The Museum of You Does Not Have a Gift Shop

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POLLY BECKER

By ANNA FELS - The New York Times - Style 

OCTOBER 25, 2017

I had a patient who saved everything: Every piece of junk mail (usually unopened), postcard, ashtray and old shoe was stored or put on display. He never sold a house, though occasionally he’d add a new one.

This ever-growing stash didn’t bother him and it wasn’t the issue for which he sought my psychiatric help. When asked about this habit, he said, “Hoarding is for those without money. For those with money it’s called collecting.” Then, more seriously, he added, “Aren’t we’re talking about throwing out my life?”

It was a question I hadn’t thought much about, always tending to err on the side of discarding things with the vague thought that I’d be preventing my children from having to do it. But I knew that my patient was not alone. When I told an old friend that over the years I’d kept all her letters, she said, “That’s great. I kept copies too.”

This issue became more pressing one cold day this spring when my husband and his older brother had to move their 100-year-old mother into a studio apartment. Suddenly the largely theoretical problem had a new gritty reality. They were faced with sorting through the objects assembled during her long life: ivory figurines, poems for family occasions, a favorite hot-pink jacket, a baby grand piano their father had played jazz on, boxes of photos, wartime letters from an army outpost in the Aleutian Islands.

Which items were too laden with meaning to let go? And what, exactly, was getting lost in this process?

Curating her possessions, indeed her life itself, was hard enough, but within her apartment they discovered, like a Russian nesting doll, a trove of documents from their own lives. Unbeknown to them, their mother had collected every grammar-school essay, local newspaper clipping about their tennis tournaments and publication from their adult years. Suddenly their histories were on the block as well.

Back at our apartment, two dingy, prewar-era closets were being redone, and to my horror a box of my childhood and adolescent diaries emerged. I could have sworn that I’d thrown them out years ago. In fact I could remember doing it.

Perhaps my husband, a biographer who has spent much of his professional life searching for documents, had not been able to stand seeing the journals sitting out with the trash? Or I had misremembered, wishing I’d thrown them out but not quite able to?

In any event, there they were and we were awash in memorabilia. It was a life phase that no one had told us about: one in which a massive wave of objects, each representing a distinct shard of time, broke over us.

It arrived carrying with it the weird, disquieting distortions that all too often accompany memory. Our brains focus easily on the present and on the deep past, but the stuff between is elastic, dilating and contracting unpredictably. Whole swaths of time simply don’t compute for us. Whenever I’m faced with a standard online form requiring my birthday, I stare in bafflement as I scroll down the long column of years.

The reappearance of my diaries was disorienting. They didn’t feel like a quaint remnant of the past. They felt deeply, unpleasantly familiar: the baby-blue, fake-leather cover with “My Diary” stamped in gold letters with its little lock and key. My self-conscious 12-year-old entries seemed as if I’d written them yesterday: “I see myself with complete clarity reading this page … thinking how long ago that was when I was merely a schoolgirl not even in high school. I’m already that person of the future.”

Oh yeah? Well, here I am and I remember all too well being that annoying person writing in the diary.

So why save these remnants? In the past, relatives faded graciously into oblivion. Becoming dead and then even deader, as they were no longer known by anyone living. Their descendants easily maintained the illusion that their ancestors had never been real, breathing people like themselves. The ancient couples were quaint in the stiff, sepia photos posing in their Sunday best or in jerky 16-millimeter home movies. Or there were no images at all and they simply got out of the way when their time was over. They ghosted themselves.

To make matters even more complicated, our recent relatives, armed with endless videos, create their own highly edited narratives — virtual motion pictures — preserving what seems to them most engaging, flattering or fun. You won’t find their pictures of them eating lunch at their desk, sleeping contorted in the confines of an overnight flight, waiting on a subway platform or watching TV reruns. It’s all been a great holiday!

Will new generations need storerooms for this ever-increasing load of familial documentation? Actually, we may be the last one to have our experiences annealed to physical objects. In the future, descendants as well as historians will be able to experience their subjects’ lives virtually in real time through emails, texts, Facebook entries, Instagrams, videos. It’s exhausting to contemplate. TMI.

Yet for now, these lingering objects haunt us. Undoubtedly my patient was right. When we discard a person’s accumulated possessions, we are throwing out the record of a life. The soft thump of the garbage bags on the landing tells of a small, soft death. Is it necessary? Yes. But it’s an erasure that’s irrevocable. Like the ash that surrounds bodies at Pompeii, these objects preserve the shape of a life — even after the living being is gone.

Anna Fels is a psychiatrist, a member of the faculty at Weill Cornell Medical College and the author of “Necessary Dreams,” a book about women and ambition.

