Much has been written about consumer culture and how we have an incessant need to buy new things. But what about the things we can’t get rid of?
My family and I are in the lengthy process of moving house, and in amongst the stress and strain of it all there has been the revealing, entertaining, and quite often depressing discovery of useless belongings that for some reason or other have survived multiple spring cleans and two house-moves in ten years. Enough matchboxes to cover our dining room table, single earrings whose partners will never be found, huge jars of corks, mounds of yellowed lace… Why have we held on to all of this?
In some cases, the answer is fairly simple. Certain objects can hold an impressive amount of emotional attachment, and there are some things, such as a favourite stuffed toy, that have too many years of positive association to be thrown away. I came across a black sack full of such toys, and while some went straight to charity shops without a second glance, there were some characters that, in some unexplainable way, symbolise my childhood. And then there have been other things that hold equal sentimental value: family albums that date back to the late 1800s, the rather grubby christening gown that has been worn for generations, books that we will probably never read again but were given to us by someone memorable, instruments we no longer play but can’t let go of… These things, I feel, we are justified in keeping.
However, there are some things that just defy common sense and reasoning. I often joke that my family’s motto is ‘You never know…’, but this is turning more and more into a reality. Shall we bin this manky collection of keys that haven’t seen the light of day in over fifty years? ‘No. You never know, they might be useful one day’. Shall we get rid of this chair that’s falling to pieces and probably has a family of mice living in it? ‘No. You never know, it could be fixed and used again’. And so on. I know there’s a lot to be said for the make-do-and-mend mentality, but I really do think that at some point a line must be drawn and an object be rendered useless.
If conclusion can be drawn from this, it is that we have too much stuff. Admittedly this is partly due to the continuous buying of new things, but an inherent stubbornness to part with objects that have little or no sentimental/monetary/useful value is also to blame. I’m not saying that we should use something for a year and then throw it away; that’s just wasteful. But I do feel that there is much to be gained from streamlining our possessions. More space, less clutter, better organisation, more time to do the things we want to do rather than the things we have to do (such as tidying up messy rooms over-filled with stuff). I dream of living in a house where not every surface holds a jumble of newspapers, post, dog biscuits and tea cups, and where we don’t need three cellars and a huge attic space to hold the overflow of hideous and chipped furniture.