On New Things

Isabella McLaren begat Maria Harley begat Irene Russell begat Ishbel McFarlane. And lo, every one of them was a hoarder. Though to be fairth to thee, Isabella McLaren, you wereth raising a family on your husband’s father’s farm because you’d been called backth to farm it by legislation about productivity as a result of the war and so you didn’t have much to hoard. Verily.

The above list combined with the numerous hoarder husbands (being both farmers and engineers made it a practical necessity for them) almost doom me to a stuff-based death. On my father’s side, however, it’s minimalism and order all the way. So much so that my great-grandmother chucked out my grandmother’s WRNS uniform within months of the end of the war without consulting her daughter because it was ‘cluttering the place up’.

These dual heritages do battle in my small bedroom on a daily basis. Books in alphabetical order, carpet hoovered regularly, a desk which struggles to breathe under a combination of knick-knacks and the ‘pile o scheiss’ (aka my ‘inbox’, or, more accurately, my in’box’). As for the bit between my wardrobe and the wall, NARNIA! Narnia for plastic bags and potentially-reusable packaging! Put simply, my room is full. It deserves a multi-story-car-park-style light-up sign on the M8: Ishbel’s Room – SPACE FULL.

This has two major outcomes: first, getting three new books can make my room feel unmanageably overstuffed, prompting a downward cycle ending with me having to type on my lap and give up my desk to a three-foot pile of election manifestos and show programmes, geologically layered through with seams of tutting TO DO lists that have yet to be TO DONE. In the spirit of harnessing the power of procrastination, when I’m supposed to be doing something reallyreallyimportantthathastobedonelikerightnowtoday I tend to take a leisurely hour or three to cull, reorder, tidy and sort. Like the car park, I operate a ‘one in, one out’ system. Except, of course, that I don’t. But with no living room for overspill and a flatmate who has lived and worked from the flat for eight years, founding a business of making things from old things, I have to keep a tight grip on my expansion of bumph.

One technique for the reduction of McScheiss is abstinence from buying new things during the period of Lent. I can buy food, health and safety items (no second-hand plasters for me) and things which are second-hand, but everything else is banned. This year I planned to keep this up to a lesser degree after Easter, maybe buying one new thing a month. So far, no go. Even for someone who abhors the phrase ‘born to shop‘ and all its demonic attendants, I have been caught out many times. Included here are a selection of things which I ‘needed’ during Lent but had banned myself from buying first-hand:

  • magazines
  • candles
  • notebooks
  • watches
  • bras
  • tights
  • lightbulbs (when it was for a ‘mood lighting’ style light rather than one which will light the room enough to stop me falling out of the window)
  • Mother’s day cards
  • Easter cards
  • Birthday cards (to myself)

The trickiest thing on this list was actually tights. Pants are a health and safety item (don’t ask impertinent questions – go and play in the garden), but tights are a decadent luxury that I choose to wear. The real problem is that you can’t get them second-hand. I trawled eBay and paid over the odds for a second-hand watch (it has a minute hand as well) the exact same model as the one my mum bought for half as much for new. But at least I could get one. You can only get second-hand tights from very SPECIFIC websites which I was loathe to frequent. Thus 40 days of holey and holy and wholly resolute old tichts, including a resurrected pair from schooldays. They had my name in, which might yet prove useful.

One solution suggested by friends was to treat tights as consumables and therefore not included in my list of banned items. This sort of automatic thinking was how, on the first day of my Lent promise, I accidentally bought three new things without even noticing. I went into the Oxfam bookshop on Byres Road in search of some Wodehouse and while I was there I picked up two fairtrade candles and some notepaper. The combination of being ethical and being things which I will use (all three things are almost used up already) meant that they didn’t ring Lenten alarms the way an obviously-made-by-slave-babies Primark top would.

But I am firm and such things will not enter kosherdom. It’s not just because of my multi-storey-book-store of a room that I need to cut down on new things, but also the absolutely direct contribution to the rubbishification of the world that can be laid at the feet of Western consumption, ie. my feet. While I am excited about the reinvigoration of political thought as people become angry at bankers’ bonuses and the tax dodging fairground of big business, campaigns like We are the 99 percent always make me feel a bit uneasy. Absolutely without doubt I, and most of my pals, are in the global top 1%. Our budget flights to Barcelona to see a Truly Excellent Gig are no less damaging in themselves than an oil baron’s flight within the Middle East. We must try to judge each action independent from stereotypes – I can’t be as bad for the environment or child labour as all those nasty rich people are, because I’m nice and have friends and buy The Big Issue. On occasion.

Accumulating things I don’t need is something of which I am, and should be, just as ashamed of as someone forking out for another Mercedes. As someone forking out for another Mercedes should be. The three ‘R’s I was drilled in at school were Reduce, Reuse and Recycle and those are in order of preference. Do recycle. Do reuse. But most of all, do reduce.

So, back to my inability to follow my own advice. This blog constitutes a re-commitment. I hereby swear to reduce my new thing buying to one thing a week – which I acknowledge still seems outrageously much until I actually try it. I also swear to review this policy as I progress and will not feel strangled by a life giving promise like this. I have great inspirations in the form of my pals Jay and Ailsa, and I will continue drinking at the fountains of lively minimalist experience that are their blogs to keep me going. The pain of not buying a new pair of sunglasses because my old ones make my nose look funny somewhat pales into insignificance when compared with two people who gave up their possessions and moved their family to China.

And finally, if you are going to try this out yourself, be aware that some things are health and safety items in certain numbers. For example, running without a bra can rip the breast from the chest internally. But your fourth servicable bra in circulation, which has tassels, even if it’s from M&S, is never going to be asked to save you from that fate.

GOOD LUCK!

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