The Importance of Things: The Joy of Possessions.

The Importance of Things: The Joy of Possessions.

There’s a lot of emphasis in our world on consuming, on buying things – either being exhorted to buy more and more, or to eschew the whole thing entirely and go for experiences and a life well lived; not basing our meaning or reason for being or status on having things, increasingly expensive and pointless things.

Anyone who looks at land-fill and visits charity shops on our high streets or is sickened by the amount of plastic in our oceans cannot help but be appalled by our greedy consumer based society. Indeed, there are endless memes about how we wish to be remembered, for the person we were but not for our fabulous collection of shoes – Imelda Marcos, anyone???

But we all consume, we all buy things, useless things, expensive things when cheaper ones will do. Is our rampant consumerism about status, about greed, about a selfish need to have more and more?

There’s nothing wrong with liking sparkly shiny things. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to surround yourself with beautiful things. What’s wrong is making the acquisition of possessions the focus and thrust of your life. It’s not good to compete or keep up with the Joneses; it makes for a life of empty soul destroying avarice. You’ll never win, you’ll always be behind, second best: a loser. You’ll end up in a stupid amount of debt, in a house that is devoid of love and the rough and tumble of life, in a suburb full of people you actually despise, driving a car that costs too much to insure, that loses value the moment you set foot in it and isn’t really the car you actually wanted.

Now, consider for a moment the possessions you hold dear. There is probably a reason why an object or collection of objects means something to you.

I have several things that have travelled the world with me; things from my childhood, things that have not been destroyed by fire (1967, Hobart), cyclone (NT x 4) or floods or snow-storms or smashed or lost by various removal firms. Yes, they are toys – my panda bear who at the time he was given to me was almost as big as me, a gift from my grandparents, who knew how much I wanted it; my Paddington Bear, the last gift from my mum that I still have. Yes, I have her WW cook-book (as mentioned last week) and a few items of jewellery but the only thing left that she gave me is Paddington.

For the last Christmas before she died she gave me a glomesh wallet. Do you remember those? Quite sophisticated items at the time. It was my first wallet, a step up from my cheap Indonesian leather purse. It had all sorts of compartments, as well as a coin purse and a place to keep your notes without folding them origami like to fit inside your small purse. I loved it but it became more important when she died – the last item, the last gift, the last connection.

You know what happened, don’t you? It got stolen. Twice actually – once from the Uni Rowing sheds in Newtown Bay, but recovered from the rivulet whence it had been abandoned. And then again many years later in Darwin after we’d moved back from Alice. This time it was never found. The lost was deep and compounded by the fact that inside the cream lining I had secreted the plastic hospital baby-tags belonging to the Dragon and Phoenix. I lost a couple of hundred dollars too – right before Christmas – but the loss, the heart-breaking loss was that of things that cannot be replaced: gifts from a dead parent, and once only identification tags, irreplaceable mementoes of birth. Thus Paddington can never be abandoned or given up as something from childhood that should have been put away years ago.

But now I have another special wallet that has a story with it. It is beautiful, functional and makes me happy every time I use it. I smile when I look at it, remembering the agonising I did over buying it. I have struggled to buy things for myself over the years, especially if it is a tad on the expensive side. And so this pink leather wallet on sale in an up market department store near our hotel in Barcelona caused a great deal of anguish. Which shade of pink, which style – this one at this knock down price or this one – more originally expensive, or this not quite as nice but more reasonably priced one? I looked, contemplated, went away, spent the day at the various beautiful attractions that Barcelona has to offer and then went back with Pallas to agonise again. Finally, as all good children do, she made me choose and ‘allowed’ me to buy myself something lovely. It was a bargain and we all love a bargain; it’s why all the discount web-sites thrive – we all think we’ve got a steal of a deal and it makes us feel better. We have made good purchases at a more than reasonable price. You can never knowingly over-spend ever again!!

People rush into burning buildings to collect possessions – photos and other trinkets, worthless things that seem like junk to the wider world but are worth a fortune to the possessor. Yes, because they are full of all that stuff that is beyond measure, beyond any rationale calculable worth. During the Tropical Years in Darwin I had our photos boxed up and wrapped in heavy plastic ready to grab should we need to head for shelter during a cyclone. My box of writing over the years was similarly readied for emergency matters. I knew what was impossible to replace; I knew what I needed to keep and yes, all of those things are with me still.

Of course, people and relationships matter more. Of course, possessions are not more important than the living. But when the living are gone or far away it is fair and reasonable to keep things from them, or related to, them close by. The other precious things in my life are to do with my children – photos of them across the years, things made by them (yes, Pal – your Garfield and penguin will be with me until the end of time); cards and gifts from them (yes, Phu your ‘Zanzibar’ and polar bear and elephant watch over me as I sleep); and I wear the heart necklaces (one rose quartz, one Murano glass) from the Dragon every day. Sentimental things, lovely things that when you use them, wear them, look at them, fill you with love and warmth.

There is nothing wrong with wanting to own nice things. Why shouldn’t you have a good set of cast iron pans, or an extensive collection of scarfs? Why shouldn’t you have a nice car, that Jaguar F-Pace, if you want and you can afford it? Why shouldn’t you expand your collection of vinyl, rare books, elephants? Life isn’t about being frugal or mean, or without pleasure.

The point is that materialism, rampant consumerism, isn’t doing the planet or your well being much good. Buying things to be in fashion, to keep up with some sort of imagined standard is pointless. Buying things instead of putting time into relationships or doing things, traveling, having experiences, is counter-productive – what are you doing with your life? Amassing a load of rubbish for others to just throw out when you’ve popped your clogs?

But buying things keeps a whole range of people in work – especially if you buy lovely original items – a range of artists able to keep on working, adding beauty to the world and your living room. Buying a new kitchen is reward for your efforts and keeps a whole retinue of people gainfully employed. Buying things when we travel brings the story with it, recreates that experience (hence the pink purse from Barcelona). Buying something expensive or simply something that you just love that you’ve worked hard for and saved for brings a feeling of accomplishment too: I earned this, here is a testament to my efforts. It makes the grinding and sometimes unrewarding realm of work worthwhile. Why shouldn’t you have a crushed velvet Chesterfield sofa? It’ll probably last a life-time and be beautiful as well as functional.

I now have a collection of 57 elephants. They come in all shapes, sizes and materials. They are quite lovely and give me a great sense of pleasure. When I clean and dust them I think about who gave them to me (being a collector of things helps others in the gift-giving dilemma; thank you, Dear), or where I was when I got that one, and where will I put them all when I eventually get home again!

Possessions for the sake of possessions is pointless. Possessions that mean something, that have an emotional richness, that bring you pleasure and comfort are important. Don’t feel guilty about spending money on yourself or others. But make sure that what you buy is worth it, that doesn’t add to our throw-away, mindless, avaricious society. Buy things, own things but buy wisely and well.

Possessions should be about connections and stories, utility and beauty – they shouldn’t be about competition or expense or acquisition for the sake of it. Remember that and you’ll not make foolish or wasteful purchases, and you’ll have things that are worth having. (Images from Private Collection)

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