Saturday, 12 November 2011

Too much stuff

Once upon a time I used to travel light.  I could be ready and off and out the door in about ten minutes with a little rucksack on my back and my purse in my pocket.  That was before the days of mobile phones and digital cameras.  I think life was simpler then but it might simply be that I was - simpler, younger, lighter.

I began to acquire stuff when I acquired my own house.  Prior to that I had lived in a series of furnished, rented places where moving from one flat to another could be done on foot in an afternoon with a couple of cardboard boxes and the aforementioned rucksack.  Buying a house was part of getting married and that was followed very swiftly by having a baby.  We didn't have much money but nevertheless stuff poured in remorselessly through the door like floodwater: furniture and pans and crockery and cushions, a cot and a pram and toys and a steriliser and a car seat.  When we separated while the children were still small my then husband didn't want any of the things which had been in the house.  I think it was partly that we had created a home for the children and he didn't want to leave it with gaping holes in it and partly that he didn't want to divide things into piles, to talk about it, to be either too nice or too grasping.  He would rather start again.

I minded a little bit although I understood and honoured his motives.  I would have liked the chance to get rid of the cast offs and hand me downs with which our house was furnished but that wasn't going to happen.  There was no money so there was no choice.

And here we are a lot of years on and the hand me downs are long gone.  I don't think I am a materialistic person yet if you asked me what I would save from a burning house I would say nothing.  The important bits of my life are people or they are in my head.  Would I miss things?  Yes I would - the picture of my parents on their wedding day, my children's school reports, the piece of driftwood brought back from the side of a Scottish loch.  I like my best china, my sewing machine, books by the lorry load, the beautiful 17th Century Welsh cupboard which is the only valuable (and we are talking relative here) piece of furniture I have ever owned.  But would I save one thing over another?  No I don't think so.  If the people were safe, only the cat.

So how is it then that we have so many things?  I have books I never read and clothes I never wear.  We have CDs we never listen to and DVDs we never watch.  We have outbuildings bursting at the seams with stuff.  We have all our own stuff and now we have my father in law's stuff, although edited quite cheerfully and ruthlessly by him in a practical, laughing way which was a model of its kind. 

I think this has been brought on by moving into our new kitchen, which is another materialism I suppose.  I have never had a new kitchen before and I love it.  It is beautiful and has not cost a lot because of a combination of an unease with spending which on a grand day might be called ethical, plain and simple meanness and Ian's ability to do so much himself.  I shall show you some pictures next time.  But in moving back into the kitchen after nearly five months of squeezing around the end of the table and carrying the dishes outside, I have been amazed that we can still can find things to send to the charity shop.  We had the biggest clear out in the world, well in my world, six years ago when we came here.  I don't think we buy much.  The pans I am using were mostly bought nearly twenty years ago.  In 2008 I bought a single Furi knife which I refer to mentally as my new knife as I still use every day a couple of knives which I have had for thirty years.  So how come there is all this stuff?

Does it breed?  Do other people smuggle their stuff into my house when I think they are coming for coffee?  Do delivery men bring a case of wine which I sign for and a couple of cases of not very useful and slightly grubby things which they sneak into a dark corner of the kitchen while I am wielding the electronic pen?


45 comments:

  1. wow, you and i think so much alike. i blogged on this topic a few days back... it's amazing to look around and see all the stuff we have. it's hard to part with, even though it's easy to do without.

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  2. It must have been partly reading your blog that set me off Laurie. I love that phrase "hard to part with, easy to do without".

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  3. Oh gosh, this sounds a lot like my experience, in fact it's almost painful to read because of the resonance. Enjoy your new kitchen.

    Oh, and the reason I'm replying so late is because Tom and Stepson Two are currently trying to rebuild the bathroom!

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  4. I am constantly getting rid of things as I find it makes me feel good- the less I have the happier I am.

    Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.
    ATTRIBUTION: William Morris (1834–1896), British artist, writer, printer. Lecture, 1877. “The Decorative Arts: Their Relation to Modern Life and Progress,” publ. As “The Lesser Arts” in Hopes and Fears for Art (1882).

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  5. Phew! - I thought that Chris Stovell said that 'Tom Stephenson' was trying to rebuild his bathroom for a minute.

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  6. It is a mystery to me where all the "stuff" comes from - I only moved here 5 years ago and I thought I got rid of everything that wasn't useful or beautiful then .... it would appear not and it has also procreated.