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Sweden - Recycled Mall Opens!

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By Jeremy Williams - March 22, 2017 - Make Wealth History

Last week I wrote about the Edinburgh Remakery, and how they are trying to foster a culture of repair. It’s one of the most shared posts I’ve ever written, and there’s clearly a real interest in this whole idea. Lots of you have been in touch to share similar projects, including this one from Sweden.

ReTuna Återbruksgalleria is a mall dedicated entirely to repaired and upcycled goods. It combines a traditional municipal recycling centre with a shopping centre, so that people can drop off goods that they no longer need, and then browse for something new – perhaps stopping off at the cafe in between. It’s the first mall of its kind in Sweden, and as far as they know, the first in the world.

Staff at the recycling depot intercept and sort incoming goods as they are dropped off, putting aside those that can be repaired or refurbished. They are then passed on to workshops to be renovated and sold on in one of the 14 shops in the shopping centre. There are specialist outlets for furniture, computers and audio equipment, clothes, toys, bikes, gardening tools, and building materials. Everything for sale in these stores is secondhand.

The centre also includes a cafe/restaurant with lots of organic options, an exhibition area, conference facilities and a training college for studying recycling. And if you’re wondering about the name, the ‘tuna’ is short for Eskilstuna, the town where you will find this intriguing place.

There are so many good things about this project. Residents can get rid of unwanted stuff, same as they would anywhere else. But rather than burdening local government with that disposal, it turns that waste into an opportunity. Goods are diverted from the waste stream and put back into circulation, saving the materials and embodied energy. 50 new jobs were created in repair and retail. The centre itself is operated by the municipality, but the shops are private businesses and social enterprises, so it creates space for start-ups and local artisans.

It’s a stark contrast to my local recycling centre, which is little more than a loop of road with skips, and you drive around and drop off your stuff in the relevant dump – fridges here, rubble there, carpets over there. It is taken away and most of it is recycled eventually, but in every skip there’s a huge amount of reusable material. There are mountains of appliances that could be repaired, and bikes that just need a little maintenance, but they are all treated as scrap. I’ve seen guitars in the scrap wood bin, destined to be plywood when all they needed was new strings and a polish. Imagine if those items were rescued and given a new life. Every town recycling centre could have a number of workshops and retail points on site, or could partner with shops nearby.

ReTuna Återbruksgalleria is a living demonstration of the circular economy, a very practical way of unlocking the value in what we throw away, and it’s a project we could all learn from. Eskilstuna got there first, but perhaps one day you’ll find something very similar in your own town.

The Gift of Death

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Pathological consumption has become so normalised that we scarcely notice it.

By George Monbiot, published in the Guardian 11th December 2012

There’s nothing they need, nothing they don’t own already, nothing they even want. So you buy them a solar-powered waving queen; a belly button brush; a silver-plated ice cream tub holder; a “hilarious” inflatable zimmer frame; a confection of plastic and electronics called Terry the Swearing Turtle; or – and somehow I find this significant – a Scratch Off World wall map.

They seem amusing on the first day of Christmas, daft on the second, embarrassing on the third. By the twelfth they’re in landfill. For thirty seconds of dubious entertainment, or a hedonic stimulus that lasts no longer than a nicotine hit, we commission the use of materials whose impacts will ramify for generations.

Researching her film The Story of Stuff, Annie Leonard discovered that of the materials flowing through the consumer economy, only 1% remain in use six months after sale(1). Even the goods we might have expected to hold onto are soon condemned to destruction through either planned obsolescence (breaking quickly) or perceived obsolesence (becoming unfashionable).

But many of the products we buy, especially for Christmas, cannot become obsolescent. The term implies a loss of utility, but they had no utility in the first place. An electronic drum-machine t-shirt; a Darth Vader talking piggy bank; an ear-shaped i-phone case; an individual beer can chiller; an electronic wine breather; a sonic screwdriver remote control; bacon toothpaste; a dancing dog: no one is expected to use them, or even look at them, after Christmas Day. They are designed to elicit thanks, perhaps a snigger or two, and then be thrown away.

The fatuity of the products is matched by the profundity of the impacts. Rare materials, complex electronics, the energy needed for manufacture and transport are extracted and refined and combined into compounds of utter pointlessness. When you take account of the fossil fuels whose use we commission in other countries, manufacturing and consumption are responsible for more than half of our carbon dioxide production(2). We are screwing the planet to make solar-powered bath thermometers and desktop crazy golfers.

