Sunday, January 9, 2011

When something beautiful breaks

1) Buy a muffin in a paper bag, maybe with a plastic knife and cup of butter
2) Eat muffin, use half of butter
3) Throw the rest out
1) Buy shiny new school supplies
2) Rip off packaging and chuck in the garbage
3) Examine six lovely new pens
4) Loose half of them
5) Never actually use two of them, but leave them to break and bleed out in a pen cup somewhere
6) When final pen starts getting low on ink, toss entire pen in garbage
1) Buy soup
2) Get crackers
3) Take wrapper off crackers
4) Put crackers in soup
5) Throw cracker wrapper in garbage
6) Eat soup
*optional for students: 1) Take mildly unpleasant but on sale soup out of bag 2) Throw out bag
1) Pick up excellent free booklet, be it a guide to the city or good new music or for some anonymous hot line for what you feel is a problem you have
2) Put in bag. The same bag you put a banana, a million little receipts, about five plastic combs, and two tubes of lip balm in. And not just cheapie Chapstick either! One of these tubes should be a little wonky after being run through the wash thrice. Also, a few Cheerios that have spilled in somehow. They are now dust.
3) Use excellent brochure/bus riders’ guide/what have you a few times. Toss back in each time.
4) Watch it get bent out of shape.
5) See unbent, not sticky, all pages attached new one.
6) Grab, toss in bag.
7) Recycle old one… recycling makes it all cool right?

I am one who is attracted to the 'brightlightsbigcity' binging and purging of stuff. Minimalism and maximalist tendencies collide in my house, sometimes very ironically with an abundance of storage units and anti clutter books that are not relevant to my life. We are a society of waste. Even if you graciously decline a plastic bag when you buy that recycled/upcycled/carbon free/what is it even? feel good… thing…from a cool local store (or let’s be real, Urban Outfitters), you are still buying more. I’m not a hip girl who just stepped out of Club Monaco trying to tell you about Zen, feeling, and “You don’t own your stuff, your stuff owns you” or some other witty reversal that does not entirely make sense when you really think about it. I’m not even the angry hippie who gets mad at cars in their Facebook statuses. (The people who post stuff like they... they do realize you they are on a computer, right?) I am just one person making the hardly debatable statement that as a culture, we like more, even if more than half of more is thrown into the trash. I will not back down from this stance regardless of what one person with a trendy, back to basics, thirty day experiment you throw at me.

No, my mind is coming to peace with my inconsistent lifestyles. Owning only one notebook, even if it has a high gloss confetti smattered gold coloured cover, is more minimalist than going out and buying a black and white one with Helvetica font on the front, regardless of what the cool notebook store owner would have you believe. I slowly learn, while 1930s do it all, fix it up nostalgia is marketed to me. Fresh out of a credit crisis, Vogue is telling me about ‘investing’ in clothing that will last forever and I am looking at pricey cookware that seems reasonable because apparently I will never have to replace it. Maybe these things are made to last, but human tastes seldom are. I love the grill I have now, and it has quite the warranty, but when the plates are black and coated twenty years down the road will its timelessness be so appealing? Will I really want to spend ten minutes after every meal scrubbing at scuds that no amount of lemon dish detergent will make clean? Grills are fairly cheap. I am not sure if Future Me will make the right choice, especially when I imagine future grills flipping their own pancakes and smiling and saying “good bye!” when one unplugs them.(Why do I want that? Maybe Future Me’s children are going away to college by then and Future Me is tired of always talking to the radio.)

And then, there are those things. You know, those things. Not even obvious those things, like the incessantly charming first necklace L. gave me, that is obviously valuable for both wonderfully sentimental and banal monetary reasons. No, those things are not always obvious.
I have a intricately detailed necklace that will always woo me and be infinitely valuable even if it was found in a junk box on a jewelry table on a flea market. I have more mugs than things to drink, and yet I cherish each quirky one, assured that no one will ever love it as much as I do. What breaks my heart the most is a dazzling and impossibly intricately patterned Pucci wallet, not so vibrantly blue and green as it once was, but still utterly usable. That is my problem; I am scared I might use it until it is unusable. At what point do I have the willpower to stop whipping it out and feeling intensely and instantly glamorous every time I pay for anything, from a glorious gold gilted cupcake to a bottle of no name brand imitation Draino? I want to give this to my children! No, my grandchildren! They will gawk and awe and watch over it. It will be both sentimental and practical to one of them! Unless the next wallet I buy is somehow just as glorious and holds just as much emotional value… Besides, then what do I do with it? I imagine putting it in a trunk, but few buy trunks anymore. I am a student, and I move around too frequently to have untouchable trunks right now. Do I store it sacredly in a box in an attic at my parents’ house and hope I do not lose it or forget about it? Anyways, everything I have learned about trendy minimalism has told me that keeping usable things in boxes somewhere is bad for my health because of the metaphorical weight on my soul or something.

