Thursday, July 10, 2014

Throwing Things Out

5. Books
4. Skinny Clothes
3. Dead People's Stuff
2. Photographs
1. Stuff That Might Be Useful

This article really resonated with me as I've become significantly more aggressive about my decluttering efforts recently, fuelled partly by sheer frustration at the level of junk we've accumulated in this small house, and partly by the older girls' ideas about going to high school in New Zealand - the realisation that I may only 'have' them for 1.5 to 2.5 years more makes the saving of things they might need, that they use, the just-in-case stuff seem infinitely more useless. The future seems shorter somehow.

4. I can't agree about skinny clothes. Nope. Gonna keep them, dammit, cos I'm going to LOSE IT, dammit! I am! Okay, just the favourites then. Actually I'll probably enjoy getting rid of a lot of it. I haven't done my summer wardrobe overhaul yet this year (I usually go through my clothes twice a year) but I just have a feeling that this year, I'll be more ruthless than usual. I usually like to remove at least one garbage bag, I have a feeling it might be two or three this year...

3. I don't really know about dead people's stuff. Nana had already downgraded a lot in her shift from her home to Mum's, and was never a hoarder anyway. She liked things clean, neat and new. Dad didn't have much stuff to start with, and Mum was not overly sentimental about keeping pointless items like clothes. She wasn't ruthless either, the clothes stayed in the closet for some time. She couldn't understand her friend getting rid of everything the weekend after her husband died. It all went eventually, she just took her time and let it go gently.

As for me, I'd like to think my family would know what to keep and what to lose. You don't need my clothes or shoes or towels or kitchen things (unless you find them convenient or they have nostalgia value to you). Or most of my books and certainly not my papers (not even I want those, but life in modern civilisation forces you to keep a drawer-full of that crap). I'd like to think they'd keep my old treasures and my better jewellery (eek! I'd better sort that out, I would be happy to chuck most of it, but there are a few pieces that either cost more or have more history that I'd like them to keep). I'm already sorting out my treasures by writing a blog about them so the kids always have a record of what they are and what they mean to me, and am starting to put them out around the house so they have actual memories of them, instead of them being just random mysterious junk they found in a cupboard after I died.

1. Stuff that might be useful, hear hear! But... it's a tricky one. The things the article mentions you can't argue about, especially the pertinent point that these things would have been much more use to the world recycled fresh than kept musty and dusty until they are no use to anyone. But living day to day, there are a few things you need to keep around to use. Plastic bags, paper bags, paper clips, rubber bands, bag ties, envelopes and note paper, pencils, erasers, tacs, thread, needles, buttons... I've always been pretty good at keeping a lid on it though - I need newspaper to wrap broken items, but I never have more than six, and usually one or two, not stacks of them. I have a set of 12 tiny drawers (10 x 5 x 5cm) for things like tacs and rubber bands, which is tidy and easy to access and designed so you always have enough and never too much. Sewing things in a sewing box, stationery in a stationery box, pencils etc in a drawer in my desk. I think if you create a space for it, and only use that space, you're doing okay.

But what really got me thinking was the books and photographs. These are two things that, as the article correctly points out, have enormous social value. We've been taught since birth to treasure them. Books are the greatest treasure known to humans. Photos are the first thing we save when the house is on fire, as they are so irreplaceable. How can anyone brought up in modern society view these things as anything other than sacred, and the idea of trashing them as anything other than sacrilege?

5. Life in Japan exacerbated the book maniac in me. It's easy enough to be a bookworm when you have several stores and a LIBRARY always at hand to feed your addiction. Coming to Japan meant facing a sudden and horrifying drought of reading material, begging for hand-me-downs, paying exorbitant postal fees for supplies from home, paying top dollar for new books on rare trips to the big city, and learning to seek out reading material in any place a gaijin was or had been or might be!

Only a few years ago, any AFWJ event or any other occasion when foreigners got together would include a book and magazine exchange, where people would swarm over the new offerings, and snatch up their choices. I would always come home with more than I brought, glorying in my new treasures. Now you're lucky if anyone bothers to look at the pile.

I can trace my changed attitude to books (and magazines, which I also used to treasure inordinately) to late October 2010 when I won the ipad at Tropicoco's Halloween party. It was a first generation ipad, so I was early adopter, and I got an iphone too that year. It didn't take me long to discover the world of electronic books - the endless universe rather, because over those few short years, the provision of digital books has skyrocketed into the ether, to the point now that theoretically, I don't ever have to buy another book ever. With dozens already downloaded to my devices, and hundreds - thousands even - available free or for a few dollars, and endless online magazines and blogs, I know I will never run out of reading material, never run out of choices. I used to keep a book and a magazine in the car, the kitchen, the toilet even, I used to travel with at least two different types of magazines and one or two books so that I'd have different reading choices to suit different moods, but all I need now is to ensure I have a device (and a charger).

This has put the contents of my bookcases in a slightly more tenuous position. I've always loved having bookcases, and the idea of having a house with rooms lined with them. It feels enormously comfortable and glorious to me to have that resource always at hand, to know I can always stroll into a room or up my corridor and choose something I love to read. I don't think that's going to change soon. I keep novels I loved and think I might like to read again, non-fiction that I think I might refer to, and beautiful books I just love to look at or hold in my hands.

And while I've never kept novels that, once read, I know I'm not going to read again (I would sell them or give them away), life in book-starved Japan has inspired me to keep piles of unread hand-me-downs and giveaways and 'hmm, I might like to read that one day' books around in piles, to guard against the threat of  literally having nothing to read - a very real scenario for me in my early days in Japan.

That day is not ever going to come now, which means those piles of already-read, and might-read, and just-took-anyway piles of books really have started to become a liability. They have almost no re-sale value - books are being sold for 100 yen these days, barely worth the effort of selling them. Staff where I work have stopped taking used books (they were once like gold to new staff!). So, do I toss them? Cut them up into book art (really fond of this idea, actually, though it means keeping piles of unwanted books hanging around!)? Try to pass them on? Either way, the article makes a really good point. Books just aren't the treasure they used to be!

2. Photos too. For me it feels almost sinful to say that, as I've always valued my photos, even more than my books (which are theoretically replaceable at least). But I realised two things recently. First, a photo has so much more value if there is only ONE. It really is quite boring to view a folder full of twenty views of the same thing. I'm even getting tired of collages, though I completely understand the impulse to gather a few of the best that you can't choose from into one 'thing' to look at. I've realised *I* value a photo more if it's unique.

This shouldn't be a surprise really. I've always known that professional photographers take a whole roll, or several rolls of film and choose just one for the Vogue or National Geographic magazine article. And as I take them, the dozens of shots of one thing, I always have it in my mind that I'm going to trim them, just choose the best shot. I just have to actually DO it.

A realisation I came to in a different way, is that I just have way. too. many. I have so many that my computer has slowed down, and that's not even all of them - I have stacks of CDs of photos that still aren't on this computer! I have THOUSANDS of photos. Of course, like everyone, I want to 'sort them out', 'someday'.

I'm beginning to realise that 'someday' has to be sooner rather than later, and I have a few ideas about how I'm going to do that, but... what I know is, that if I'm going to get any pleasure out of my photos in the future, and for my children to find any value in them, I'm going to have to be massively selective about what I keep, and delete most of them. I've started, I've gone through iphoto once and destroyed obvious double-ups. Next task on my list is to start with recent albums (I'm less sentimental about recent photos) and try to reduce them by at least half, though my ultimate goal is to reduce them by 75-90% -wish me luck!

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