Stuff – we are surrounded by it, immersed in it, addicted to consuming it. In the ‘privileged’ world we have so much stuff we build second sheds and lean-tos to house it; it fills our voids, numbs our pain, silences our questions and keeps the economy buoyant. For many, stuff equals status. When the cupboards and draws and boxes are full, we might consider donating stuff to the op-shop or even to the bin. Then it can creates space for some new stuff.
My mum and dad are steadfast hoarders; collectors of the highest order. “Treasures” they tell me. Stuff that hasn’t seen the light of day for ten years, but might come in handy. What? When there’s a worldwide shortage of miniature hotel toiletries, rusty basketball hoops or empty beer bottles. I admit, some of it is exciting in a latent-potential kind of way, but the sheer volume of stuff they have astounds me.
I used to be a collector; the usual childhood fascination with stamps, stickers, shells, rocks. On a long road trip around Australia I was gathering rocks in one door and mum was tossing them out the other. Over the past decade, two factors have influenced me to clear clutter and streamline my collecting. First is my husband, one of the most non-material, free-from-stuff people I know. He is Mr Simplicity, constantly renegotiating his need for things. Our living space is a compromise between my adornment and his minimalism. Slowly I have let go of attachment to old stuff, and the desire to always fill the space with something new. It is incredibly liberating to release my pattern of seeing stuff as a memory keeper and part of who I am.
The second factor is my peripatetic nature and life in the developing world. I hate being burdened with stuff when I’m on the road. I’m a super packer, even known to consider cutting the handle off my toothbrush to lighten the load. Being able to negotiate gangplanks, platforms and transit halls with ease and speed is essential when you’ve got a motorbike, yak or four hundred shoving locals up your ass.
Most of the locals in our village have virtually nothing other than bare necessities. There is no pile of newspapers, junk mail or even books on the kitchen table. There often is no kitchen table. Things do not get thrown away unless totally destroyed or decayed. Anything broken is fixed, and refixed, then turned into something else to extend its useful life. Buckets are patched, sewn and glued, then live on as watering cans. We have learned to never throw anything out, as a neighbour will definitely put it to good use. Our “rubbish” is their luxuries – empty bottles, old pillows, cracked plastic containers; they will even straighten bent nails to reuse. It is an inbuilt recycling programme. There are no second hand shops, because nobody has anything to give away.
I have a mild obsession with organisation, which helps to keep my stuff in order. Folders, boxes and matching stationery bring me great joy. My collections revolve around digital images, paper and memories – light weight and easy to transport. Packed away in Australia I have an assortment of ceramics and tea-cup and saucer trio sets (with a secret desire to expand and take over half the house with crockery). Living abroad I vacillate between longing for my things in storage and questioning the need for them in my life. I have never outgrown my love for beachcombing and living on the beach allows me to pick up small treasures on every walk. Most of these eventually return to the sea, and the cycle of stuff goes on.
The images are of a dear artist friend's wonderful clutter. I love to be immersed in her stuff, to rifle through the piles and find unexpected gems and inspiring projects. Wild, succulent stuff.