Why do we tend to fill our lives with dust-catchers and useless junk? Every week when the notices for the current round of estate sales arrive, my mind is filled with wonder.
What does a person do with all that stuff? Where on earth do you store it? Many houses where these estate sales take place are not huge…how do the occupants find room for the piles and piles of stuff? And why would they keep it at all? For that matter, why did they acquire it in the first place?
There’s this, for example:
Everyone needs a glass chicken, right? To go with the fake flowers. These photos aren’t the greatest, being thumbnails. But you get the (heh) picture.
Collecting is one thing I’ve never been able to understand. Why accrete a large number of useless items just because they have one trait in common—images of pigs, say? The pleasurability of this, for example, escapes me:
Scores and scores of Matchbox Cars, all in their original, unopened packaging. Someone evidently viewed this as akin to an investment, since enough people have a fixation on accruing Matchbox Cars to make them “collector’s items” and therefore, one speculates (and we do mean speculates) that someday they’ll have some outrageous value. So, we might speculate, will our house. Our stock market holdings. Our plastic hydrangeas…
They’re toys. Kids are supposed to play with them! Grabbed off the market and left to collect dust in some closet, their purpose is perverted.
Over the past couple of decades, developers have been designing houses with “plant shelves” (read “dust-collection platforms”). It also has become the vogue to install cabinetry that doesn’t go to the ceiling, possibly because high ceilings are popular and cabinets are built so cheaply these days they won’t span that much space. The result is that every newer kitchen (and many older, renovated kitchens) comes with ready-made dust-collection platforms, all of which call out to the homeowner: ohhh please: fill me with STUFF!
This kitchen scene appears in a house occupied by an interior designer, who’s in the process of unloading the high-end furnishings of her present home so she can start over in new digs:
The chintzy cabinets are in a large, expensive house:
But the developer still couldn’t see fit to provide the well-heeled (or generously financed) homeowner with cabinetry to fill the available space. So what has she done? She’s stuffed it chuckablock full with plastic plants, plastic fruit, plastic vegetables, fake duck decoys, decorative pottery, collector plates, carved wooden boxes, and basketry, all of it collecting dust and (if she cooks) kitchen grime. Makes sense, eh?
Just look at this clutter!
She couldn’t use any of it if she wanted to: how likely is it that in the middle of cooking dinner she’s going to traipse out to the garage, drag in a ladder, climb up to somewhere near the elevated ceilings, haul down that gravy boat, drag the ladder back to the garage, and wash the dust and grease off the thing before she does anything with it?
But so pretty, you say, and you ask, “What’s wrong with this harmless expression of one’s taste and love of…junk?” Let us count the ways!
• It’s not frugal. Au contraire. It’s wasteful. Buying and stashing junk we will never use is incredibly wasteful! Think of the trips to Paris this woman could have taken with the cash she put out for all that debris. Or…think of all the food she could have contributed to charity, if she just wanted to get rid of her money.
• It’s selfish. It keeps products out of the hands of those who might use them. Case in point: the Matchbox Car fetish. When collectors grab these things off the market, it drives up the cost of nifty toys. Little boys (and yup, little girls!) who should be able to buy them with their allowances now can’t touch them. In this case, it’s akin to stealing candy from children.
• It’s not green. Consider the resources that went in to making and transporting all that pottery, basketware, and plastic foliage, just so it could sit on top of some woman’s kitchen cabinetry and collect dust!
• It creates a stupefying amount of extra work. We (or someone) will have to dust and clean all the tschochkies we’ve littered the “plant shelves,” cabinet roofs, and countertops with.
• It’s inconsiderate to the point of rudeness. After we croak over, someone is going to have to dispose of all the debris we gathered and stuffed into every closet, cabinet, nook, and cranny of the dwelling, garage, and storage shed. Why should our heirs or landlord have to spend hours (some have the privilege of spending days) gathering all the junk and finding some place to get rid of it? Why should they have to hire a company to sell Mom’s or Dad’s junk and then pack up the stuff that some other sucker wouldn’t buy and cart it to the dump?
What to do, what to do?
Well, first, let’s all refrain from collecting stuff that serves no practical purpose. If it doesn’t do something (collecting dust does not qualify as “something”), don’t get it.
Second, let’s invest our money in something better than speculative “collector’s items,” and leave the toys for the kiddies to play with. We could stash our money in a high-yield online savings account until such time as it’s accrued enough to buy into a low-load mutual fund. As investments go, savings accounts and securities are lot more likely to show some profit, a lot sooner, than will a collector’s item whose main function is to gather dust.
Third, resist! Resist buying houses that are designed with dust-collection shelves and corner-cutting cabinetry that shorts you on storage space. If you already live in one of those houses, get yourself some drywall, tape, and plaster and fill in the stupid shelves. If you know the brand and make of your cabinets, find the cabinetry maker and try to buy some matching cabinets that will fill in the space between the existing boxes and the ceiling. Don’t buy houses that give you useless space, but if you’re stuck with one, eliminate the useless space.
Fourth, at the very least, if we must have houses adorned with dust shelves, let’s refrain from filling them with dust-collectors. You could, for example, install up-lighting in them (puck lights are easy to install and very cheap at your nearby box home improvement store). Or…there’s no law against leaving them empty.
And finally, when something we don’t want anymore still has some use left on it, let’s pass it to someone else, whether by selling it or donating it, instead of saving it for a posterity that doesn’t want it.
Frugality is minimalist. Clutter is wasteful.