There was a great long article in the Guardian’s G2 section today about how we’re all buying less stuff. As a decluttering enthusiast (my nearest and dearest would say deranged fanatic) this sounded like terrific news. If it were true, then I would no longer be the only person I know who gets a thrill from running a strict ‘one in, one out’ policy on clothes, furniture, and probably family members too. Now everyone would understand why I shudder when TL suggests we, as word lovers, should invest in the fourteen volume edition of the Oxford English Dictionary. I have an ancient paperback version which I’ve used for 20 odd years, and that will do me just fine. TL, cruelly prevented from getting the 14-volume version, now has a huge Oxford *Concise, the same size and weight as a tombstone, and about as handy to have around the house. He’s looked at it once since buying it on eBay.
But I’m not convinced that anyone is really cutting back. I have to go to a shopping centre later today to replace some pillows which have gone all lumpy (why do they do that?). Naturally, the old ones will go straight into the recycling as soon as I get the new ones back. But will the shops be half-empty, or populated only by people replacing strictly what they need? Of course not. They’ll be rammed with all the usual suspects, buying ten times as much as necessary, and wondering why their cupboard doors don’t shut when they get home.
There’s nothing wrong with this (apart from making it very hard to find a potato peeler when you need one, as your entire kitchen is jammed up with unused courgette spiralizers and dust-covered pasta makers). I’m just as bad as anyone. Behind every declutterer is a born-again hoarder. In my case, I come from a long line of really determined hoarders, the type that sees oceans of sentimental value in each old supermarket receipt. It is emotional baggage that I really want to offload. Stuff is just a by-product of the mental clutter which has been accumulated by generations without number and which I do not want to lug around any more, thanks very much.
But ‘stuff’ shops aren’t going out of business. Even Ikea, whose boss said we had all reached ‘peak curtains’, has just launched its spring range with interiors fans everywhere cooing over its fresh colours and cunning new crop of pastel flatpacks. I have a horrible feeling that if we are buying less stuff, it’s just a momentary lull, before consumerism ramps up again with new ways to tempt us. I know I’ll probably fall for the next decluttering book I see.
* I think this is what passes as a joke at the OUP. But, of course, I should look it up if I want to wring all possible nuances out of the word.