People in eastern Congo are massacred to facilitate smart phone upgrades of ever diminishing marginal utility(3). Forests are felled to make “personalised heart-shaped wooden cheese board sets”. Rivers are poisoned to manufacture talking fish. This is pathological consumption: a world-consuming epidemic of collective madness, rendered so normal by advertising and the media that we scarcely notice what has happened to us.

In 2007, the journalist Adam Welz records, 13 rhinos were killed by poachers in South Africa. This year, so far, 585 have been shot(4). No one is entirely sure why. But one answer is that very rich people in Vietnam are now sprinkling ground rhino horn on their food or snorting it like cocaine to display their wealth. It’s grotesque, but it scarcely differs from what almost everyone in industrialised nations is doing: trashing the living world through pointless consumption.

This boom has not happened by accident. Our lives have been corralled and shaped in order to encourage it. World trade rules force countries to participate in the festival of junk. Governments cut taxes, deregulate business, manipulate interest rates to stimulate spending. But seldom do the engineers of these policies stop and ask “spending on what?”. When every conceivable want and need has been met (among those who have disposable money), growth depends on selling the utterly useless. The solemnity of the state, its might and majesty, are harnessed to the task of delivering Terry the Swearing Turtle to our doors.

Grown men and women devote their lives to manufacturing and marketing this rubbish, and dissing the idea of living without it. “I always knit my gifts”, says a woman in a television ad for an electronics outlet. “Well you shouldn’t,” replies the narrator(5). An advertisement for Google’s latest tablet shows a father and son camping in the woods. Their enjoyment depends on the Nexus 7’s special features(6). The best things in life are free, but we’ve found a way of selling them to you.

The growth of inequality that has accompanied the consumer boom ensures that the rising economic tide no longer lifts all boats. In the US in 2010 a remarkable 93% of the growth in incomes accrued to the top 1% of the population(7). The old excuse, that we must trash the planet to help the poor, simply does not wash. For a few decades of extra enrichment for those who already possess more money than they know how to spend, the prospects of everyone else who will live on this earth are diminished.

So effectively have governments, the media and advertisers associated consumption with prosperity and happiness that to say these things is to expose yourself to opprobrium and ridicule. Witness last week’s Moral Maze programme, in which most of the panel lined up to decry the idea of consuming less, and to associate it, somehow, with authoritarianism(8). When the world goes mad, those who resist are denounced as lunatics.

Bake them a cake, write them a poem, give them a kiss, tell them a joke, but for god’s sake stop trashing the planet to tell someone you care. All it shows is that you don’t.

www.monbiot.com

1. http://www.storyofstuff.org/movies-all/story-of-stuff/

2. It’s 57%. See http://www.monbiot.com/2010/05/05/carbon-graveyard/

3. See the film Blood in the Mobile. http://bloodinthemobile.org/

4. http://e360.yale.edu/feature/the_dirty_war_against_africas_remaining_rhinos/2595/

5. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i7VE2wlDkr8&list=UU25QbTq58EYBGf2_PDTqzFQ&index=9

6. http://www.ubergizmo.com/2012/07/commercial-for-googles-nexus-7-tablet-revealed/

7. Emmanuel Saez, 2nd March 2012. Striking it Richer: the Evolution of Top Incomes in the United States (Updated with 2009 and 2010 estimates). http://elsa.berkeley.edu/~saez/saez-UStopincomes-2010.pdf

8. http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01p424r

Autumn Equinox - Home Organization

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The Autumn Equinox is about the poignant seasonal turning toward winter and inward time. It also a time for personal assessment and getting our homes in the right condition so that we are able to thrive and start fresh. 

Sharon Schweitzer's article gives some wonderful tips and advice on organizing for the fall. 

10 Tips for Organizing Your Home for Fall Equinox

1. Safety Check: Schedule your fall and winter heating maintenance and service. Be sure smoke detectors have fully charged batteries and carbon monoxide (CO2) detectors are in place and working.

2. Chimney Sweep: Hire a chimney sweep service to clean the soot out of your chimney. Even with gas and electric fires, clearing the chimney of bird nests and soot is essential to the safety of your home.

3. Camera & photos: Upload spring and summer vacation photos to the cloud. Be prepared with clear or new memory cards to shoot festive holiday pictures. Design and order holiday cards now.

4. Start early: Review your holiday checklists now. Ease the stress and enjoy.

5. Unpack & donate: Donate excess holiday décor and festive decorationsDo thisearly so another family can benefit and enjoy your beautiful décor. You will also save valuable storage space.

6. Create space: Organize your bedroom and hall closets for the busy social season. Clear space for guests’ coats by clearing and donating unneeded items. Add an artistic storage piece at the front door for gloves, scarves and umbrellas.

