Summer Stage #8, Saturday 16 July 2016–What to do with the treasures you’ve collected over the years?
Enriched by, not captive to, possessions
Our lives would be so much the poorer without the things we collect and prize. Having and creating things is part of what makes us human, said English artist Michael Landy. Yet, get this, in 2001 Landy destroyed everything he owned, calling it performance art.
At first sight it doesn’t appear that one hand knew what the other one was doing. Yet Landy assures us he knew what he was doing. After two years of planning, over a two-week period he prepared all his belongings, 7,227 in all, for the landfill. It was a one-off art performance that left him with only the blue boiler suit he was wearing, Entitled, Project Break Down, everything, including his Saab 900 Turbo car, was stripped, shredded, crushed, dismantled and sent to the dump.
Ouch! Ach no. Leave it to a performing artist to make your mind spin. Practicalities and arguments aside, Landy made a point. His action was a work of art, not a way of life, he said. Part of his message was to get people thinking about our relationship with possessions and objects. We use possessions to construct our identities, he said, But given our obsession with stuff and ownership, who am I?
We can’t escape consumerism in Western society but we can take a critical look at the waste and excess of the West, Alastair Booke said in an article on BBC.com (14 July 2016). He quoted someone who described Break Down as “a kind of bonfire of the vanities for the 21st Century.” Landy has a current exhibition at a gallery in Basel. I’d love to see if the blue boiler suit is on exhibition.
I’m not advocating a copy-cat solution to one’s possessions–Landy has made his points. As did Francis of Assisi, who alone stands as the person who successfully renounced worldly goods. I’m for walking a middle path, one where we find the happy medium between owning possessions and being owned by possessions, as in coming to terms with Jesus words about gaining the whole world and losing your soul.
That’s a long introduction to clutter-control, specifically, what can I do with my collectables when I’m no longer collecting or I want to dispose of what I’ve collected? In brief, I tell myself,
- Enjoy what I have,
- Prune what I have,
- Share what I have.
Easier said than done, yet doable; all three steps can be really rewarding, and life-enriching.
Goodbye to a matchbook collection
This week we said goodbye to a matchbook collection amassed over 50 or so years. The main thing I prize from covers and the few whole matchbooks we kept is memories. Memories evoke another place, another time, another chapter in our book of life, adding a spark to now.
Matchbooks were once given away everywhere–restaurants, hotels, even weddings. We took our collection to the Elkhart Fire Department. I thought about burning them in a grill in American Park, but welcomed a chance to stop by the fire station. The fireman said they could dispose of the lot, though the ones still intact as books could be used by their education department. Right on! I hadn’t thought about the fact that children today don’t know about matchbooks, unless they come across collections kept by their parents or grandparents. Result: our collection serves a good cause and makes our own home safer.
The lion’s share of our collections belongs to books
Our collections include fridge magnets, sun catchers, tea cups, mugs, tea and coffee spoons, Christmas ornaments, art, baskets, shells, rocks–and books. Nothing of ours requires a room of its own, though that could be argued for the books. We’ve disposed of hundreds of books, such as 10 boxes given to the library at Indiana State Prison and oodles more to various charities and Better World Books.
With shelves purged–an ongoing process–finding a book is now easier. One novelist limited the unread books on his shelves to no more than 50 percent of the total. Whatever one’s approach, there are times when ruthless pruning is in order, lugging around a ton of books does not seem to be the stuff of a well-tended book shelf. So there, I have my own advice on pruning to contend with.
I’ve collected books about travel, history, biography, mystery, humor, and spirituality and religion. Printed books have had an enduring sameness for the past 556 years since the Gutenberg’s invention of moveable type. I can’t see a world without books. Sure, digital books are handy and cheap, nevertheless there’s beauty and pleasure in pulling a bound book off the shelf, either your own or from the library.
How sofas changed our style of living
Just imagine a world without bookstores or libraries–or book reviews like the one I just read in the Autumn 2009 issue of The Wilson Quarterly on the future of the book (came across it in the pruning process).
Winifred Gallagher reviewed The Age of Comfort: When Paris Discovered Casual–and the Modern Home Began (Joan DeJean, Bloomsbury, 2009). Did you ever wonder how we came by the modern home? After all, the homes of the past were castles built to display royal power and grandeur while the masses lived as peasants. Gallagher said DeJean, “makes a strong case that between 1670 and 1765 Paris was the world’s capital for designing the stuff of life, from furniture to clothing. In Ages of Comfort, she traces this outpouring of creativity to a shift in cultural ideals from magnificence and public display to ease and private delight.”
DeJean posed a chicken-or-egg question: “Is it possible that sofas and writing desks actually helped pass on a message of philosophical enlightenment?” Gallagher noted, “But she also wonders if the era’s emphasis on private over public life presaged our own modern obsession with self and its comforts and accouterments.” Fascinating. As Gallagher noted, “The home as we understand it–not just a place to eat and sleep but also one that supports personal life and well-being–is a remarkably recent invention.”
Toys, those dinky things with wheels
I have less than a dozen dinky toy-type vehicles. Most of them I’ll soon give to grand-nieces and nephews. I’ll keep the Citroen Dyane, Gorgi Juniors, Made in Britain, with its own patent number. Why? Its imaginative value lies in memories of my first visit to Europe in 1964 for a year as an exchange visitor working at the Mennonite-sponsored retreat, retirement, and congregation-center, The Thomashof, near Karlsruhe.
One of the Thomashof staff had a Citroen Deux Chevaux, (2CV, or 2 Horse) just like my brother-in-law brought home from Paris when they lived there some years ago. Anyway, I can image loading the Citroen Dyane’s boot (this one works), pulling a trailer (it has a hitch) and tooling around France, land of my Kennel forebears, creating a sweet armchair dream journey.
Recollections of travels in stuff we’ve collected serves us well. The fish with a frown was made by an artist in Lunenburg, a sunny city in Nova Scotia. The cat comes from Norwich, England, a partial representation of a window of Norwich Cathedral depicting Julian of Norwich, who spent much of her life bricked up in a small room (cell) connected to a nearby church. Her food came through a small window.
In sum, the pleasure of collectables for me include passing some of them on to family and friends. I’ll aim to enjoy the stuff we’ve collected in memory if not in retention. Clutter-control is sweet. Less stuff is freeing. Who said it would be easy?
Scenes of the week collected close to home