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.