Not Evangelism

Friday, December 24, 2010

Utensils and Ornaments: On Waste and Clutter

One of my personal principles is the reduction of avoidable waste.

I imagine that when many people think of waste, they think of rubbish, trash, effluent.  They might also think about things that are bought and paid for but not actually used.

The first sort of waste we might call byproduct waste; waste as a consequence of consumption. This sort of waste can usually be reduced - minimised, even - but not always avoided.  After all, bananas must be peeled, apples have cores that are not usually eaten. Sure, these particular things can be composted (that's another article) but they're examples of consequential waste.

The second type of waste - wasting something by not using it at all - is entirely avoidable - with planning, with careful, considered choices and decisions. Carrots that rot, unused because we bought too many (buy one, get one free!). Apples that lay wrinkled and forgotten in the fruit bowl because the easy-to-grab bag contained more than we eat in a week.

I think there's a third type of waste (in some ways a variation of the second type) in the form of clutter. Things bought for projects we haven't started, and likely never will. Impulse purchases that we turn out not to be what we want or need. And those unexpected presents of beauty products we never use (I'm not the only person that gets these, am I?).  They're all waste in the same way as leftover food; bought and paid for, but not used. They've lost their utility.

When Utensils Become Ornaments

I like to think that when something is not used, it becomes useless. To put it another way something unused stops being useful - a utensil - and becomes clutter - an ornament. Ornaments are time-consuming; they need dusting, protecting; they need effort. Or perhaps they're hidden away, forgotten about; in which case they stop being ornaments and become (even worse) junk.

I'd far rather have utensils than ornaments; things to be used as opposed to things to be looked at. I don't mean that I don't like art, because I do; the function of art - of pictures and paintings - is to be looked at. But things that are intended to be used - utensils - but which end up sitting on a shelf, waiting to used - these  that have become unintentional ornaments. Clutter.

Clutter is Sneaky Waste

Clutter is a sneaky kind of waste - lying around, waiting to be dusted, cluttering up the place. They're basically taking up space whilst they're waiting to be thrown out - because if I'm not using something, then I don't need it. Which means I've wasted time, money and effort on buying it, and I'm going to have to spend more time and effort getting rid of it. Not to mention the cost of producing it in the first place; cost that has no payback in use because it's just not getting used. Clutter is distracting, too, wasting mental effort and energy.

Another sneaky kind of waste is the stuff that's waiting for the right occasion, something saved for best (but best never comes). This is the Too Nice To Use kind of waste. Clothes often fall into this category, hiding in the wardrobe, waiting for the right occasion, or the day they will fit once again.

When I find something that has become an ornament in my life, I give myself two options: use it (and I mean really use it, regularly, not just some token effort every now and again). Or get rid of it; if I don't use something, then it needs to be passed on, recycled, re-purposed, disposed of. I give myself a little time to trial the decision; an amnesty, if you like. I look honestly, objectively, at my habits and make the decision: use it and keep it. Or get rid.

I like using something that is intended to be used. But I don't regret getting rid of genuine waste.

Christmas Clutter

The subject of waste and clutter is something I expect I'll be thinking about quite a lot over the next few days. I'm not a killjoy; I love the festival of giving that we celebrate at this time of year. But it can bring unwanted, unused gifts too. In these circumstances, I think it's possible to separate the intention of giving from the gift itself. Whether a present is a utensil or an ornament is a decision made by the receiver, not the giver.

But those decisions can be saved for the New Year. Whatever you give, whatever you get, I hope your Christmas doesn't bring you too many ornaments.

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