Then, there is the unimaginable. The horrific. The moment of eternal “noooo.” When something beautiful breaks, your heart feels a little chipped. I argue the idea that this is hypermaterialism, because it is not as much about the object as much as the loss of it. After all, not everything can be art to us. We do not all have high ceilings and white walls and pedestals in our homes to display beautiful but destroyed artifacts. Can you fix it? Or wait, is that damaging it further? Especially with older items, one can be hesitant to ‘reuse’ it. Applying modern plastic soles to delicate Italian 1940s sandals seems as shame inducing as Botox. What will become of beautiful broken sandals? Do we put them in a recycling bag and drop them beside Value Village, jaunting away with heart palpitations as if we have left a baby on a hopefully loving family's doorstep? It almost seems as if one needs to adopt a “they’re someone else’s problem now” attitude towards a simple broken object.

I treat my wallet delicately, never yanking cards out of the lush little pockets and limit the number of receipts I hold on to at a time, lest I stretch its lovely large pocket and ruin its vibrant print. I dabble clear nail polish; a smidge here and a touch up there would be what the wallet deities demand anyways, no? Should some kind of coin purse guru come and explain to me the exact steps for preserving such common yet rare and special things I would acquiesce and abide. Anything to prolong the life of this majestic holder of paper and plastic.

As much as I enjoy the use of my wallet, I know what I fear more than having to put change in my pocket is feeling like I have destroyed beauty turned into a noun. In a world where so few of the items we buy hold genuine value to us, it can be hard to come to terms with what happens when one actually does. My plea can be dismissed as the concern of a materialist, of someone who is petty and frivolous, and I will not object, though I might mention the first night you do not sleep with a blanket you have possessed since infancy or a jacket you wore to every protest in college, lapel still holey from all the FREE this country, BAN this corporation, MAKE LOVE NOT WAR pins you thought merited display. In that instant, when you catch your breath and pause for an instant and remember the exact colour, texture, and quality of that once skin like piece of something...

I will grin, and lightly remove anything too heavy from my wallet.

You have an item like this, right? What is it? Do you find minimalism incredibly appealing too? Do you find it contradictory to be 'sold minimalism'? Are you comfortable with your love of stuff?

More? A Collection a Day / The Story of Stuff / "From Luxuries to Necessities" / Mnmlist / This is Glamorous /

If you only go to one link, go here from here.


chelsea said...

I remember walking into a Value Village once and seeing a huge collection of skunk paraphernalia spread out on the knick-knack shelves. It sort of horrified me, to be quite honest. The thought of some little old lady who loved skunks, but her children/grand children/people who dealt with her stuff when she died didn't. And this is where they ended up, on a shelf, in a thrift store.
I love my stuff.
And I hate it too.
I was just looking around my apartment today and thought: My god, I have a lot of useless crap. But thinking about getting rid of all of it, the nameless items, is much easier than handling one thing and thinking of the meaning behind it. My windowsills are cluttered with things that I could throw into a box and would probably forget about. But if I pick up that Buddha statue or that rock I remember why I have it and I can't do anything but put it back on the windowsill.
I have done the whole 'if my house was on fire and I could save 10 things what would they be?' test. My #1? The avacado green, crushed velvet chair that was my grandfather's (my great grandmother's before him.) On the bottom, underneath near the legs, in purple crayon are the words "BUS STOP" from when my uncles were little and they'd play with their toy cards. Too many memories all in one item! Too many generations for it to wallow in a thrift store somewhere EVER. I may just have to be buried with it, if none of my future kids want it.
(Also, thanks for the e-mail heads up! Obviously I am totally interested in what you have to say and discussing it all!)

Always Something said...

Chelsea- I would love to have a fantastic memory chair! It just seems so romantic & comforting & even practical! I worry because when we cleaned out my grandmother's house there was some nice stuff, but also a lot of old junk that we just had to give away! I felt so guilty knowing some of her favourite polyester dresses ended up unbought at a Value Village somewhere :(

I like to guiltily indulge in the show Hoarders every now and then just to scare me straight! haha