Stuff and Such

Twelve years ago Frankie Magazine published an article of mine on acquiring and shedding stuff. It was about how too much stuff made me feel full and stuck and hindered. I now live in 37sqm and have 9 lamps. I have one double bed and a pull out sofa yet I have 6 sets of sheets. I think I might have a small problem because here I am 12 years later spending a beautiful Sunday nursing a sore back from lugging stuff to and from yesterday’s Garage Sale Trail.


Call it by whatever new form it has taken, Konmari, French Filing, Swedish Death Cleaning… it’s a peculiar Western obsession this acquisition of and then obsession with shedding stuff. We are modern day reverse alchemists turning gold into detritus….in – out, in –out,…treasure to trash.


Yesterday I lugged 2 very large and heavy suitcases and 4 medium-sized bags of stuff from my 37-sqm homestead to Marrickville West Public School and pushed (and I mean pushed…I almost bullied a poor woman into buying a lamp she didn’t want just so I didn’t have to separate it from the lampshade) my wares onto the shoppers there.


Not only did I have my own stuff, but also much of it was stuff I had found on the street including a tin hat box I found on the verge in the rain two week’s ago. I would have left it there (or so I tell myself) but I knew the garage sale was coming up and I knew I could get a few bucks for it and save it from rusting in the rain and going to landfill. As it turned out, I got a fiver for it.


Why do so many of us engage in this strange ritual? Is it our longing for the marketplace, the social gathering of sellers and their wares in the great outdoors? Is it because the corporate monoliths of modern late capitalism leave us completely shamed with their waste and poor ethics? Is it our latent hunter-gather instincts coming out in what we perceive to be a softer catch and kill even though the trail of blood and carnage worldwide consumerism wreaks on the fauna and flora of our planet makes a hunting expedition seem tame in comparison? I’m not sure but the whole thing makes me uneasy.


The day was pleasant. There was live music and fresh baked goods for sale. The young girls next door were selling homemade brownies and lemonade. People were friendly and revealed secrets about themselves as they shopped “My sister has cancer so I’m shopping for her…” “My mother is Dutch so we have good genes…” “My husband’s grandfather made our lampshade but it has just broken and yours will be a good replacement…” These tiny tendrils of humanity reaching out to each other in an increasingly technical world were a very welcome occurrence. No one was on their phone, everyone was engaged, and in short it was lovely. But, the stuff….?


What’s it all about? A friend of mine says he has a fantasy of me in a single room with a table and chair à la Leonard Cohen on Hydra and that when I reach that state of pared back existence, I will be in reach of literary Nirvana and my novel(s) will pour out of me like honey. Cohen had lovers and children and a view of the sea. I have stuff, dust mites, and a view of the neighbouring red brick unit. I need the padding of my stuff to make me feel better about where I live even though having it is making me miserable. It is an addiction like cigarettes, alcohol and food, all of which I have battled.


For me, Op shops have always felt like an adoption centre for unloved things and I haven’t been able to bear seeing something languishing in there. Each find is like a prize hunt, “I win!” and I high-five my inner self at beating the big stores and saving something from landfill.


I am trying to avoid going into Op shops now as the thought of any more stuff is becoming abhorrent. At yesterday’s garage sale, I resisted going to see any of the other stalls as I didn’t want to be tempted to buy anything. In the end, I relented and bought a summer jacket for $5 and a small leather purse for $5. They were a good trade off for the 2 garbage bags of clothes and 2 boxes of stuff I gave to the Smith Family after the garage sale.


My place still feels full, but it is empty enough to think and write this piece and though it is not yet literary Nirvana, with 1 large suitcase and 3 medium sized bags all sold and given away to charity, I can at least start to see it from here.

Building for the Future

It’s spring and a young woman’s mind turns to… how utterly buggered the world is right now. I had just finished 2+ weeks of dog sitting a gorgeous pooch who was the cuddliest spooner to ever walk on 4 legs in a big house in a part of town where the bus runs on time and the passengers on it smile instead of scowling and marinating in their own faeces as the passengers on the bus in my part of town do.

I had returned to my own little patch where the meth-heads in my local Woolies were having a domestic in the doorway and every possible item in the store was sheathed in a covering of single-use plastic ready-made to kill every species of marine life still left alive. It wasn’t the best of homecomings. My black heart kept beating in my chest more out of spiteful rage than any life-sustaining function. I carried my box and two bags of groceries across the zebra crossing without making eye contact with the drivers who resentfully stopped for me. I could feel the eyes of the young P-Plate boys burning on me as they revved their engine impatiently; a pit bull of a car snapping at my shins as I passed in front of it. This is a daily occurrence on my street. I made it to the other side and rested my bags and box on the low fence of the housing commission flats and caught my breath. This place, that store, these people; I felt nothing but blind rage at it all and wished nothing more than to be free of this horrible suburb. The sky was low and grey with much-needed rain but even the thought of that lifesaver in this drought couldn’t snap me out of my funk. But then, a rustle in the undergrowth of the housing commission garden on the other side of the low fence caught my eye. I have avoided looking at this patch as it used to be a wildly overgrown area dark and dripping with ivy and trees, looking like the haunted forest from the Wizard of Oz but the council cleared it out completely and now it is an empty barren patch of grass and discarded branches of the removed trees. It depressed me to see even more destruction of what little urban greenery we have left, but it wasn’t as barren as I thought. There was life here.

A family of Australian ravens; mum, dad and what I presume to be last year’s chick were all fossicking in the debris for nest materials. Two of them were on the ground at first and then a third arrived in a whoosh of glossy black wings that reflected the little bit of light that managed to get through the cloud cover. They hopped and waddled around; their piercing blue-grey eyes on the lookout for the perfect twig for their nest. Last year’s chick just wandered around looking a bit confused but mum and dad were hard at it and in no time they had each dragged large branches of the fallen trees out of the debris and had fly-hopped up onto the end of the low fence I was resting against. Those black beaks held sticks twice the size of their bodies and if it was a mystery how they had the strength to hold them, then it was a miracle when they both managed to fly off with them in their beaks.



I left my belongings on the wall and walked around to where they had flown. A woman and her son were walking down the footpath toward me. The mother had red lipstick on a smiling mouth and she and her son were gazing skyward as they walked. I knew that smile. It was the smile of wonder. The same smile I was likely wearing when our eyes met. “Excuse me, did you see two ravens fly past?” They both started talking at once, as eager to share as I was. “Yes!” “Wasn’t it incredible…” “Branch bigger than the bird…” They pointed out the tree and there the ravens were, making their nest in the low branches above the footpath beside the busy road. We watched for a few seconds together, sharing our wonder. “Have a nice night.” The mum said as she and her son walked away down the hill to the river. The river undoubtedly had plastic rubbish floating on its surface and toxic chemicals sinking into its depth, but for one brief moment in Marrickville, I felt a kinship with two other people who could appreciate the wonder of a family of ravens still trying to build a future for their young in spite of it all.