Having read and written a good deal about decluttering and letting go of stuff, we’ve witnessed something of a backlash in the media of late. Just as we were reading Dominique Browning’s recent Let’s Celebrate the Art of Clutter, we came across the work of Beijing-based Hong Hao who has been recording every item that comes into his life in the course of a day. He scans each one and them compiles the images together into digital collages. We’ve woven them into Browning’s (and our own) commentary.

My Things/Hong Hao
My Things/Hong Hao

We are in a collective, and most unfortunate, paroxysm of guilt and anxiety about stuff.

…We are being barraged with orders to pare down, throw away, de-clutter…It is all pointless and misguided, and it is time to liberate ourselves from the propaganda of divestment.
I would like to submit an entirely different agenda, one that is built on love, cherishing and timelessness. One that acknowledges that in living, we accumulate. We admire. We desire. We love. We collect. We display.

And over the course of a lifetime, we forage, root and rummage around in our stuff, because that is part of what it means to be human. We treasure.

Why on earth would we get rid of our wonderful things?

My Things/Hong Hao
My Things/Hong Hao

It is time to celebrate the gentle art of clutter. We live, and we pick up things along the way: the detritus of adventure; the vessels of mealtimes; the books and music of a life of the mind; the pleasures of our daily romps through the senses.

In accumulating, we honor the art of the potter, sitting at a wheel; we appreciate the art of the writer, sitting at a desk; we cherish the art of the painter, standing in front of an easel.

…Go ahead, call me materialistic. I’ll just wonder what you think you are made of.

I am not done with living. I am not done with my things. I love them, in fact, more and more each year, as I recollect the journey that brought us together. I will cherish them, till death do us part.

My Things/Hong Hao
My Things/Hong Hao

Then, to us, Browning’s commentary goes seriously awry:

And rather than fret about my inability to get rid of things, artfully, graciously, or otherwise, I am not only giving in to the desire to keep getting stuff, but I am also fantasizing about how I am going to pass my things on to my children…

I have started saying things to my sons like: “When I die, just please, rent a warehouse, and put everything away…

Never mind that their homes may be full of their own things.

Having inherited TONS of stuff, and knowing other people who have, we find Browning’s words to her kids to be a consummately selfish act. Inherited objects can be a massive burden, which demand expensive storage or a great deal of energy spent selling or donating. ASK your kids what they want, and make peace with the fact that they may not want everything, or even much of what you consider treasures.

And if you want a way to capture the memories your things hold, we recommend photographing them to make a Digital Memory Archive, and keeping the things that REALLY transform you (or your loved ones). The images will jar those precious memories.

Calvino quote sign


If you’ve found illumination, joy, or inspiration in this post, please consider supporting Improvised Life. It only takes a minute to make a secure donation that helps pay our many costs. A little goes a long way towards helping Improvised Life continue to live ad-free in the world.

Support Improvised Life ♥

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *