Decluttering with Astrid (28)

Raw materials

Last week a journalist from Radio 1 Journaal came to my house to interview me about these blogs, and why it is that so many people are now into the whole decluttering thing. It was actually rather a pleasant afternoon; I had to open and close cupboard doors and fiddle about with glasses—all in the name of sound effects—and I quickly started to enjoy the world of radio. And at the end of the interview, I had to pack a box of stuff that I wanted to throw away. Because that was the added bonus of the afternoon; the journalist was planning on taking a box of my stuff to the thrift store. There were, among other things, some old toys, books that had sat on the bookcase for years (both of the “unread” and the “never going read again” categories), a candlestick and an old thermos. However, as the journalist’s car had broken down, I ended up driving my own box – plus said journalist – to the Snuffelmug thrift store in Haarlem. I had never been there before, but what a great place. A place where I saw all sorts of lovely things that I wanted to buy, but couldn’t because I’m “minimizing.” It’s also a really sympathetic place as it offers those who might otherwise find it difficult to get a job, an alternative way to enter the work force. The owner of the thrift store kept going on about “getting rid of crap” rather than “decluttering,” and he told me there and then what I would get for my box: Nothing. Zilch. Zero. You see, a thrift store like his depends on donations. And if they don’t sell any of your stuff, it ends up going to a processing plant that separates everything, grinds it, compresses it and sells it on as raw materials. And I kind of agreed with what he was telling me: At the end of the day, our stuff can be looked upon as nothing more and nothing less than a raw material. In its current state, it’s just a temporary form that goes on to be recycled once again. And that mentality helps a lot when we look at everything we have in our homes, as far as I’m concerned. Don’t think: What a nice candle. Think: raw material.

The whole experience reminded me of the column that Aaf Brandt Cortius recently wrote for Dutch Flow. She has a special name for all those lovely but totally unnecessary things you find in concept stores: spie-spa-spulletjes (or “tat” as we might call it, but hers sounds so much more fun). If you’re going to call your stuff by another name, then you lessen its importance. If you look at a vase or copper picture frame or botanical poster in a shop, and think “spie-spa-spulletje,” then it actually removes the desire to buy it. So go ahead; call your stuff by another name. Call it spie-spa-spulletje, call it tat, call it raw material, or—just like the owner of the thrift store—call it shit if needs be. Call it what you want, and make it less important. And then the decluttering becomes a breeze.

Astrid, together with Irene, is the founder of Flow Magazine. She lives with her partner and two children. Each Tuesday, she writes about the senses – and nonsense – behind decluttering.

“Week 28 – Raw materials”