Clutter, collectives, and the new consumerism

In a waiting room, a few days ago, I had the misfortune to pick up the very worst kind of decor magazine. It was some kind of ‘country living’ affair, nauseatingly gauche, filled to the brim with over-stuffed faux antique furniture in lavish royal brocades that matched both the drapes and the rugs. The target market was evidently people with far too much money and far too little taste. While marveling at my own revulsion,  and reflecting on my old habit of drooling over more funky decor mags, I felt a wave of satisfaction that I did not covet any of this ghastly stuff.

Now, having too much stuff is a common middle-class problem, although I think my insidious yearning for pretty things might be a throw-back to my relatively impoverished childhood, much like my grandmother’s overstuffed pantry is a symptom of being a child of the depression.  After spending much of the year trying to declutter my life I have come to the understanding that wanting more stuff just leads to more stuff and then your life is full of stuff you can’t even use and enjoy because there’s too much other stuff in the way. Suffice to say, I no longer look longingly at retro kitchen scales and charmingly kitch book shelves, and it’s not just me letting go of the need to own everything – apparently it’s this whole generation.

A couple of years ago I read a book called What’s Mine is Yours: the Rise of Collaborative Consumption by Rachel Botsman and Roo Rogers which is all about how these days, people are starting to prefer sharing and borrowing to owning stuff. Things like car-sharing, tool libraries and peer-to-peer money lending are growing and spreading while people try to figure out what to do about all the stuff they keep in storage. Storage is a weird phenomenon – nothing is more symbolic of social obesity – all that stuff just sitting there while the owner pays for it to sit there for a long long time. It’s very popular too, apparently the US has enough storage facilities that they could house every single resident of the country, standing side by side. That’s a freaky thought.

Botsman and Rogers emphasise that people are starting to realise that not everyone needs to own a cordless drill when what you really want is just the hole in the wall. We don’t need to own DVDs we just want to be able to watch the movies and we don’t have a lot of faith in these big top-down corporations that are always trying to sell us stuff, instead, we’re falling in love with the collective model.

After collecting pretty things for years I have come to the realisation that I don’t really need or want anymore pretty things unless I actually have a place for them and am using them, and knowing how time consuming and difficult it can be to declutter my life, I no longer long to own more pretty things. I can now enjoy beautiful spaces, objects and images without turning into one of the seagulls on Finding Nemo, and furthermore, I can indulge in the nice kind of home decor porn visually and contentedly.

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What does a really good relationship feel like?

Some people just seem to relationship well, others just don’t. If you’re like me you tend to fall into the latter category. Perhaps you grew up with unhealthy relationship models rather than healthy ones. I mean, if you’ve never really known healthy relationships then how the hell are you supposed to have one? What does a really good relationship even look like?

It doesn’t help that the relationships reflected in mainstream movies and advertising are over-the-top romance narrative traps: nauseatingly can’t-live-without-you, pushing/pulling, roller-coasters, co-dependent drama sagas.  Even a lot of the happily coupled people I know seem to relate in a way that makes me uncomfortable. I sense the undercurrents of subtle power-struggles, dissatisfaction and difficult projections behind their smiles and public hand-holding. Yes, I am paranoid about co-dependency.

After a while I started to wonder if a healthy relationship even exists – or whether it is mythical like unicorns and ideological utopias. Lo and behold, a few years ago I made some new friends, S & P, who have a really awesome relationship. I like to watch them (not in an invasive way) relate to each-other in an easy, friendly way devoid of passive-aggressive currents. When tensions come up they communicate about them – really well. They share creative interests and collaborate on projects but also maintain their own interests. They don’t need to sit next to each-other at parties but genuinely enjoy each-other’s company. It’s lovely.

Knowing S & P has helped break some of the my underlying negative assumptions about relationships. When one day I repeated the much-used phrase that “all relationships are hard work”, they casually disagreed with me, leaving me with the impression that, although life can be challenging, as long as people are self-aware and communicate well, relationships don’t need to be hard work.  I was surprised to learn that S has a hap-hazard relationship history a lot like my own. Eventually she got to a point in her life where she wanted to have a relationship with someone she would want to be with for a long time, so she started imagining what that might be like, which eventually led to her current very-good-relationship. It makes sense, how are we supposed to have good relationships if we don’t even know what they feel like.

Now, I’ve done the ‘write a list’ thing lots of times, listing very particular characteristics of potential partners, but when I heard S stalk about her imagining I was terrified. I don’t really know what I want; I don’t even know what gender I’m supposed to be imagining. S clarified things just the other day as we lay on couches in the sun: “I didn’t think about what the other person would be like,” she said, “I just imagined what it would feel like – what it would be like waking up in the morning next to someone you really want to be with for a very long time.” As I stretched out on the sun-warmed sofa it seemed obvious that she was talking about the very same feeling – basking in the sun – on an emotionally intimate level. So that settles it: a really good relationship feels like warm sunshine.