JETTISON

I find it interesting the way certain ideas take hold and weave their way into magazines, newspapers and even into blogs. During the course of last year, for example, it appeared as if taking stock of what is in our homes and at least thinking about getting rid of items that have accumulated over the years was the order of the day. Articles abounded in the press (mostly encouraging the general public to ‘downsize’, to ‘minimize’, or to ‘declutter’ by ‘getting rid of stuff’) and blog posts regularly appeared (some exalting in the ‘freedom’ resulting from having done so, and many more contemplating both the necessity and the pain associated with getting ‘rid of stuff’). What was the driving force behind it – not that it is a new concept: the annual spring cleaning, so beloved by some, sees to a general clearing out. The decluttering drive appeared to be more strongly motivated. What, for example, will happen to my collection of photograph albums?

It was difficult to avoid the topic. Nonetheless, there appeared to be a general consensus among bloggers that it is a good idea in principle to clear out cupboards or garages, to unpack shelves and boxes, and even to clear out rooms! All of these boxes  in my study contain letters, first day covers and papers that are probably only of value to me.

There has been an acknowledgement too that the books and items of furniture we hold dear appear to have little appeal among the (perhaps more mobile) younger generation.

“None of my children are interested in owning my collection of silverware,” a friend told me ruefully. “They don’t want to have to polish it – and the cutlery can’t go into a dishwasher!” What will happen to it? I recall having tea in a lovely place in Mpumalanga and being appalled at the use of beautiful silver teapots (all tarnished and crying out for a polish) filled with succulents and used as centre-pieces for the tables.

Another friend mourns the fact that neither of her children is interested in inheriting any of the beautiful furniture she and her husband have collected. “They both live overseas – in different countries – so it would probably cost them a fortune to ship any of it over anyway.” What is to happen to it? It breaks my heart to see lovely old furniture being covered with paint – often with a ‘distressed’ look to make it appear old – used as outside tables or garage cupboards, all in the name of ‘upcycling’.

Most homes have items that are no longer needed, or which have become burdensome, and need to be discarded. Many of us put off doing so both because it is time-consuming and we don’t actually know how to get rid of items that might be useful to others. I read of organised recycling or redistribution programmes in countries other than where I live. A number of charities make worthy recipients as do schools and community projects. There is a limit to what they can absorb though. Also, while there may be recycling centres in large cities, here it has even become risky to enter the municipal dump on one’s own.

Feeling the need to get rid of accumulated possessions brings to mind the original meaning of jettison, which referred to the act of throwing goods overboard to lighten the load of a ship in distress. Some might argue that our homes are ‘ships in distress’ requiring us to jettison material possessions from time to time. I quake at our collection of books that fills almost every room in our home. I have given many away to charities and rehomed some children’s books – what will happen to the rest once we are no longer here to curate them?

Some bloggers have stated categorically that they love being surrounded by the accumulation of things that hold a lifetime of memories, so are not prepared to jettison anything. Others say it is not fair to burden our children with the task of sorting through our belongings. I agree with both views, although lean towards the latter. The main problem is where to begin!

22 thoughts on “JETTISON

  1. DO NOT. DO NOT jettison anything that is important to you. If you are a hoarder that is a different situation and worth getting help for. (I have collected books all my life. When we moved here I was ready to get rid of them, But Jackie insisted I kept them. Most of the younger generation won’t be interested, but I already pass on some to those who do appreciate them).

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    • Thank you – both so true. Memories remain with us even if we wish to forget some along the way. Physical items need to be looked at very carefully before ‘tossing’. So often one ‘needs’ something you haven’t thought of for years only to find you no longer have it!

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  2. Great food for thought in your post, thank you. I would never get rid of things that are important to me, but sometimes I just don’t store them correctly. That’s what I need to work on, otherwise they could accidentally get thrown away by someone else in the house. Having said that, I’m a bit of a control freak when it comes to stuff lying around the house so that’s not likely to happen. However, when I’m gone… what then? You post has made me think that I should be creating a place for my important things like old diaries/photos etc, rather than think ‘there’re in the cupboard somewhere’.

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  3. My books would be hard to get rid of, the ones dear to me anyway. There is a sense of ‘lightning’ that happens in ones being once you have engaged in a good spring clean and de – clutter. Mmmmm food for thought Anne. What qualifies as too precious to get rid of and what should go, I guess it is a very personal thing.

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    • It is a very personal choice and one I feel strongly about. Nonetheless, I sometimes feel I ought to start finding alternative homes for items that are definitely not used anymore and which do not have a sentimental value.

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  4. I read Marie Kondo when her book first came out a few years ago and started the latest revolution of ‘downsizing.’ I went through my clothes closet and book shelf, then faltered when faced with the photo collection. It all needs to be gone over again, but I find it daunting … too many attachments!

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  5. A timely article as I am in the process of cleaning out my house, and starting my mothers. I wondered about those photo albums too – future generations won’t have printed photos at all, and might consider them a novelty. Definitely a keeper, but then I do genealogy and wish I had more old photos. I had the hardest time in my basement furnace/storage room with what to do will all my old textbooks and work magazines – surely as I’m now retired I don’t need any of that stuff – but it represents a big chunk of my life. I couldn’t even get rid of my lab coats – maybe useful for painting or something? As for my mother, who grew up in the Depression when nothing was wasted, we have a harder time there. I feel better for having purged, and at least I know what I have, you sometimes find some things you’d forgotten about which are useful, and I’,m prepping for an early summer garage sale, with a donation to a charity jar, hoping someone else wants these things. When I took some boxes of glasses/mugs to the thrift store, they just join shelves and shelves full of others. Someone mentioned to me that the Women’s Interval Home (a place where abused women can go), might want pots and pans and things that can be useful for setting up a new home/place, so that’s an idea. Good luck with your cleaning. PS. I would love to get a look at your book shelves!

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    • I take my hat off to you for getting as far as you have. It was a few years after my retirement that I gave my teaching files a really hard look and then, as luck would have it for I couldn’t help thinking of all the hours and care that had gone into their compilation, a former student said she would be delighted to have them as a backstop to the start of her career. The bookshelf I show is on the landing … there are many, many more!

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  6. Pingback: Storing Your Important Belongings | Sandra Madeira

  7. Yes it is difficult. My mother kept a lot, and we have inherited so much. Reading through the letters spanning many decades raises such a mixture of emotions. With old photos, I have scanned many and sorted others into homemade labelled envelopes, and shared with my sister, but we can’t keep everything. One achievement – I devised a Heath Robinson technique for photographing old slides so they are digitized now and the boxes of slides have gone.
    I love being surrounded by old and well-used things and could never be minimalist, but I do need to aim for more ‘middle ground’ but that is not easy when one is fond of all these old things spanning sometimes four generations. One strategy I try is to set small projects in an effort to make it manageable, but it is far from being a linear process!

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    • I empathise with you completely! I am going through the very slow process of rereading my mother’s letters to me, summarising them and filing them chronologically with a vague plan of writing something about her.

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