The problem of Stuff

My problem is not acquiring too many things. My problem is to do with getting rid of the things I already have.  As a result I am surrounded by Stuff which fails William Morris’s test that I either know it to be useful or believe it to be beautiful.  I keep stuff only because I find it too agitating to throw it away.

The one I share my hoard with bought a copy of this book the other day and we read it with separate feelings of awkwardness and unease.

My particular epiphany was that I feel an obligation to dispose of things responsibly.  I cannot blithely throw something away unless it is useless and biodegradable.  I have to reuse, reduce recycle, in every way I can.  

This is inhibiting.  Yesterday in an effort of self-liberation I threw away a perfectly reusable jiffy bag. (I have boxes of the buggers upstairs on a shelf, waiting for the moment I need them).  I don’t mind throwing away the bio-degradeable kraft paper outer, but the bubble-wrap inner makes me feel uneasy. Why can’t jiffy bags be filled with paper waste any more?  Note the tense of that sentence: it makes me feel uneasy now, even though I threw it away yesterday.  Yes, it was worse at the time, but the agitation remains. We should not fill landfill with plastic bubble-wrap.  We certainly should not fill our seas with things that we use once and which then bob around for hundreds of years, killing marine animals for generations to come.

Although this is not quite a compulsion for me, it’s more than a moral imperative which I can comfortably ignore.  Every time I went to a beach the last time we were on holiday, I ended up filling  bin bags with rubbish.  I am shocked and horrified by the amount of trash blowing in the wind.

But it’s not just about preferring recycling to landfill. It’s avoiding waste in the first place.  My Grandmother could Not Abide Waste. She and my Ma raised me, and both were adults during WWII and both had a pack-rat sense of scarcity. Both kept things “in case they were useful”, like the jiffy bag. And both would be horrified by the idea that two people can fill one wheelie bin in a week.

So the only way I can dispose of something in good working order is by making sure someone else gets to use it.  Freecycle saved my sanity the last time I moved house.   Before Freecycle I had a “jumble sale box”.  (I remember picking over it once to make sure any erotica I was giving to the Village Hall did not have my name in it. Small village, small world). I take things to Charity Shops, give them to friends, give them to volunteer groups and charities.  Plastic toys upset me hugely; why can’t they still be made of wood? I’ve had three bags of  toys in my shed for four months waiting for me to take them to a charity which cleans them and gives them to impoverished children.

I do feel a sense of relief having read the book. I stand by my logic (we should be far more careful with plastics, we shouldn’t waste landfill on things that still work), but I now know my agitation is unusual.  It’s helped me throw things away rather than keep them, like the jiffy bag, and it is energising my attempt to find new owners for the things that are too good to bin.

The next thing is to strengthen my resolve to get rid of family things and things I’ve been given.  Not sapphires.  I am keeping those.

4 responses to “The problem of Stuff

  1. sonofrojblake

    Buy a chimenea, or however the hell you spell those things. Once you can reduce your stuff to ash yourself, you’ll feel much less bad about it. And don’t worry about the impact on the environment – you’ll do far more damage to the environment driving to the garden centre to buy the thing than you will in a lifetime of using it.

  2. The way it takes me is that I find it terribly difficult to add stuff to the house. I’m still using some really not fabulous pans I acquired for going to uni because the bloody things just will not die.

    I also recommend sealing up the loft because those places are just a magnet for random crap. Ours belongs to B, and I do not go there or put anything there. Well, no, that’s not true. I tried putting some kids clothes up there but they were never seen again, so now I just take huge armfuls to the charity shop when I can no longer close the drawers.

  3. The question is whether you now feel the need to keep hold of the decluttering book “against a rainy day”, or whether you can let that go too?

    • Hah! My Ma used to have a device called an Agamatic which was an actual furnace you burned stuff in and got hot water out of. I remember her feeding it all sorts of worrying things when I was a child, so maybe the chim-cimin-era route is right, SoRB.

      Sol, you are a person after my own heart. I cannot buy someting better if what I have won’t break.

      Daniel, books is different…… erm. .. they aren’t are they?

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