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The siren lure of stuff

One of the aspects of moving to a new country that excited me most was the prospect of doing away with stuff. All of the accretions that build up through daily living, the trinkets and knick knacks and goeters that clog one up, hold one down.

No more house or furniture or books. No more lamps and throw cushions. If I couldn’t fit it into a suitcase and get that below the Qantas weight limit, then it wasn’t going, which meant that I took clothing and a couple of volumes on marketing strategy and pretty much nothing else. My aim was pure, wonderful, minimalist living.

Naturally, that has all gone out the window.

Stuff has a way of ingratiating itself into one’s life, you see. Archaeologists search for the things that mattered to generations long since past. Stuff is geological in its significance. How can one pass through time and not collect things, like alluvial deposits on a distant shore? Well, that’s what I tell myself.

Stuff is comforting — just as the lack of it frees one up to go wherever and whenever one chooses, so its accumulation has a way of anchoring you to a place. Without stuff, you’re not entirely of this world. You’re too light, you could be tossed away by the winds of chance. Perhaps that’s why homeless people have so much stuff, even though their lifestyle is hardly conducive to collection. They move their things around in a purloined trolley, or store it behind pillars and in doorways.

Once I saw a homeless man in Paris, who sat with his dog amidst his kingdom of boxes, confident in the possession of his patch of pavement. In the same way, someone keeps all that cardboard and those canvas bags piled up in dark corners down at Circular Quay because they are proof of their own humanity. Let those things go, and the self finally crumbles.

So my own resolve regarding stuff has evaporated. Naturally, I have good reasons for having shelled out on the things that I did. Books and DVDs (important for research into Australian culture and society), small cheap rugs from Ikea (the tiled floor is cold), a pink phalaeonopsis orchid (I have to have something alive around me). My greatest extravagance is a small red heart-shaped rug from Ikea, a nod to whimsy in my intensely minimalist abode.

All of this is going to make moving to another place — a painful exercise I will have to undergo in the next couple of months — so much less convenient. But the siren lure of stuff — well, that’s something I have found I cannot resist.


  • During the day Sarah Britten is a communication strategist; by night she writes books and blog entries. And sometimes paints. With lipstick. It helps to have insomnia.