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!