Lockdown Lessons 2: The Comfort of Things

If Lockdown has taught me one other thing it is that I absolutely love my stuff. I’m sorry Marie Kondo. I’ve tried it your way but I simply can’t do it. But at the beginning of Lockdown even Princess Marie of Minimalism might have pumped the brakes when she saw what I was up to.

Within the first few days I had tackled the cellar. Empty boxes were crushed. (Mr M has never bought a piece of electrical equipment he hasn’t expected to pack up again imminently). Ancient pieces of kitchen equipment were junked which “just need a…” (fill in the gap with whatever it is they needed, we didn’t have and will never remember to acquire). No regrets there.

And of course, there was a ruthless cull of my clothes. Uncomfortable shoes? Be gone! Unflattering trousers? Off to the black bin bag you go! Unworn glittery nonsense? Take someone else to the ball! Shortly after that other cupboards fell prey to my urge to purge. The end result was 5 bin bags and three large boxes full of charity shop goodies, lovingly folded and ordered.

But when Ms Lamb was added to the mix, everything came to a halt. It was like one of those experiments I half remember from ‘O’-level chemistry where you stick in one extra thing and the whole thing crystallises. (Were pipettes and supersaturated solutions involved? Possibly.) When I saw what she was throwing away – all of which seemed lovely, wearable and, often, gifted by me – I was appalled.

We all know how this turns out. Many of those jointly discarded clothes are now back on coat hangers, squeezed into overflowing wardrobes. Only those that really didn’t fit have gone and even then, only after an inquistion about whether or not they could be altered. If I could afford a therapist, I might unearth something deep and interesting about my strong attachment to wearable items.

But I’m more intrigued by our modern compulsion to chuck things out. It seems strange to me. Afterall, “He who is not contented with what he has, would not be contented with what he would like to have,” wrote Socrates. “Bang on!” writes Mrs Mutton.

It has come to be a truth universally acknowledged that to be in control of your life, you must have at least half a dozen bin bags heading for the Charity shop at any point. Fall short and you are clearly in danger of having to tunnel your way to bed through a slag heap of broken toasters and Zara bags. Mr Mutton is very much of this belief and is a ruthless discarder of everything (except their boxes).

But I’m no hoarder. I won’t keep broken things which can’t be mended (though I will try to get them fixed first – so satisfying! I’ve just got my mother-in-law’s sewing machine, up and running again and it has made me so happy.) I don’t obsessively collect bits of string or keep the packaging from every appliance I have bought since 1989, Mr Mutton! Nonetheless, the blithe disposal of things that I have spent the fruits of my labour amassing, deeply upsets me.

Surely there is something just as awry about our modern fetish for disposal as there is about our compulsive acquisition? The casual jettisoning of something because it doesn’t ‘spark joy’ seems to me, especially in the current state of things, disrespectful, even decadent. The sheer waste of it all perturbs me.

And let’s take a look at that whole “does it spark joy” thing. Frankly, why should it? Joy, like happiness, is fleeting, evasive and precious. In the main, I quite like the stuff I own (bar, perhaps the odd…let me think… corn cob holder I am more or less neutral about). But as I don’t expect constant joy in other areas of my life, I don’t see why I should expect it from my potato peeler.

Yet almost everything new and with a price tag, carries with it a halo of promise – if it isn’t exactly joy, then it certainly comes close. I’m a life long fan of shopping. New possessions carry the appealing assurance of a small opportunity for self-reinvention – now only one click away. It’s there in the language used by fashion, skincare and the whole panoply of unnecessary necessities brands employ to coax the money out of our pockets.

The lexicon of retail is crammed with the language of indulgence: ‘treating yourself’ ‘self care’ and ‘feeling good’, regularly reinforced by influencers and women’s magazines. That “must have/essential summer/winter/transitional/holiday/party wardrobe/bag/regime”? Hell, I’d be selling myself short if I didn’t press “Buy Now” right now!

Although a few months ago I was as susceptible to this sophistry as the next gal, now this seems as outdated as a home perm. Change has been in the air for a while now and Covid may well have chivvied it along a little – for this old Mutton at least.

At first, shopping online in Lockdown was a distraction: even waiting for the parcels to arrive was exciting. With everything going pear-shaped, the reliable pleasure of something new with its promise of that slightly better me was enticing. But I sent almost everything went back. With no one to impress; no helpful sales assistants to coax me; no “I like your top, is it new?” chorus of approbation, the thrill of the new fell flatter than a Gucci cardholder.

All those recently-reprieved shoes/skirts/trousers/frocks hanging from every rail, didn’t help. The emotion sparked by my feverish deliveries was not joy, but “WHAT ON EARTH AM I DOING?” In the face of the Crisis, what used to be fun and frivolity felt like irresponsible accrual: for the planet, for my groaning wardrobes, for my own head.

These stirrings towards preserving and conserving would not seem novel to our grandparents. They would call it ‘thrift’: buying less, buying second hand and buying sustainably. And since we seem to be heading into a world that is uncomfortably close to the one they knew, perhaps we’re right to pick up a few tips from those who’ve been there and done that (though I’m not ready to go as far as my mother-in-law who routinely washed and reused clingfilm, pegging it out on the washing line to dry).

The ‘new normal’ of our Covid-ravaged, post-Europe world means, at least for me, I feel better without new things. New is scary. New is dangerous. Reliable, pleasures feel calmer, reassuring and more secure. Whether it’s a bargain bought secondhand; a nice bottle of wine; homemade bread or discovering that I can wear that pair of pants with that top and give it a whole new lease of life, I feel relieved to be out of the shopping loop for a while. As someone very wise once said (sadly I’ve never managed to track down who) he who is too often in the market place, leaves something of himself behind there.

All that Marie Kondo stuff, now feels soooo pre-Pandemic. Ruthlessly editing your belongings and expecting everything you own to ‘spark joy’ feels wrong in a crisis where we need to hunker down, stay home and look after what we’ve got.

We’re not a generation who is used to making do, so let’s pimp, upgrade, improvise and mend. After all, as Grandma used to say, you never know what the future may hold.

Leave a Reply

Basic HTML is allowed. Your email address will not be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.