Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Culture or Clutter?

I’ve had a lot on my mind since the beginning of the new year. Specifically, clutter. I feel surrounded by it! As my hubby and I get older, I’m nagged by the idea that if something happened to us, our adult children would end up having to go through all the “stuff” in the house that’s just taking up space. So I want to do something about it this year. I don't want my house to end looking something like this:

Why? First, maybe because I don’t want to end up featured on the Hoarders show. Most every horizontal surface has a pile (or more) of “stuff” on it: papers; books; newspapers; Christmas cards received; Christmas cards to send next year; papers to file; etc. We have a “junk room” upstairs crammed with old technology (fax machine, adding machine, monitors, motherboards, ad infinitum) and media of all kinds (“floppy disk” anyone?). Among other stuff! Out back we have a 30 foot x 60 foot building which I have not and will not even peek into unless forced because it’s where my loving, supportive hubby stashes things when I say “we should get rid of that.” Don’t get me started on the two attics or, gasp, the garage…

Those spaces I can’t do anything about because they contain my hubby’s stuff, by and large. But there are areas where I do have control (cue the “bwahaha” laughter)!

Yesterday I decided to do something about the stashed clothing I’ve ignored for years. After all, not only have I (sadly) put on weight but I’ve also stopped working full time in a professional environment, now that I’m an author. Thus, my closet was crammed with clothes, maybe half of which actually fit or would ever be worn by me again.

Sorting through my walk-in closet, and then a separate closet upstairs, took about two hours total over two days (I had to write, after all!) and the entire time I was choosing what to keep, what to donate, what to sell based on several factors: age; wear; fit; and taste. I sold two items to a consignment store, but most of my clothes were of a style “too old” for the store. So, the vast majority ended up at Goodwill this afternoon. As I drove home, about thirty pounds lighter in clothing, it occurred to me that I never really needed most of those clothes. Some, sure. The suits for work, come to mind. But the dresses? I rarely wear a dress. Not that I don’t ever, but it’s seldom. Yet, I donated not just one fancy dress, but eight. Obviously I need to make wiser choices with my wallet.

I even include a stuffed attic in my debut novel, Traces (Ghosts of Roseville Book 1). Meredith Reed inherits the old plantation house complete with a junked up attic filled with boxes and toys and bags and what-not that she ends up having to sort through to make sense of.

All this got me thinking about material culture. I love research so spent some time reading up on the status of the study of material culture and what it means. (If you’re interested you can visit Cliffs Notes: Culture and Societies or the American Folklife Center: Material Culture to learn more about what this term means.) In short, I think of it as the American penchant for consumerism. For things. Stuff. And how it reflects our culture. Who we are and what our stuff says about us.

(Disclaimer: I like to ponder causes and effects in culture, though I am by no means a historian or archeologist so take what I have to say with several large grains of salt. I ponder the changes in desires, in how much we each crave to surround ourselves with items important or whimsical or necessary, and in how much we’re willing to spend on things for ourselves or others.)

When I visited Mount Vernon last year, I remembered that they didn’t even build in closets in the typical 18th century or earlier houses. (Note: The Washingtons did set aside a small room as a literal “china closet”, but then they had dozens of place settings and serving pieces to store.) Without closets, folks used a piece of furniture called a wardrobe to put their clothes in, or a row of hooks/posts on the wall to hang them on. In fact, in the 1900s farmhouse I grew up in, my parents’ bedroom had two small closets with a window in between. My dad actually mounted a pole between the closets so my mother could hang more clothes. Such a visual reminder of the differences in expectations of the extent and purpose of a wardrobe of clothes even during my life time, let alone over centuries.

Of course, in the western world, we’re bombarded with requests and demands to spend money on stuff. Just think of how many ads you’ve seen for gadgets for the kitchen, when most Americans apparently eat out more than in. (I’m not among that number; I love to cook!) Why do you need a special gadget to chop an onion? A knife works really well, and has for centuries. And it takes little space. What does all the stuff surrounding us say about who we are and what's important in our lives? (I ask this I see the R2-D2 robot my hubby got for Christmas...)

The average size of a house has steadily grown over the decades as well, as we need more closets and attic space to store all of our goodies. Run out? No problem. You can rent a storage unit, or a POD, for only dollars a month. All so you can make more room for new stuff.

I made a New Year’s Resolution to lose weight and get fit. Again. But also, this year I’m going to strive to help my house get fit. I'm going to try to not buy things unless I’m replacing a broken or worn out item. I’m going to strive to reduce the weight of my house by lessening the amount of dusty, unused items sitting within its walls. I have a feeling this will end up applying to my book collection, but more on the “replacing” than “reducing” side of things. At least books are easily exchanged and shared, unlike that bread machine in hiding under the cabinet…

How about you? What items in your house reflect who you are most closely? Do you have stuff that others might put to better use? What would you like to donate or sell this year?

Leave a comment for a chance to win a copy of Traces (digital so as to avoid clutter)! Be sure to also leave your email. I’ll post the winner here on Monday, January 26. Good luck!


Mary Preston said...

A while back I had a big cull. I gave lots away to charity & sold things online. It seemed to be mostly kitchen ware. Items I doubt I knew I had & had certainly never used. I now have SPACE in my kitchen cupboards.


Betty Bolte said...

Yes, Mary Preston, that's what I'm about to do, one room at a time. It will take a while to get organized, but it will happen. Good for you for already dealing with the clutter!

Ashfa said...

I have this annoying habit of saving things I don't really need and thus all the overflowing cupboards.... I need to try selling them online but I've never done it before.
blackcapballistics AT gmail DOT com

Betty Bolte said...

I'm a day late in announcing a winner. I've decided to give both of the ladies who commented a copy of Traces! Congratulations! Look for an email from me soon!