7. Don’t wait until the first freeze to discover coats are too small: Check coat, glove and mitten sizes now to be sure you and your family have the right size when they are needed. Donate clothing they have outgrown.

8. Fall cleaning. Family and holiday guests will be arriving, and you want your home to sparkle! Organize hall & guest room closets, and garage. Clean the carpets and windows. Deep clean the kitchen, refrigerator, and freezer in preparation for holiday cooking.

9. Extra warmth: Before the cold settles in, we have warm nights and chilly nights. Be prepared by placing a throw or comforter at the end of all of your beds for extra warmth. Place soft slippers bedside.

10. Gift list: Prepare a gift wish-list and ask your loved ones to share their thoughts on gift ideas. Start shopping online and at stores if you haven’t already.

Sharon Schweitzer, J.D., is a cross-cultural consultant, an international protocol expert and the founder of Protocol & Etiquette Worldwide. 

Complete Book Home Organization

A great book with a lot of helpful hints! The beginning of the year is the best time to think about organizing now that the holidays have come and gone. By starting to organize your home you are able to control mental well-being and in turn have some peace of mind. 

"Have you ever wished you had the time and tools to organize your house in a clutter-free, design-conscious, Pinterest-worthy way? From storage solutions and cleaning tips to secret space-saving methods and expert strategies, The Complete Book of Home Organization is packed with the tips and shortcuts you need to effectively organize your home."

Nourishing Minimalism Challenge 2017!

Join the challenge put on by nourishingminimalism.com and receive a free Decluttering Chart!

"Each year, this blog hosts a decluttering challenge to get rid of the same number of items as the year. In 2017 everyone who joins the challenge will get rid of 2017 items from their homes. 24,440 people have signed up to do the challenge in years past..."

 

Get the Closet of Your Dreams - 6 Tips

"We reached out to Kendra Stanley, founder of Healthy Oganizing—an organization aimed to help people achieve their personal goals by decluttering their spaces—and she gave us six essential tips for creating the perfect closet space."

Read the entire article here on Sweet High.

https://www.sweetyhigh.com/read/closet-organization-tips-081716

The Secret Life of an Organiser - Anonymous

I clear my clients’ physical and emotional clutter.

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/aug/15/secret-life-of-an-organiser-clearing-clutter

"My day is busy from dawn until dawn, installing pretty containers, colour-blocking books within designer spaces and folding socks, Marie Kondo style. I wish. Professional organising is in actual fact dirty, physical – and disappointingly almost never involves styling."

Clutter Control

Clutter Control: Is Too Much 'Stuff' Draining You?

Get your clutter under control, and your attitude and health just may improve, too.

By Kathleen Doheny
WebMD Feature

Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD

WebMD Feature Archive

Clutter, Defined

What one person calls clutter another calls collections or treasures, so the first step is to figure out what qualifies as clutter. "Other people can't decide what is clutter for you," says Cynthia Townley Ewer of Richland, Wash., the editor of the web site Organized Home.

Peter Walsh, an organizational expert and former host of The Learning Channel's Clean Sweep show, divides clutter into two general types. "Memory" clutter is stuff that reminds us of important events, like old school programs or newspaper clippings. "Someday" clutter refers to items you won't toss because you feel you might need them someday.

"It's about balance," Walsh says of clutter control. "If you have so much stuff it drags you into the past or pulls you into the future, you can't live in the present."

Entire Article: http://www.webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/features/clutter-control

A Book About Junk

Junk: Digging Through America's Love Affair with Stuff Hardcover – April 1, 2016

by Alison Stewart (Author)

"Junk has become ubiquitous in America today. Who doesn’t have a basement, attic, closet, or storage unit filled with stuff too good to throw away? Or, more accurately, stuff you think is too good to throw away.

When journalist and author Alison Stewart was confronted with emptying her late parents’ overloaded basement, a job that dragged on for months, it got her thinking: How did it come to this? Why do smart, successful people hold on to old Christmas bows, chipped knick-knacks, VHS tapes, and books they would likely never reread? She discovered she was not alone."

Deep Clutter

A Clutter Too Deep for Mere Bins and Shelves

by Tara Parker-Pope

Read the article here:  http://www.nytimes.com/2008/01/01/health/01well.html?_r=0

"Excessive clutter and disorganization are often symptoms of a bigger health problem. People who have suffered an emotional trauma or a brain injuryoften find housecleaning an insurmountable task. Attention deficit disorder, depression, chronic pain and grief can prevent people from getting organized or lead to a buildup of clutter. At its most extreme, chronic disorganization is called hoarding, a condition many experts believe is a mental illness in its own right, although psychiatrists have yet to formally recognize it.

