I presume that it’s a mainly Western problem that having too much ‘stuff’ causes us ‘stress’. It seems crazy that whilst some people are starving and living off rubbish dumps, others are amassing huge amounts of possessions that require ‘management’. Numerous websites and magazine articles exist to help us ‘clear clutter’. Yet in our consumer driven society we seem to be programmed to go on creating more and more waste.
They say you arrive in the world with nothing and leave the same way. But it’s not strictly true, in the western world, at least. I was surprised, on having my own children how a small baby suddenly creates a load of ‘stuff’ – cribs, cots, car seats, changing mats, portable changing mats, baby baths, feeding bottles, sterilizers, mobiles, baby rockers, high chairs, slings, baby carriers, prams, pushchairs, potties and that’s before you take into account the nappies, clothes and toys – babies are big business, and whilst some things can be bought or acquired second hand and passed on, the consumption pattern starts.
At the other end of things, I was struck, as I put the last carrier bag of my dying fathers cleaning wipes into the wheelie bin, how futile possessions can seem, and what is it in life that we really need. Two places that depress yet fascinate me are shopping centres and ‘civic amenity sites’. In Julie Hill’s book, The secret life of stuff, she gives an insight into the true costs of the products we buy, and some hope that the future could be different. I wonder how Micheal Landy felt when, in 2001, he bravely shredded all his possessions in the name of art, Breaking Down. Did it liberate him? It must be my age (nearing 50), – but are we just born to consume? I’ve started thinking – how many fridges will I own in my lifetime and what’s the average number of washing machines an individual will own? (I need to get out more!) What is our greater impact and legacy? and is the only answer to the meaning of life 42?