The Provident Professor

Literary Finance and Personal References

Tag: stuff

Against De-cluttering

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.
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Forget Experiences, I’m Choosing Freedom Over Stuff

You’ve heard the “experiences over stuff” mantra a million times, right? The idea is that you should spend your cash on memorable experiences—vacations, weddings, concerts, whatever—instead of acquiring more material goods that will clutter up your house and way down your soul on the path to enlightenment.

There are so many things wrong with this attitude that I can’t even start—I’ll never stop. For one thing, it’s super gendered. For another, it’s super-privileged: you can only stop accumulating stuff when you’re confident you’ll always be able to buy something when you really need it. And—and this is my biggest issue—it devalues the beauty, utility, meaning and emotional heft of objects. I wouldn’t trade my family china, handmade quilts and thoughtfully chosen chotchke gifts for the vacation of a lifetime.

So we’ve established that I think experiences over stuff is dumb. I love stuff, though I try to keep a handle on that love for the sake of clutter and my budget. But I’ve accumulated my share of stuff over time, something I am sorely regretting as we prepare to move house.

Recently, though, I’ve pretty much gone off stuff. And it’s not because I’ve been converted to the gospel of experiences. It’s because I’ve stopped thinking about money in terms of stuff or experiences. I’ve started measuring my dollars in years of freedom. And there’s not much I want today as much as I want freedom.

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