Thursday, 27 August 2009

Use it up, wear it out

A few years back, I decided to give up buying things I didn't need for a year long project. I defined need pretty strictly; you can't just say to yourself, "Well I really need a pair of pair of red shoes," when the ones you already own will do. The problem was that I wasn't ready. I was still searching for things I wanted with which to torture myself and I fought the self-imposed restriction, like a dieter who craves biscuits. It's rather like when a new student turns up at a yoga class and says excitedly, "I've given up smoking." It's usually about three weeks before they lapse. If you think that giving up anything - chocolate, tobacco, alcohol or shopping, or even breaking up a relationship - is exciting, then your heart isn't in it. You think about it all the time; it still has its hooks in you and it will reel you back in.

I mention this because I've stopped shopping again but this time I didn't have a start date; I just noticed that it had happened. I found myself not wanting to buy stuff because I slowly realised that I own more things than I need already. I've enough books to read, as many notebooks as I need to write several books and take notes at all the meetings between now and the end of my career, 20 fountain pens and ink enough to fill them. I'm still drawn to lovely new things, but instead of allowing my acquisitive desires to envelop me I've started to remind myself of all the beautiful things I already own. When I want to give myself a present, I don't have to buy one; I can open the box I keep my stash of special things in. Yoga helps, by the way, although you have to have the right attitude to it; I've met people who just become yoga addicts instead. What I really want more of is floorspace so now I'm spending time selling things on eBay and giving them away on Freecycle.

And I mention that because this is where the 4160 Tuesday come in. When you realise you've collected enough writing paper to send thankyou letters to all your aunts, nieces, nephews and minor acquaintainces until all your 4160 Tuesdays are over, it's time for a rethink.

I've an idea that the constraints of using up what I already own will inspire me to creativity. Necessity is the mother of invention and all that. Let's be fair though; I do still have an awful lot of stuff; when I moved flats once, I sent through my list of belongings - musical instruments, boxes of books, fabric, yarn, sewing machines, yoga kit - and the removals company asked, "Is it a school?"

It's fair to say that I'm quite good at shopping; I give guided tours around London's most beautiful shops to visitors from overseas. But isn't it better to spend time creating than acquiring? Instead of opening my craft cupboard doors and wondering when I'm going to get the time to use up all the stuff inside, I'm going to take something out and make it into something else. (Yes, I have a craft cupboard.) Remember this, friends, aunts, nephews and minor acquaintances, when you get a pair of handknitted socks for Christmas.

(The picture: I uploaded it, changed my mind and tried to take it out again, but failed. I know it's not a masterpiece but it was my first attempt at wet-on-wet watercolour and as it does look a bit like a cyclamen and I did enjoy doing it, here it is.)


  1. As I've just completed my fourth transatlantic move in two years, this entry about accumulating too much stuff resonated far too well with me. Before my recent departure, I gave away about a stone's worth of clothing, books, and cosmetics to friends and charity shops. And yet, I still consider myself a minimalist...

    Your watercolour is lovely; it looks nothing like a first attempt.

  2. By the way, I've been distracted by perfume shops, but otherwise not too badly.