Sunday, 17 June 2012

On 'Stuff'

I’ve been thinking about ‘stuff’ lately.

After living independently for over five years, I have accumulated quite a bit of stuff. Furniture, books, general household stuff, a vacuum leaner, a lawn mower, books, cutlery, cups, mugs, more books. Enough to fill a 30 foot square storage room. It may sound like a joke, but last time I went to get something out of this room, stuff had been piled in so high that it literally fell out onto me in a big crash, bang, wollop, when I opened the door.

It’s only stuff...
What is stuff? For a short time earlier this year I shared a house with my friend C. Then she sorted her life out, got a new job and moved to Whitby. This was a fairly major undertaking: she went from a two bedroom house and all the attendant ‘stuff’ to a single live-in room in the hotel she’s now managing, which meant a serious spring clean, whittling down her possessions to a mix of the absolute necessities and items of extreme sentimental value. She sent ahead five boxes of bits and pieces, books, clothes, toiletries, sewing machine, etc (or was it only four?), has a very small chest of breakable items stored in a friend’s garage, and on the day of her journey took two suitcases with her. To go from a two bed house to four boxes and two suitcases is pretty incredible, especially when I consider that, knowing her, most of that space was probably taken up by beauty products, nail varnish and knickers.

“It’s only stuff,” she said, when I expressed incredulity at what she was expelling from her life. And she’s right, of course. It is only stuff. Each item taken on its own is replaceable. She wasn’t going to need it in her new home, and there was nowhere for it to go in the meantime. While she separated less than fifty books from the two or three hundred on her bookshelves to keep, I separated around the same amount from my shelves to give away. While she posted lists of unneeded furniture on Freecycle, I stuffed mine back into my storage hole, filling the drawers with blankets and bed linen. While she copied music and DVDs onto a spanking new iPod, giving away the hard copies, I separated mine into ‘need to keep with me just in case I fancy watching them soon’ and ‘don’t need easy access to them, but don’t want to get rid of them’ piles.

But it’s my stuff...
So, I sit here and think about all my stuff shoved away into that little space in a countryside warehouse. A double bed, a wardrobe, coffee table. And I think, I really should sell it; I really don’t need it. Do I? And then I think, but I still want it. It’s my stuff and it cost me money. It’s an investment.

1. On one side it represents my past, and now I want to let go of that, because it’s past and it’s not coming back. I am not getting Bron back. He’s not who he was when we met and we can’t go back to how things were four, five years ago, no matter how much I dream it could be true. He is who is now and I am who I am now, and we don’t add up anymore.

2. But the flip side is that it’s also my future. I want my own place again, and when I get that I’m going to need furniture and plates and cutlery and bed linen.

Here is my line of thinking; I'm going to argue this out in words.
(a) I could give away or sell what I have now and buy new stuff again when I need it. The more I think about it, the more I like the idea of purging, of not having that room of stuff permanently in the back of my mind. Someone else might need these things right now and having them locked away is a waste.
(b) There are some things in that room that I really don’t want to get rid of. But there's no reason why I couldn't keep those particular things if I really wanted to.
(c) But: replacing anything I do get rid of at some future point will likely cost more than I’d get from selling them today. And the actual act of replacing them can be a stressful and time-consuming business.
(d) But then again, what if I am lucky enough to get an exciting new job somewhere outside of Cornwall? Transporting all that stuff out of the county is also going to be pretty stressful and time consuming.
(e) And so I find I have argued myself back to where I started.

But, then again, it’s only stuff and what, after all, is stuff? And the amount of brain time this stuff is causing me seems to indicate that stuff is probably more trouble than its worth. I look at C, and I look at another friend, B, who I met through Shortcourse and Hevva Hevva, who is living the lifestyle I profess to believe in: buying only second-hand, organising swap parties rather than going on shopping trips, and I think: I should be doing that.

I should be doing that. And the place to start is to just get in there and do it, to stop thinking about it, to stop questioning it and my attachments. Make a list and stick to it.

Any hints?

1 comment:

  1. Hi Isabel,
    I found your blog recently and I've been enjoying reading your posts, I really hope you finish your book, I'd like to read it! I'm also trying to cut out plastic, (as well as other lifestyle changes) and I think I'm coming up against some of the same problems you did at the beginning!
    As for your stuff problem - good luck, just be harsh I guess. There are some suggestions for simplifying on here
    maybe you might find something that will help?
    Also I don't know where you are in Cornwall but do you know of this place in South Molton in Devon, ? Its a tip/recycling centre where they separate things that can be reused and sell them. Its fantastic, an Aladdin's cave and they sell all sorts of stuff. Maybe if its near it might be a good place to take house-y stuff that might not be suitable for a charity shop? For example, a dish rack?!
    I hope you keep going with this project/lifestyle so goodluck! Best wishes,