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.