Transitions. Stuff. Accumulation and de-acquisition. Now that I am almost 50 years old, I have seen a lot of cycles of hoarding and purging. When I was a kid, my mother would periodically declare that it was time for “one great hour of swearing”, meaning it was time to clear out clutter and clean house. She is a highly organized and tidy person, rarely sentimental about material things. However, she is also an historian, an archiver. Things that were deemed valuable were carefully stored. Sterling silver was always wrapped in the proper cloth. Her off-season shoes were in a zippered case, so were blankets. Photo slides and correspondence were kept in carefully hand-constructed boxes of just the right size and shape. Sometime in the 70s, recycling became a household habit. She always had her glass bottles in separate containers, according to color, and everything perfectly sorted. She’d load up the station wagon and make the trip to the recycling center about once a month. I got to help her throw stuff on the appropriate piles or in the dumpsters. Breaking glass can be fun! She’s worked for the past few decades as a museum docent, cataloging the music collections. She has my wedding dress stored in an archival quality box. She keeps a full pantry (for earthquake preparedness), but she is not a hoarder. I think she regularly updates her pantry and donates stuff she’s not going to use before its expiration date. She’s a great example to me, and ahead of her generation’s learning curve.
Steve’s aunt is delightful and messy. She thrills for a bargain. She will go to great lengths to capitalize on a sale. She knows that this creates problems for her, though, and is somewhat like a struggling addict, trying to quit. She lives alone in the house in which she cared for her mother. She’s never been married. She solicits our help in taming the clutter she has accumulated in that house. Steve is a willing worker, completely kind and patient, but always clear about his own limits. He has some professional experience with estate sales from the book business, so he has worked with elderly strangers as well doing similar service. He can assess and clear out an entire house in a weekend, if he must. No one boxes more efficiently, in my opinion.
What do we do with stuff?
Rusted wire along the Ice Age trail
Reduce, reuse, recycle, freecycle. Keep it out of the landfill, off the streets, out of the woods and wetlands. Don’t buy it if you don’t need it; if you do anyway, give it away. My mother has always had a habit of sending me “care packages” of stuff she acquired, often by mail order, that wasn’t quite what she wanted. She was always on the lookout for a good home for something she didn’t want. I would often end up taking some of that stuff to donate to Goodwill or the Salvation Army, but it didn’t get thrown away. We’re working on finding good homes for Steve’s aunt’s stuff. I’m fixing to give care packages to each of my children from what we brought home yesterday. Beauty and cleaning products from her bathroom, mostly. The unopened items will go to a local shelter. A bottle of shampoo that was used once and turned out not to be to her liking can make some useful suds. Would you just pour that down the drain? Somehow, I can’t.
How long do you figure it would take to use up the stuff that’s already been made before we make more? Depends on the stuff, of course. But there must be categories of products that we could use up…and then, maybe, discontinue forever. How many varieties of shampoo do we need? How many varieties of cleaning products? You could use Dr. Bronner’s Magic All-in-One Soap (made from hemp and essential oils) in peppermint to clean your entire body (including teeth), your clothes, your dishes, your surfaces, your car, etc., and we’d never need to make anything else. Sounds like de-cluttering to me. Of course, there are a million ways to disagree with me and get on your own soap box. We like choices. Depending on how old you are, you may be just beginning to explore all your options, and you’d hate to have anyone restrict you. Wait 50 years. Then you may be cleaning out your house and wondering, “Why do I have all this crap?!” You’ll give it to your kids, who want to have stuff but have no money to buy it. Some day there’ll be a story out there of a family who free-cycled the same object for 5 generations. Why not? I’m still using my grandmother’s electric mixer/food grinder. But nowadays, things are built cheaply according to the economic principle of Planned Obsolescence and the landfills overflow. It’s a sickening trend.
One great hour of swearing is not gonna cure the planet of its clutter these days. (sigh) We’re way out of scale. Something’s gotta give. I wonder what…and how… and when.