Perhaps it’s the season – Christmas, and all that – and perhaps it’s the news that certain companies who shall remain nameless are trialling the use of delivery drones, but my mind today is on Stuff. Capitalised Stuff. The Stuff that clogs up our lives like cholesterol in a hardened artery.
Do we, if we’re being entirely truthful, need all the trumpery (a great word, which I love) that clutters up our lives?
Myself and Himself were in a shopping centre over the weekend, murdering some time. Half-jokingly, we wandered into a snooty upmarket clothing and ‘luxury’ goods retailer, just to see how long it would take for a security guard to shoot us the evil eye. Pretending to be a lot posher than I, truthfully, am, I trundled about the shop attempting to look like a serious potential purchaser. Eventually I reached the back of the premises, where all the Christmas stock was lurking.
Every conceivable surface was packed with Stuff. Every corner was jammed with it. We saw novelty Santas and ‘fun’ reindeer, who looked a lot like rats if I’m being honest, dressed in Fair Isle sweaters and at least ten thousand different teapots, all with a faintly seasonal pattern. We saw candles and candle holders and tea-strainers and ever-so-jolly saucepan sets and ‘Santa Stop Here!’ accoutrements of every imaginable type. There were rolling-pins with elves on, for goodness sake. There was so much Stuff that it seemed, to me, impossible to ever buy any of it. This is because my brain, when confronted with too much choice, simply checks out and goes to my happy place, and sometimes it takes me a while to coax it back again.
What’s it all for, I asked myself. Who actually buys it?
Now, I’m not saying that I want to return to the days when people were washing their clothes by hand using cold water in a bucket and carrying candles to bed – of course I accept that there are some pieces of modern gizmo wizardry that make life much easier than any of our ancestors could have dreamed. I am immensely grateful, for instance, for the piece of machinery in front of which I am currently sitting. However, using unmanned drones to deliver parcels, instead of a perfectly intelligent person? Games consoles that respond to voice commands, in order to save the user the unbearable trouble of lifting a remote control? Smartphones with so many functions that you can barely figure out how to make a call?
Pah. I’ll be over here in the Curmudgeons’ Corner if anyone’s looking for me.
I am painfully aware of how lucky I am to live in a warm, safe home with most of the mod-cons that my peers would expect. There’s a shop across the road filled with food, and I have the means to cook it safely and quickly. Barring a disaster – or an electricity providers’ strike, which might happen here before Christmas – I am not afraid of being cold this winter. I really don’t need a rolling-pin with elves on, or a Santa-shaped teapot, or a tiny flying robot to deliver my parcels (not that I would be receiving parcels from said online retailer in the first place, but you know what I mean.) Does anyone?
It’s coming on Christmas, and they’re cutting down trees, as Joni Mitchell once sang. These days, ‘they’ are also burning oil by the ton and wasting resources producing and shipping all this useless tat to our shops, where we buy it and perpetuate the cycle. Having said this, I am all for ‘real’ retail – as opposed to online – and I am all for supporting shops and keeping people in jobs and putting money back into your local area. But surely there are better things we can buy, like books or music or theatre tickets or things that people actually need instead of aprons that play ‘Jingle Bells’ if you press a button, or musical teacups that shatter the first time you pour a hot beverage into them. Aren’t there?
This Christmas, my meagre budget will be going on small, but thoughtfully chosen, gifts for my family and a donation to charity in everyone’s name. And, early in the New Year, I’ll be going on a recycling drive to rid myself of all the nonsense I’ve managed to accumulate in my life so far.
Well, that’s the plan at least.
I know it’s hard to consume less if we’ve always been in the habit of having everything we want, the second we want it. I really think we should try, though, for everyone’s sake. There are only so many corners and cupboards and attics and garages in the world in which to cram all our Stuff – and soon, like the old lady from the movie ‘Labyrinth’, we’ll be carrying all our possessions on our backs. Maybe then we’ll see how much they weigh us down.