Okay, now that I have just said something so radical that many may be literally falling off their chairs; something that seemingly goes against all current and popular way of thinking ... grant me the opportunity to share another viewpoint!
But first, a sincere apology to those sputtering; "But I feel better when there is no clutter around!" or "My parents' / grandparents' stuff is so out-dated ... I don't want it!" or "I'll have more time for experiences if I'm free from taking care of dust collectors!" And so on and so forth. Yes, I do hear these protests ... ad nauseam in fact. It is pounded into my head constantly by posts on social media and by well-meaning individuals who truly believe in a minimalist lifestyle. I believe their viewpoint resonates with many people for one very simple reason ... that there is indeed good value in clearing out useless clutter! But the keyword here is "useless".
The alternative viewpoint I wish to share is not to be so over zealous that we "Throw the baby out with the bathwater"; and instead to focus on "Sorting the wheat from the chaff". (I do love old sayings!)
Here's the thing. I love my "stuff"! It fills me with great joy to be surrounded by sentimental items. They jog memories that I thought forgotten. They provide a warm connection to family, friends and pets who have since passed, to my family history and cultural heritage, and to travels taken. And these items reflect back to me, a little of who I am, where I've been and what I believe in; thus providing a sense of grounding in a sometimes unstable world.
I wholeheartedly believe that this sense of belonging is something that so many people today are desperately searching for and that I believe, could at least be partially found, in celebrating their own personal (and family) story through that very "clutter" that is so often overlooked, devalued and discarded.
The definition of clutter has recently evolved to mean basically anything and everything in the home - except for only the most necessary and (usually) neutral items. Under current attack in the name of "clearing the clutter" are sentimental items, heirlooms and keepsakes. We are also urged to discard books, records, videos, CDs, DVDs, photos and documents that can be transformed (or re-purchased - Aye, there's the rub!!) into digital form. It has come to mean vilifying anything and everything that can't be used in the actual moment. It has come with the illusion that new products are always better. And it is this new definition of "clutter" that I don't actually see as clutter at all, but in fact, an attack on heritage, disdain for the generations that came before us, and an inability to recognize quality household goods that last and last. It is also a symptom of the "throw away" culture and goes against the goal of sustainability.
An heirloom is defined as "a valuable object that has been owned by a family for many generations".
Value is determined by you; and many generations can also start with you too! This really comes home when you have a child. I take great joy in mixing up some baking ingredients in my Mom's old Pyrex bowl set - but what greater joy is there to watch my daughter do the same thing?
Save money by keeping hard copies of books, music, movies & photos
Don't get me wrong - I absolutely LOVE being able to snap digital photos and have access to them immediately; without the need for processing or printing. And I enjoy scanning old photos and having the tools available to restore them and thus prolong their survival. But printed photos in themselves, have a story to tell and are still necessary to safeguard your special memories. I have dozens of photos I need to print and I intend to do so. Once they are printed, I will be able to view them all by myself. It is dangerous in my mind, to rely solely on technology that requires power and a provider, in order to view your photos or documents. The important ones really do need to be backed up on paper. And a lifetime collection of favourite books, films and music is very expensive to reassemble on your devices. True, it may save space - in fact considerable space, but the (somewhat) old joke holds true that every time the medium changes ... we all have to buy "The White Album" again! But it is really no joke. At even 99¢ a song, that can really add up if you are a serious music lover. And I had gotten so used to hearing The Beatles on digital recreations, that when my husband ran one of my old albums on his turntable; it literally felt like John, Paul, George and Ringo were singing right in our living room! I had simply forgotten the fantastic and superior sound of vinyl records and all the feelings evoked by hearing these blokes again, properly ... and re-examining the much worn and loved covers of my 35-40 year old record collection - the best feeling!