Compulsive hoarding is defined, in part, by clutter that so overtakes living, dining and sleeping spaces that it harms the person’s quality of life. A compulsive hoarder finds it impossible, even painful, to part with possessions. It’s not clear how many people suffer from compulsive hoarding, but estimates start at about 1.5 million Americans."

The Simplicity Collective

"The central insight of voluntary simplicity is that by lowering our ‘standard of living’ (measured by income/consumption) we can actually increase our ‘quality of life’ (measured by subjective wellbeing). Paradoxical though it may sound, voluntary simplicity is about living more with less."

http://simplicitycollective.com/

"Voluntary simplicity, it could be said, is more about questions than answers, in the sense that practising simplicity calls for creative interpretation and personalized application. It is not for ‘experts,’ therefore, or for anyone, to prescribe universal rules on how to live simply. We each live unique lives and we each find ourselves in different situations, with different capabilities, and different responsibilities. Accordingly, the practice of simplicity by one person, in one situation, may very well involve different things to a different person, in a different situation. Furthermore, simple living is not so much a destination as it is an ongoing creative process. But, as I have implied, I do not think that this practical indeterminacy is an objection to the idea."

2016 Decluttering Challenge

"Setting up daily habits is the turning point in keeping a clean home: it will take you from messy and overwhelmed to capable and confident. It will be a pleasure to invite people over and make contentment with your surroundings possible. That, dear friends, is freedom. Jumpstart Your Decluttering Now"

http://nourishingminimalism.com/2015/12/2016-in-2016-decluttering-challenge.html

Spend less on stuff, more on experiences

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 By James Wallman

"Surely we’ve had enough of materialism? There has to be more to life, so let’s try experientialism instead."

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/feb/27/spend-less-on-stuff-experiences-materialism-experientialism

"First, I read some research by two psychologists at UCLA, Rena Repetti and Darby Saxbe, which shows that too much stuff, and the stress that comes with all that stuff, is really bad for your health. Second, I came across another study, by another pair of psychologists, Leaf van Boven and Tom Gilovich, that proves experiences are more likely than material goods to lead to happiness."

Graham Hill: Less stuff, more happiness

http://www.ted.com/talks/graham_hill_less_stuff_more_happiness?language=en

"Did you know that we Americans have about three times the amount of space we did 50 years ago? Three times. So you'd think, with all this extra space, we'd have plenty of room for all our stuff. Nope. There's a new industry in town, a 22 billion-dollar, 2.2 billion sq. ft. industry: that of personal storage. So we've got triple the space, but we've become such good shoppers that we need even more space. So where does this lead? Lots of credit card debt, huge environmental footprints, and perhaps not coincidentally, our happiness levels flat-lined over the same 50 years."

 

13 Essential Items To Donate

Mashable

13 essential items you never thought to donate to those in need

By Katie Dupere

"Giving back is important, but all those canned pineapples and piles of forgotten T-shirts aren't really doing the trick.

Take Hurricane Sandy as an example: When the superstorm hit the northeastern United States in October 2012, clothing donations flooded into relief areas across the region. Only, clothing wasn't what people needed in the storm's aftermath. Sandy survivors needed flashlights, batteries, supplies to stay warm — not old high school T-shirts donors found in the backs of their closets. Much of the donated clothing was tossed aside to give more attention to the donations people could actually use.

The lesson: We have to fill a need we actually see."

http://mashable.com/2015/06/09/items-to-donate-unexpected/

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The Story of Stuff

"We have a problem with Stuff. With just 5 percent of the world’s population, we’re consuming 30 percent of the world’s resources and creating 30 percent of the world’s waste. If everyone consumed at U.S. rates, we would need three to five planets. This alarming fact drove Annie Leonard to create the Internet film sensation The Story of Stuff, which has been viewed more than 30 million times by people around the world."

For A More Organized Life, Organize Like A Chef

NPR Food For Thought - Dan Charnas

"Perhaps the principles of culinary organization can be extended to help even those of us who aren't top chefs.

The system that makes kitchens go is called mise-en-place, or, literally, "put in place." It's a French phrase that means to gather and arrange the ingredients and tools needed for cooking."

http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2014/08/11/338850091/for-a-more-ordered-life-organize-like-a-chef

 

The Way We Live: Drowning in Stuff

Anthony P. Graesch was part of a team researching family life. Photos from a book he co-authored illustrate typical household abundance. CreditC.M. Glover for The New York Times

By:  Penelope Green

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/28/garden/an-anthropologist-on-hyper-abundance-and-the-american-home.html