggery up the hill. All excellent reasons not to buy that property!

Not the family home, but the way I wish it looked.
Not the family home, but the way I wish it looked.

But the dream persisted through the years, and through a lot of changes in my life. So I have to ask myself why the idea still appeals to me, and I didn’t come up with one simple answer, but multiple ones:

–family ties, obviously—although none of my family lives in that part of West Cork now

–owning a place that is uniquely mine (without my husband’s name on the mortgage or title)

–the romance of the idea—most Americans I mention it to seem to love it, and wondered when they could come visit

–the Irish people I’ve talked to about the idea say it’s a good time to buy since the market has bottomed out

–the area is pretty and peaceful and quiet and you can see the Milky Way at night, and I can imagine getting good work done there as long as I had a wi-fi connection

–and finally, it would be like starting over—minus all my stuff.

I have a lot of stuff. I’ve written about it before, and I’m horrified that not much has changed. I haven’t undergone some miraculous transformation and purged my house (too big for two people!) of non-essential items. Although we did rent a dumpster and dispose of over THREE TONS of accumulated construction debris, plus odds and ends that prior owners had left behind (but not that Civil War cannonball I found under the house, a relic from a previous owner who was a Civil War veteran).

Why do I haul this issue out again? Well, in August I spent ten days in a rented apartment in Ireland, which I’d booked sight unseen. It was built over a garage, and it might have measured 15×40 feet all in (two rooms plus bath). I will say that it was very nicely fitted out, and had all the necessary amenities, and it was scrupulously clean, and even had free wi-fi. It became home very quickly during the short time I was there, but it was really suitable for only one person (which was fine since I was traveling alone). Add one more body and you’d be tripping over each other all the time.

My tiny kitchen (that's the oven, not the microwave!)
My tiny kitchen (that’s the oven, not the microwave!)

With limited space you start thinking about what you really need. The kitchen-end of one room there drove that home most clearly. There was a two-burner stove, an oven that might hold a casserole if you left the top off, a fridge about one foot deep, a microwave, and a dishwasher. I never even opened the dishwasher, but I did use everything else. I even cooked! But it made me think: how would I have done things differently in the same space? (Skipped the dishwasher for sure.)

Don’t get me wrong: I love my stuff. Some of it is inherited, and it comes with memories of my family members attached.  Some of it I’ve bought myself, and I can tell you when and where and why for almost all of it. When I see an item or hold it, I remember. I understand why “souvenir” is such an important concept—the word means “memory” in French—and having that tangible thing takes you back to a place and time from your past.

But even so,  there’s something appealing about starting fresh, with a blank slate. And no matter how much I love my assembled clutter, it’s unpeaceful.

Writing is sometimes like that, especially if you’re writing a series. The first book is that blank slate, and you can fill it with people and places and things however you choose. But then there’s a second and a third (and if you’re lucky, even more), and you start collecting baggage. If a character appears in one book, do they have to come back? (Assuming you haven’t killed them.) Are you stuck in one place or can you visit others? If they’re living in one place, they must have surrounded themselves with something—furniture, knickknacks, books. And don’t forget the pets—you can’t just make them disappear.

So by the time you’ve written a few books in a series, things are getting a little crowded. Just like in life. Stuff happens.

The eighth book in the Orchard Series, Picked to Die, comes out tomorrow. When I began the series, my heroine Meg went from a Boston apartment to living in a 1760 colonial house with a barn, and one of the first things she added was a pair of rescue goats. Talk about a change in lifestyles! Curiously, she really isn’t into acquiring more stuff. She hasn’t spent a lot of time worrying about furniture or new curtains. I have to keep reminding myself: I created her. Is she mirroring my own (buried) feelings about accumulating stuff, or am I letting her try out a more streamlined space for me?

As Henry David Thoreau said, “Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity!”


It’s been a busy few weeks on the book front:

Seeing the Dead, the sequel to last year’s Relatively Dead, came out on September 21st. Find it on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Picked to Die (Orchard Mystery #8) comes out tomorrow, October 7th. (Amazon, Barnes & Noble.)

Reunion with Death is part of a BookBub promotion through October 11th, and is priced at 99 cents. (Yes, on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.)


14 Thoughts

  1. I know what you mean about the attraction of a clean slate, uncluttered living space, Sheila! I’m an accumulator by nature, but when I occupy a simple room on a writing retreat, for example, living with the minimum of stuff, it’s such a clear feeling. And I’d be happy to help you occupy your Irish cottage when you get it…

  2. I completely agree about the feeling of freedom you get when you surround yourself with clear space. Whenever I feel stuck on a writing project I try to tidy something up, often my desk. There is just something about physical breathing room that makes mental space as well.

    And, I hope you do find that perfect cottage. I’m sure all the Wickeds would love to visit you there!

  3. Unaffordable fantasy number 2: the old creamery (which has appeared in the County Cork books) is for sale. It’s just down the hill from where my grandfather was born, and it sits on a small lake, with gardens on that side. In my dreams I would buy it and turn it into a small arts center, and maybe set up a few rooms for visiting artists (writers welcome!). Unfortunately the price is just too high, plus it would take a lot of work to make it usable. But we can dream, can’t we?

  4. Great post…really enjoyed it! I, too, have too much stuff…for the same reason you do! You reach a point, in life, when you know you need to clean out. I just haven’t started, yet. 🙂

    1. I’m sneaking up on it. I actually emptied one storage box this weekend! However, I find it very hard to get rid of my grandmother’s monogrammed towels (she’s been gone since 1993).

  5. I’m beginning to get tired of the clutter around me. I’ve lived in my condo for 11 years now, and I need the motivation to go through and cut out some of the stuff that has accumulated in that time. Not sure when I will find the time much less the time and motivation at once, but we will see.

  6. My brother says it’s a comment about our lives that we are constantly preoccupied with getting rid of stuff, when for most of human history acquiring even enough to get by was a constant worry. I think you spend your younger years when you’re building a career and family acquiring stuff, but then you reach the peak of that mountain, your priorities change, and you spend your time getting rid of it.

  7. I shudder to think what my house would be like if Bob hadn’t been in the Air Force and we didn’t move every few years. We still have to much but parted ways with some of it as we moved. Going to Ireland is a dream of mine and I hope I can do it like you have done. Go and stay somewhere without all the frantic running from place to place.

  8. I am a ‘keeper’ who is married to an out-right ‘packrat’; I have finally said , ENOUGH, and so we are thinning out…some. It is incredible what we can accumulate but I find it (all) is no longer something that gives me comfort, it is bogging me down…all of it.
    I wish you the best of luck getting that home in Ireland sometime!

  9. My mother was anything but a collector, but when my sister and I cleared out her things we found items we had never even seen. She had kept them hidden away from the family for decades (like a baby dress of hers). So I guess it’s not hereditary.

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