    So happy to hear that you are in your new kitchen and look forward to seeing the pictures .... if I had to rescue one thing from the house it would be my back up hard drive as it has all my pictures on it, Oh and my Ensete Maurelli (Red Abyssinian Banana) which is currently residing under the table (don't ask, I don't know why)
    K

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  7. It breeds. Definitely.
    When we were moving every year or two with the military we never had an accumulation of stuff. Fourteen years in one place has allowed all the detritus to breed uncontrollably.

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  8. Oh, how true, I have been trying all week to take a large bag of "stuff" to the Salvation Army's Op Shop and there is plenty more that needs to go. My main problem is that "it may come in useful one day" and that I like browsing through op shops and garage sales.

    Look forward to seeing your new kitchen.

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  9. I am laughing. This is me. Entirely me. I think of my house as a ship slowly being filled up. Theo has come and with him a volume of essential 'stuff' car seat, high chair, push chair, pens, painting boards, clothes, books, toys - as if we didn't have enough already. But I find it hard to throw things out. My old digital camera which appears to be on the blink. Two hundred years ago you could have sold a digital camera for half of Burgundy; must I now consign it to landfill? It is so hard to get rid of stuff. I still have some of my school books. Written in turquoise ink. I was into turquoise ink at 14. Who will ever look at them? Still I do throw a lot of stuff out.I know how much it costs to keep it. 'Have you used it in the last 6 months? Will you use it in the next 6 months? Is it of sentimental value? But easier said than done. My everything has sentimental value.

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  10. I'm not a hoarder and I do have regular clear outs but still, after 35 years in this house, I have lots and lots of 'stuff'. The loft and the cellar are full but a good deal of it belongs to my eldest son and his wife which we are storing while they are living in South Africa. The loft could do with a good sort out though - maybe a project for this winter. I loved Tom Stephenson's comment, it really made me laugh!

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  11. Both OH and I are hoarders (in different ways) plus in the past 12 months we've cleared two houses belonging to elderly relatives - result is our house is full of stuff!!! I know we'll have to declutter and decide what stays and what goes... and where it goes. But for now it's here and we're taking a breather before making some hard decisions.

    I liked Fennie's comment - somewhere I too have schoolbooks written in turquoise in when I was 14.

    Celia

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  12. Yes, count me in too...when I moved house I was appalled by how much 'stuff' I had! A friend's flat burnt down & she lost everything at once but she said that once she'd got over the shock it gave her a remarkable 'lightness'...

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  13. Struck a chord. We're as minimalist as we can be. Every Winter we go through the house emptying drawers etc. Many a trip to Charity shops and the recycle centre. Feeling down? - Clear out the shed. In fact I've cleared out other people's shed's in my time.

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  14. Great post, stuff absolutely Must breed or how else does it get here? I don't seem to buy much but then I don't throw anything away either, have just made Christmas tree decorations for a craft fair from my collection of empty cotton reels! Why do I have a collection of empty cotton reels? Because they might come in handy one day and case proved, they have, and if they sell they will make a couple of pennies for the Church and so they aren't in the bin/landfill. I seem to be eBaying constantly that's selling not so much buying. Moving house shortly we have to reduce the amount of STUFF. But I don't know, some of it may come in useful one day and then I won't have it any more.....
    CKx

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  15. ooo you're moving into your new kitchen at last :)

    I don't know where all the stuff comes from either. I smiled at your first comment. We freecycled a laser printer this week. But just before it went out the door we remembered it was my husband's 40th birthday present and I printed my Masters' thesis on it. It made it so much harder to let it go, even though we've not printed anything via it for years.

    Hmm, I've just re-read the last paragraph. Perhaps the laser printer story does explain where all this stuff comes from. Excuse me, I feel a bit of light editing of the house is needed...

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  16. Tom, all welcome - should you be in the mood for helping with our bathroom :)!

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  17. I know once it's gone to pastures new, I feel lighter. But that jersey I knitted, and now never wear because it is not cold enough down South. And the Liberty print, bought in London, and still folded in its purple bag ...

    One thing I appreciate, compared to where's that bit of paper with the quote from ... now I can google, or search my documents et voila. But the boxes of paper with their burden of years, still lurk and lower at me!

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  18. Damned blogger just lost my comment, which went on about how I basically agree. Sigh.

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  19. As always Elizabeth, your posts strike a very familiar chord. When we moved four years ago from one of end the country to the other we had the biggest clear-out you could imagine. I was such a regular contributor to the charity shops and council 'dump' I was in danger of being invited to their Christmas parties.

