Thinking about 'Stuff'
I’ve been thinking about stuff and my relationship with it. It mostly kicked off when I read Rhiaro’s post about nomadism, but if I reflect a bit then I think it’s been brewing for a while.
Unlike Rhiaro, I am not a nomad. I like visiting new places, and I love the romanticised concept of ‘travelling’ but there’s always been a financial and a class barrier to me engaging on that type of physical journey (for the most part). She would disagree, but I tend to think that overly-romanticised travel is pretty classist. My experiences have always, therefore, lent themselves to building up a ‘home base’. A sanctuary (sounds pretentious but emotionally I think that’s probably most accurate) into which I can retreat during anabolic periods of my life.
This obviously lends itself to having more stuff. I moved to my flat Sep 2011 and brought with me three books, a new desk lamp, my clothes (which all fit into a single chest of drawers), my desktop computer, my laptop, a desk and chair. A year later, my desktop was deceased and I had a new laptop. I also brought in my bookcase with all its books. As my experiences grew I needed to acquire more and more things to deal with them; formal date? New shirt (cheap). Winter? Coat. The room in my flat certainly isn’t the smallest room I’ve ever had but it’s gotten to feel a bit more cramped as time has progressed.
My point is that, although I totally love the idea of minimalism and I extoll any philosophy which encourages us to stop buying stuff we don’t need or truly want; stuff like challenging yourself to own less than 100 things is going to lend itself to spending more in-the-moment as you prepare for less eventualities. Unless your minimalism is incredibly functional, it’s a middle-class minimalism for those who can afford in very literal terms to be flexible with their situation. Maybe I’m just misunderstanding minimalism, but it seems to me that if plan a day out and don’t bring a pack with a water bottle and some food then you’re saying you can afford to spend that in-the-moment without much thought to your financial situation. Maybe it’s not a lot of money for you to drop £10 on lunch that day, but that £10 for some people could be put to better use. I am definitely guilty of this.
Aside from deriding the middle-class form of minimalism, I do appreciate the aesthetic of less clutter. I do, however, have to juxtapose this for my love of personal effects and boxes of ephemera both aesthetically and emotionally. I love when you walk into someone’s house and they have stuff that they’ve clearly had and cared for; for years! I love that just by being owned by a person, a mass-produced item can take on a personality and characteristics from its mundane place in the lives of people. People have experiences and histories, which can usually be captured by the items they associate with them. Treasure chests of memories are a trope for a reason.
On that note, my colleague and comrade @tripsandflips and I had a discussion about this the other day and she made an interesting point which got me thinking about that. Books aren’t books if they’re not being read. The more I think about it, the more I agree with this sentiment. As much as I love stuff’s history, I think I have trouble letting go. Some of the books on my bookshelf haven’t been touched in years. Some of them are very special to me, but as I think about them I begin to realise that it’s the story that they contain that is special. I might release them from their shelfy prison to let them be books again. I’ve come up with a solution to help them on their journey as well – instead of using the first page to claim ownershop of a book ie “This book belongs to XYZ”, I’m going to try and start off logging the tome’s personal history. I’ll write “This book has been enjoyed by Matt Marshall” and encourage others to leave their mark. I think that’ll be a good practice to try and start.
My final point of tension is that I’ve begun my journey into crafting and trying to produce things for myself an others. This in itself lends to having multiple tools and stores of materials around. I used to get around my desire to craft by telling myself “Programming is your craft. Go build cool digital stuff!”. I can no longer do that, though. I need to smell the beard oil and feel the bone dust caught in my pores.
I’m not sure where this ramble through my thoughts on stuff has lead. If I was truly honest with myself, I’d say it’s probably a precursor to my taking a census of everything I own that isn’t stored food. So… expect lists I suppose?