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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One thought on “Clutter, collectives, and the new consumerism

  1. I really enjoyed this post. It captures the spirit of our times with the need for increased mobility. I have been guilty of hoarding but I have undergone a transformation just like you did.

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