17 November 2014

Moan on Monday - ruthlessness

In response to my post about the moth damage to a little sweater knit for a toddler some thirty years ago  came an outcry and a clamour to save it, preserve it, mount it as a museum object.

Although I understand this preservation instinct, I have been ruthless and have discarded the now-useless, un-beautiful object - but not without preserving its memory as both useful and beautiful; made with love and joy.

There comes a time, I've come round to thinking, when you have to let go. Let go of the thing - not of all its associations.

In general it's hard to let go of things that have good associations ... in fact it can feel like you're throwing away all the good memories that are embedded in the object. But you aren't.

Yet some objects that hold less-good memories can be hard to let go of - what about those unwanted presents from "important" relatives? - most frighteningly, family furniture that "must" be fitted among your own things.
Someone's inheritance (via)
Another category is the things you have several of, "just in case" - and who among us isn't "guilty" of this?

A subcategory of "just in case" could be called "wishful thinking" - it includes those clothes you keep because you might lose (or gain) weight sometime soon.

It's a widely-held belief that the moment you throw out something, you'll "need" it ... or rather, there will come a moment when it would have been useful. Poppycock! If the thing had been languishing in a forgotten cupboard, would you have been able to use it? It's likely that you're only noticing this "need to have the object" because you've seen or handled it recently - what about all the many other objects that are quite happily and uneventfully discarded?

Ruthlessness in regard to discarding things can go too far - how sad to hear "my mother threw out my teddy bear and didn't tell me". (We hear a lot about hoarding disorder, but is there a "fear of clutter" disorder too?)

Artists have built reputations on acts of destruction, and gained much publicity from getting rid of all their possessions ... only to build up a new collection. There are so many things in our environment, we all have so many belongings, thanks to machine manufacture and lifestyle aspirations and consumerist pressures. These days, second-best beds are rarely mentioned in wills and legacies. Easy come, easy go...

While having this series of fleeting thoughts, I've unearthed another topic to cogitate on - "What is valuable?" It would seem that being ruthless (in discarding things) means having a clear line between what has value and what doesn't. That clear dichotomy rather frightens me, but some people are quite sure in their own minds about this distinction. They know what they don't like, and never give it another thought, except for telling you about it!

The sad little sweater was valuable to me, but I didn't look after it and the moths damaged it. Its intact memory is now what I value about it. Objects come and go, but are more than their physical, tangible embodiment; isn't that why we have photographs, descriptions, and mental pictures?


reensstitcher said...

How true all this is. I have reached the point in life when we are going to have to 'downsize' and that is despite having lost a lot of our memorabilia in a house fire in 1999. It is very hard to say good-bye to things with lots of childhood memories. When my mother went into a home, my sisters and I brought half a container of family heirlooms back from New Zealand. As the next generation did not grow up there, these objects have no associations for them and I suspect I will have to contact an antique dealer to take them off us. I have a friend who says her mother used to say that you spend two thirds of your life accumulating stuff and the final third getting rid of it! I say this to myself often as I contemplate losing various pieces of china including my great-grandmother's tea set with its very small Victorian cups. I also remember doing my mother's house clearance and finding she still had the outfit she had worn to my sister's wedding, thirty-five years before. She was a hoarder but my father was a 'thrower out' and I think my sisters and I take after him although there are certain things I really can't bear to part with yet.

Deborah C. Stearns said...

I think many of us struggle with what to keep and what to discard, for various reasons, including emotional attachment. I wrote about this some years ago on my blog: