thinking with pictures

Giving up illusions, giving up meanings

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Scouring the rooms and spaces before moving house.

Scouring the rooms and spaces before moving house.

Having a serious financial or health crisis leads to new frame of reference for navigating daily decisions and life events. The relative importance of things like time, fame, possessions then scales back in the light of one’s experiences of mortality (self or other) or imminent demise being averted. Likewise the social death or brush with mortality that comes with leaving one’s home and all the routines, familiar services, and the layers of memories gives a new frame of reference, particularly when the move involves downsizing the accumulated documents, possessions, and half-done projects. This photo is the week running up to the annual curbside bulk removal of all except building supplies (or demolition waste), hazardous materials, and recyclables suitable for the weekly trash service.

Long after growing up and moving away, with children of one’s own, there comes a time when one’s own parents stop archiving the traces of one’s growing up years and rather than discarding things like these bedtime pals of long ago, the leave the disposal moment in the hands of the child who now has become parent. But with sufficient storage areas, such things get set out of the way until moving day approaches and a strict selection process of what to keep and what to dispose of begins.

Seeing one’s own memorabilia left on the road edge for the trash men to haul away to landfills is sobering and is reminiscent of the observation about a yard sale or an estate sale in which once cherished things become so much debris for those picking through in search of something salable, strange, or amusing. Sobering reminders of one’s limited time on life’s stage help to make the days one has taste that much sweeter as a result. Even a slow walk through cemeteries of the world, ancient or modern, can give a hint of this way of seeing the world, a view that breaks through the dominant illusion of consumer (advertised) wants and needs.

The oppression of consumer lifeways (I buy therefore I am; I consume therefore I exist – more is better; just discard what is unwanted and buy more) and what Thorstein Veblen called Conspicuous Consumption is not limited to industrial scale, mass production, distribution and consumption. The N.W. native peoples of N. America were noted for competitive giving away gifts to feasted guests in the Potlatch. And the extremity of spectacles of Imperial Rome or extravagances in royal courts all across known history also excite the imagination. More recently the film, Affluenza (portmanteau word for Affluence + Influenza) illustrated the glut of material excess. A little before the film came archaeologists, whose trade is the material traces of past (and present – see William Rathje, et alia, The Garbage Project), writing Use Less Stuff.


Author: gpwitteveen

Better Outreach is my aim. See to know more.

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