Things, and when to Get Rid of them

William Morris claimed that you should have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.  I know he was rebelling against the suffocating sentimentality of the Victorians, but even so I think that you should also have things which remind you of people or places that you’ve loved, otherwise you might as well live in a show-home.  But Morris’s point is a good one, well made. You certainly should not have things made in Chinese sweat-shops out of metallised plastic which are hideous and pointless and which you keep for a month, but that is a different subject for a different day.  This post is about Getting Rid of Things.

Three years ago I was living in temporary accommodation with everything I owned in storage except my laptop, some clothes, books and kitchen knives.  (Why are other peoples’ kitchen knives impossible to use?  It’s not even as if mine are sharp.  But they can tell who’s using them, you know).  I was tempted to get the storage company to send the lot to auction and to take myself off to Ikea with the profits and start again from minimalist scratch.  I missed none of it.  Not a jot, not a tittle.  But of course when it arrived I unpacked it all and couldn’t bring myself to throw any of it away.  Ho no.

In part it’s brainwashing by two generations of frugal and determined women who convinced me that waste is wicked.  But you have to worry about the sanity of someone who thinks that keeping the salad drawer from a long gone fridge is a way of avoiding waste.  Behold that lunatic.  These days of course disposing of anything in landfill is irresponsibly feckless, so I still tend to store rubbish rather than throwing it away.

It was also drummed in to my head that it was rude to dispose of a gift.  For years I had a badly made clock about 9″ high, shaped like a long-case (grandfather) clock.  It was red and painted with white flowers.  I loathed it from the day my godmother gave it to me, but I kept it for decades because it would be rude to throw it away. It still affects me.  The women I bought my house from gave me a picture of the valley taken in the 19th century which their deceased brother had acquired at some time.  Can I get rid of it?  Can I heck.  I’m thinking of framing the wretched thing.

Then there’s the Great Book Debate.  Iris Murdoch, I think, kept every book she had ever owned.  On the one hand I can see that would become a fascinating record of one’s intellectual journey, but on the other hand it strikes me as self-indulgent narcissism.  I’m simply not interested in the same things now as I was 20 years ago.   And then there’s the matter of space.  Where would I keep them all?

The internet continues to change my attitude to books. A couple of days ago picked over the books I keep in the kitchen which tend to be about food and sex (on the basis that they are both appetites of the flesh).   I had assumed, in Morris’s terms, that they were useful, so I was surprised to find that I only intend to keep about half a dozen cookery books.  These are the ones which were given to me by women who loved me who are now long dead and a few which are more social documents than cookery books, for example Mrs Beeton and a book of recipes and anecdotes from post-War rural France.  If I want your actual recipes, then the internet is nearer and quicker than a recipe book.

But still there’s this terrible tyranny of Things. ‘Keep it’, my Grandmother used to say, ‘you’ll never know when you’ll need it’.  Indeed.  But if you have too many Things then that strategy backfires: today I discovered that I’ve got a whizzy spinning bowl which gets the water off washed lettuce leaves.  Only the other day I was thinking ‘I need a whizzy spinning bowl to get the water off these lettuce leaves, but where would I keep it?’.  I’d kept the one I’d already got for so long and buried it so deep, that I’d no idea I’d got the bloody thing.

Right.  That’s me blogged.  I need to load up the car and then I’m off to the charity shop  and the tip.

9 responses to “Things, and when to Get Rid of them

  1. My grandmother has a lettuce spinner that I was seriously impressed with when I was a child, mind you I never seem to need one, and I eat plenty of lettuce.

  2. . . . and the tip

    You meaan, and Freecycle, surely?

  3. 😯

    Getting Rid of Books?!!?!?!?!? That’s as close to sacrilege my atheist self ever comes. However, I was guilty of it last time I moved house. One and a half paperbag filled with debate books from the early and mid seventies were discarded. Those changes in the system of education they argued for or against have been overthrown long ago.

    My bloodpressure still rises, though, just by thinking of this abomination 😉

  4. Funny you should write about this. I’ve been on a simplicity kick myself this past year. One major part of changing your life is getting rid of material things you don’t need. It’s amazing how much time and money goes into maintaining stuff. When you move it out, you make room for new things (or ideas or experiences) to come into your life.

    P.S. My former blog was “Compartments” on your blogroll. I have a domain now

  5. It is so hard to get rid of things, even things that don’t get used. I am still partly in boxes eight months after moving house, and have promised myself that I will have a jolly good weed through everything in the unopened boxes. Will it happen? Probably not. I did make several charity shop trips before packing in the first place, though. For a librarian, I managed to pass on quite a surprising number of books.

    I find I hang on to games and children’s books now in anticipation of another generation to pass them on to. I am unlikely to become a father, my sister is not interested in children, but there’s always the possibility of friends becoming parents. But would they even want Beatrix Potter, board games or the Famous Five?

  6. They are impressive things, Z, and I’m glad to have found one.

    I do freecycle (both ways), but the trip to the tip was with things that not even freecyclers wanted, Shrink.

    I used to feel the same way, Dragonqueen, but then I discovered that there are people who will accept my books and give me MONEY which I can turn into other, newer, shinier, more interesting books! 😉

    Hello Emile. You are so right about the energy-drain (and financial drain) of maintaining Stuff. I look forward to wandering around your new online space.

    Quite right to hang on to children’s books, Singing Librarian. I think it is good for children to have access to things which aren’t brand new and which have been looked after. Teaches them that not everyone trashes everything.

    Thanks all for reading and commenting.



  7. Aphra,

    My daughters want me to declutter, and that includes books. It is hard, especially as many of them have given me long hours of pleasure.

    There are some that I might get rid of, but that still will leave me with between 3 and 4 thousand books.

    I’ve tried it and put together a pile, then I gradually take them back. And am left with about 20 to dispose o.

  8. Yikes! Keep a hold of them! They are your books and your journey. Non-consensual de-cluttering really isn’t ok.


  9. Somehow i missed the point. Probably lost in translation 🙂 Anyway … nice blog to visit.

    cheers, Receiver.

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