I’ve said it before: I love stuff. I love making things and then seeing and feeling and using the things I’ve made. I love getting gifts that someone else has picked out for me and then remembering that person every time I see the candlesticks on the dining table or the little ceramic drawers on the mantelpiece. I love that, because no one else wanted it, I have all the family china from both sides of the family. I keep it all displayed in the dining room so that I can always think about my grandfather, who I never got to meet, buying the game bird pattern from the Orvis catalogue some seventy-five years ago.
I collect teapots, which is the opposite of de-cluttering. I’m very selective about what I collect: no kitschy teapots, and I don’t have that many–10 or so, several of which are in regular use, two of which are family hand-me-downs, and three of which are gifts. When she found out I collected teapots, my aunt got several from an antique-dealer friend and gave them to me each Christmas. I love looking at them and knowing that my aunt picked them out because she knew I’d like them.
Stuff is important. Some of it is laden with memories; some of it was made by someone you know, or you yourself. Lots of it is beautiful. I don’t hold with the minimalist idea that you should have just a few really beautiful objects. You should have lots of beautiful objects. (Though for my part, I try to stop well short of Victorian rococo proportions, but you do you.) And beautiful doesn’t have to mean expensive. Lots of my china was free, though some of it would be quite expensive to replace. My favorite purple ceramic vase, which sits on our mantle, cost $30 when I bought it from the potter.
There’s a corollary here, which I’ll save for another time: In Defense of Gifts. Minimalists and de-clutterers rage at unexpected gifts, or gifts of things not asked or registered for. I love getting stuff from other people. The last time I saw a childhood friend, she brought me a tea towel that made her think of me. It’s in my dining room now, and I love it both because it’s perfect for me, and it makes me think of her.Anyway, gifts are great, and you should consider giving people stuff (thoughtful stuff, I mean, not cheap junk). But it’s not just gifts and pretty objects that I want to save from de-cluttering.
Stuff is useful. We only use the cherry pitter a few times a year, because cherries aren’t in season for long, but when I’ve got two pounds of cherries to pit, I’m awful glad I didn’t throw the thing away in January when it was pretty much useless.
Stuff is expensive to replace. This article is a great analysis of the privilege inherent in the brand of minimalism that’s so popular today. It’s easy to get rid of stuff if you know you can replace it at will. But a lot of our stuff came to us as gifts, and though we might not use it all that often right now, who’s to say we won’t need it in the future? I go months and months without doing any sewing, often because I’m too busy or tired or just not interested. But once a year or so, I’ll get a wild hair and spend a weekend or two sewing away. I certainly couldn’t afford to replace the sewing machine or even the fabric if I’d gotten rid of it during the time I wasn’t that into sewing. And since I’m trying to buy less stuff myself, I certainly don’t want to get rid of something I might want down the road.
Just because something doesn’t spark joy today doesn’t mean it won’t spark joy tomorrow. This is the crux of my disagreement with Marie Kondo. I totally agree that objects spark joy and we should acknowledge that joy. And I recognize that I get more joy out of objects than some people. But I also recognize that joy today does not guarantee joy tomorrow, and I’d rather not go out and buy something over again just because it didn’t make me joyful in May.
I can’t count the number of times I’ve been glad I hung on to something because it’s exactly what I needed in the moment. Which is not to say that I’m advocating hoarding, or even cramming your house so full of stuff it’s unpleasant. Just that everyone should consider making use of whatever storage space they have. If there’s space in the basement, then tuck some of that stuff away. You might need it later.