Thursday, 20 June 2013

600 Things

The UN Refugee Agency is promoting it’s World Refugee Day with an image of Magbola Alhadi a mother of three who fled her village with only a cooking pot. They ask us, if you had one minute what would you take from your home? I have everything important packed up in a travel bag, photos, birth certificates, my sons first  drawings, a lock of his hair, the truly precious things, and my laptop of course. But the last few weeks I’ve been contemplating not what I would take but what I would keep. If I could have only 600 things, what would they be?

Paul Hawkins provided the forward for, Hooked, Buddhist writings on greed, desire, and the urge to consume. In it he wrote of a friend, a reformed big banker who has attempted to curb excess in his life by having only 600 things. It means counting every last teaspoon.  If someone gives him a present or he buys something new he has to give away something in order to remain at 600 things.

Once I start counting things I realise if I wish to remain clothed I may need to convert my loaded bookshelves into a slim electronic device, of which only one could hold thousands of books. But I’m not sure I can do that.   I wonder if a pair of socks counts for 1 thing, or 2? I decide it’s a definite 1.
If in my car I have a spare tyre does  that make it one thing or two? I decide it is one thing. The car, complete with its road maps is one thing. Though my glovebox stuffed full of old sunglasses will need to be cleaned out.

I like the zen of it. Paul describes his friend’s house as if it is a small temple, “every object has meaning: nothing is retained unnecessarily.”

But there are three of us, not counting the dog. Does that mean we can have concessions? 600 things each? No, that would be wrong.  My son would then have license for 600 things excluding fridges, pots and pans etc believing they are the sole responsibility of those that put the food on them and give him scope to continue to consume at a far greater rate. Perhaps as a family we could say we have 400 combined things and then 200 additional personal items bringing the total to 1000.  I start counting pairs of jeans unworn for the past three years while I wait for a thigh thinning miracle.

Teaspoons? How did we accumulate so many?  I have a collection of old bottles retrieved from the property where the pigs rooted them out of what must have once been a dump. Do they count? Do the rocks I found at the beach, the dried flowered head of a romanesco broccoli  which hangs in the laundry looking artful against the white limewashed wall? I decide nothing in the garden counts. I have 600 recycled plastic garden pots alone. No this will need to be carried out under the auspice of roofs.

Suddenly everything I touch becomes a loaded question. We preserve our food, we have 300 Vacola jars, this is our food system, do I have to include these? I doubt Paul’s friend did more than eat out and dine in. It seems unfair to have to include our preserving system that is designed to avoid waste and lower our consumption of highly packaged and processed supermarket food.  Then there is every glass jar that ever entered the house, sitting washed and boxed ready for summer jams and chutneys. Can I bear to part from them?   I start looking at the dog sideways, does his collar bring his count to 2, what about his food bowl, his water bucket? My  proliferation of op shop teapots, all my tired pairs of undies, the balls of saved rubberbands, the things I collect for the day the world may suddenly end and I’m left bereft of tampons or boxes of matches.

I’ve always thought my life quite a spare thing, but then I look into the tool shed and despite deciding a box of 1000 nails counts only as one, there’s enough in there to more than double our 600 each concessions.  Trev’s pile of saved scrap metal is anti-consumerist in nature. One day that odd conglomeration of metals will come in handy – obviously. I avoid looking at his vintage collection of AM radios from the '50's. I decide to back out slowly and exclude the tool shed from my configurations. I doubt Paul’s friend built his own house, or needs to repair fence lines, use a chainsaw or welds his own garden tools. But now it all seems like poppycock.

Back in the house I stare at the light fittings, are they separate to the house, or part of of it? I decide they are part of it. My box of tax records for the previous 8 years, should I toss them? The urge is strong, but they remain taking up far too much room on the top shelf.  I start counting teaspoons.  I emerge from the spare parts cupboard draped in long lost cables for phones long deceased and recall the time someone  left their charger on a bus only to have extricated a spare to great hoots of amazement, a rabbit from a hat.  It dawns on me that I’m a hoarder. Every paper bag we’ve bought pepitas or sunflowers in are collected and folded, any plastic bag that actually manages to get through the door is washed, dried and saved for a multitude of repeated uses. I make our own soap, 100 bars of it are curing in an aniseed infused cupboard. This is, clearly, not going to work.

I decide to have a thorough clean of the house. I will give away anything that is clearly extraneous to needs. Hone down on my hoarding, and then, regardless of numbers, I will cap it. Anything new entering the house will need to be resolved with one removal.  If I get to the point that there is not one thing more I can bear to give away, then it will hopefully create the dynamic where the new thing is  considered superfluous anyway.  Now, the big challenge. Enlisting Trev and Caleb, oh the kicking and screaming...


Rebecca Williams said...

600 things?! Surely food, shelter and clothing (not excessive amounts) couldn't be included in a 'self-sufficient' household. I have hundreds of jars of food that feed my family throughout the year, hundreds of books that provide endless hours of entertainment and information, tins of seeds (future fruit and vegetables to feed the family)... Maybe 600 materialistic items, plastic items, one-use items, 'wants' not 'needs'? I must admit it feels good to have a declutter once a year and get rid of the things that you hold onto because of the 'one day I just might' tag. Thanks for the blog Linda! Gives me some food for thought.

knutty knitter said...

Strikes me that this silly idea came from a male with no need to provide for life etc. I'd exclude all the stuff that allows life to proceed and count only the stuff that is merely decorative. And even then not all of it. I feel it would be churlish to give away Great Aunty Mary's flowerpot that she loved and bequeathed to you just because some book said so. I'd rather give away the book...

On the other hand - the odd bout of decluttering does tend to be necessary :)

viv in nz