Let's not forget the sheer pleasure of holding a real (and much loved) book in your hands, late at night, without the added distraction of "firing up" that electronic technology. Don't even get me started on how much it would cost to replace my book collection ... and how about cooking recipes from your Mom's, Grandma's or even Great-Grandma's recipe books and cards! (Sure, you can easily look up new recipes on-line and why not? though I do encourage compilation of these new-found recipes into a book of your own). It's truly a joy and comfort to see the scribbles, notes, clippings and long-ago food splotches in your Mom's much utilized recipe book! I guarantee you will learn something you didn't know about your family by following the path they took in their kitchen on some long ago day.
Find new uses for items you would otherwise discard
Another benefit that is often missed with keeping a little "clutter" about, is the amount of money that can be saved by having items on hand that can be reused or repurposed; not to mention that you receive Mother Nature's undying gratitude! This is huge for any one committed to "going green" and once started you begin to see possible reuses in just about everything. Old clothes, linens, containers, craft items, school supplies, cards - this stuff does add up and adds to the clutter. But what a savings to have these items on hand when a costume is needed for Hallowe'en, school plays or dress-up days! Old clothes that are in good shape should be donated, but worn out clothes can be made over into a variety of items - like doll or pet blankets, hankies, catnip bags or potpourri pouches! The rest can be cut into rags and used for all kind of tasks from polishing furniture to cleaning bike chains. Cards can be cut up to make new cards and tags; wrapping paper and tissue can be re-used; brown grocery bags can be turned inside out and re-used to mail parcels; cloth ties on bags and shoelaces can be re-used to tie up tomato plants and popsicle sticks can be re-used as seedling markers. The list becomes endless. A big one for me was sorting through my child's previous year's school supplies. I would compare what we had on hand against next year's school list - often saving a small fortune (and unnecessary waste) by just supplementing missing or worn out school supplies, and not buying a completely new set of everything ... each and every year.
This little fellow and matching blanket was made out of an old blanket from my childhood. I had kept it, even though it was worn and torn (literally falling apart) and couldn't be mended anymore. Inspiration came from my daughter on a rainy day when watching "Little Bear" cartoons. So with some of the good bits of material, we made my old blanket over into a couple of "new" things my little one could enjoy!
"Little Bear" stories and cartoons by Else Holmelund Minarik / Maurice Sendak
Find new uses / new owners for inherited items
Dishes inherited from older relatives are sometimes unneeded or unwanted. They are often discarded due to their "dated" patterns. But the high quality of china of generations past is phenomenal and can not be matched by visiting the box stores of today. They also provide a tangible link to your family and while I truly believe in creating your own style (and weaving your own magic) into your home - I think such decisions should be made carefully. Quality lasts - and that saves you money. It may be that certain pieces of an inherited set can be blended into your existing set - especially such useful items as extra platters and serving dishes (which don't need to match your place setting) and to have on hand as dinner and side plates for large gatherings. Forget using paper plates for appetizers - hand everyone an eclectic mix of fancy side plates or orphaned saucers. Or pack up a full set of 2 to 4 basic place settings - all ready to accompany a young person to their first home - the traditional "hand-me-downs" that save money on furnishing that first apartment!
Inherited furniture should also be cherished - if not for the gorgeous style or craftmanship, but because it is often real solid wood; a commodity difficult to find these days. Even the most expensive modern furniture is usually made from MDF, or has it hiding somewhere as part of its structure, and will not stand the test of time.
All of these practices and more make Mother Nature smile, save you money ... and reduce the demand on manufacturing.
So by all means, de-clutter your home of useless items. But remember what useless clutter truly is - the old bills, the half-empty make-up jars, the books you won't read, the clothes you won't wear, the unneeded or outgrown items that can't be reused - and low quality items. Those appreciated but unwanted gifts. All other possessions that you love and cherish, bring back good memories, or can be re-used or re-purposed; to those I quote these old and wise adages that still hold true and will keep your home fresh and un-cluttered:
"Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without"
" A place for everything, and everything in its place."
Meadow Sweet Grove © V. Buchanan 2019 / edited 2021 & 2022
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