Saturday, 3 September 2011

Stuff and storage

One of my clients sent me a link she thought I might be interested in. Published on the BBC website, it expresses the concerns about the 'craze' for self-storage.

People are leaving their possessions in self-storage warehouses for longer than ever. But why are people paying to store stuff they rarely use? It's a monument to our acquisitive society - the brightly lit shed on the edge of town offering "storage solutions".

This rang lots of bells. I've written on this topic in this blog before, last April. Everything I said there still holds true: I still firmly believe that, used appropriately, storage options are a valid way of helping us to deal with 'stuff' - as long as it's with a realistic approach. When either the practical or the emotional considerations mean we need time and space - physical and mental - then this is a sensible option; when we simply don't have the room in our living quarters to accommodate items that we have valid reasons for keeping, renting storage space is no different from renting a garage to keep your car safe.

However, this article flags up very correctly the other side of the story - and the reason for it being an increasing pitfall in modern consumer society. My fellow apdo-uk member, Cory Cook, is quoted in the article:

"More and more stuff comes in and it's not going out. I want to say it's a throwout society, but it's not the case because people are keeping their things around."

Exactly so. We might be living in a recession, but that doesn't mean we are buying less 'stuff'. On the contrary: my observation of the 'stuff' that I help my clients to sort through is that we're more likely to buy more items of a lower value. It can give a lift out of the doldrums induced by dismal economic times, terrible summer weather and back-to-work blues: hey, look, I've got a new toy! And if that 'toy' - whether an electronic gadget, an item of clothing, a kitchen gizmo or a DVD - has been bought at a cheaper price than we might previously have afforded, it's often less likely to last than its slightly pricier alternative.

We all know the scenario in the wardrobe: given the choice, would you spend the same amount of money on one well-made, classy item, or on ten things from the sale rail? And before you ask, I'm as guilty of this sin as the next woman. The obvious result - after the adrenalin rush of I've got a new toy - is that, at a later date, the multiple items are not only more likely to be thrown away (how many of your favourite clothes came from the sale rail?) but there are more of them to be disposed of - when you eventually get round to it.

The matter of whether we store unneeded things or not is a worry; the roots of why this kind of storage is necessary at all is a far greater cause for concern. It's usually because we've bought it in the first place... and we are slaughtered with guilt about how much stuff we have. If we do manage to get rid of it, it feels like a waste. "I couldn't possibly throw that away - it cost me good money." Disposing of the item is like admitting that we got it wrong in the first place.

It's also true to say that there is a lot of association with our identities: we are, often, our stuff. In the same article, this valuable observation is made by Oliver James, author of the superbly-named Affluenza:

Our identity has increasingly become associated with products, and not just the mortgage and the car, but smaller items. "We've confused who we are with what we have," he says. It explains why we're so reluctant to throw things away. "We feel it might come in handy one day. It feels like it's a little part of yourself even though it's just tat. You wouldn't want to throw yourself away, would you?"

This isn't a new scenario. During a recent holiday in France, I visited an eighteenth-century château, complete with the authentic furnishings, décor and bric-a-brac of that era. The Victorians were just as bad: their homes were full of clutter and dust-traps. However, these indulgences were the province of the wealthy. Now, with the help of the high street and the pound-shop, we can all surround ourselves with 'stuff'. And we do.

So: how do we deal with it?
  • We accept the purchasing mistakes we've made in the past, and put it down to experience
  • We pass on the stuff we really no longer need (or, in some cases, even like) to benefit somebody else - and refrain from fretting about the money we paid out for it
  • We use the learning when we next shop for something - and we shop mindfully, not emotionally
  • We take a long hard look at the space we are paying for - whether it's in the context of the house we're renting or mortgaged for, or external space - and ask ourselves whether it's genuinely worth it
We might not get it right all the time. I certainly don't.

But it's well worth a try.

1 comment:

  1. Love your blog Cassie! Well said. I've joined freegle recently and I get a kick out of giving stuff away and make somebody else happy with it. Off course I sometimes make the mistake as well of buying something cheap that doesn't last and I always find out that it is so much better to buy items that are more expensive, but will last so much longer!