    But once again, slowly "stuff" builds up; I try to operate the principle of "one new thing in, one old thing out" but my OH could hoard for England so it is not easy. It is time to ruthlessly edit clothes which haven't been worn for far too long and are not suitable/appropriate for how and where we live now. Like Karen, if I had to leave in a hurry I would rescue the back-up drive with my photo archive.

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  20. I'm at risk of going completely the other way at the moment and have to walk away from cupboards in case I throw out too much. I am sick of "stuff" and am filling bags like nobody's business, all ready for "goodwill" as they say here. However, I'm actually starting to throw things out that really should be kept as heirlooms (for other people to throw out). Baby gifts, my husband's baby stuff, furniture that has been in my family for a few generations. I'm finding it very difficult to know what to give away and what to keep.

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  21. I know how you feel Elizabeth. It's a steady drip, drip of stuff with me. I converted the garage into a dining room but, alas, it has remained a garage (with a carpet) - full of stuff that never seems to dwindle in size no matter how many mega clearouts I have.

    Now I've tried to cut back on buying more unnecessary stuff I'm labelled as stingy! Can't win...

    Looking forward to seeing your lovely new kitchen.

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  22. It breeds, it breeds. It looks familiar, of course, but that's an illusion. After my massive clear-out and furniture giveaway before I moved here, I thought I would be far less oppressed by stuff, but no, it's all here, and sometimes it wakes me up in the night with worry about where it will all end. And like you, there is really nothing inanimate that I would want to save from a fire.

    What I realise my mother did was to 'pass it on' (aka getting rid of large furniture she no longer wanted) to her children. Much came from her own mother and sister. I now need my son to be in a position where I can inflict the family curse on him! (but he's a ruthless chucker-out....)

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  23. It definitely breeds! Before I moved here 3 years ago I threw out loads of stuff, but now I have just as much, if not more! Sometimes now after I've had a good tidy up, it literally appears again within a few hours - from where I do not know!

    Glad you are in your new kitchen - I'm sure you'll enjoy it loads (stuff or no stuff!).

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  24. Ooh Elizabeth. Am smiling at the comments, and this post, and that it could have been me who'd written it.

    Your kitchen looked perfect when I saw it last week! lol.

    xx

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  25. It's difficult to declutter when 2 thirds of the stuff belongs to others. The kids will sort stuff out but make me actually throw it out (when they're not looking) because they know they won't remember the things, but can't bear to do it themselves. Getting rid of a few things feels so good but hardly makes a dent in the general scheme of things.
    Teresa x

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  26. When I moved from the Midlands 4 years ago, the removal men told me I would have 5 containers in storage. Decided that was too much and got it down to 3 thanks to a neighbour with a van and the local charity shops. If I moved again now, I think it would be 5 again! It breeds when you back is turned!

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  27. oh my... well things must grow in the night I think or the children sneak it all in, hiding it in draws and cupboards until one day we find it all.I am trying to appreciate what I have and learn to just be a bit harder about what I buy and why I need it.

    Very pleased your kitchen is so close to being finished, you really must be so excited. Love it and use it lots.
    Thanks for the lovely read again, as always it was a pleasure to read.
    Janet x

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  28. Stuff definitely breeds. We have WAY too much stuff. It doesn't help that we have two households worth, and one of them - my in-laws - hasn't been edited at all in years due to them working too hard and being hoarders. And now every time I see something and think maybe it could be chucked, it is immediately followed by the though that maybe it would come in handy. So I've kept the old double glazing unit as it might make an excellent cold frame lid, and the old shower screens for the same reason, and when we move next year we won't have time for a pre-move clear out, so we'll probably need two lorries and will never quite get around to the heavy editing required at the other end either. Yet we (just Peter and I) lived very happily in a small log cabin on Anglesey with a fraction of our stuff and didn't miss a thing...

    Enjoy your new kitchen!!

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  29. I am not sure what happens Elizabeth - one of life's mysteries. There are just the two of us - both untidy hoarders. After 25 years we are in danger of being swallowed up alive by stuff. Perhaps it's time to move :) Hope that the new kitchen provides you with many memorable meals and much love and laughter.

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  30. On the topic of your Father in law willingly letting go of possessions: he sounds like an absolute gem.

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  31. I have a love-hate relationship with 'stuff'. I loath clutter, and generally get rid of things when they've passed use - but I do keep books and other collections that objectively are pointless - but somehow, they feel part of me.

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