• Ian McClellan

Week 7: I will fix more, and trash less.

Updated: May 4, 2020

I once threw a perfectly good, relatively new pan in the bin, because I could not be bothered to wash it.

This is something that I am not proud of. It was a long time ago, I can't remember exactly what I was cooking, but I remember using mitigating circumstances to justify the decision to myself. Whatever I had cooked was particularly burned on, I had left it a few days and so it was dried on, and had perhaps even gone a bit mouldy. So the pan was ruined anyway.

It is a small example, but nothing however should have truly justified trashing a perfectly good piece of equipment to landfill. It was an example of of my own laziness and thoughtlessness.

The memory has lingered and this has not happened since, but I do also believe that we have certain blind-spots when it comes to using our material belongings in a way that is appreciative of the time and resources that have gone into creating them. Basically, sometimes I don't think we look after our stuff enough.

At any one time, there is a graveyard of items in our house that have run out of batteries and are therefore left unused in a cupboard, one step from the trash. There is bit of furniture that has perhaps become a bit worn, and therefore has been moved from one room to another, eventually finding a spot in an inoffensive corner or in the guest room, again just awaiting the cross-hairs of the next decluttering. There are gadgets that might have a simple loose wire or crack, that instead of being investigated or taped up are relegated to a box in the garage - a fading memory that will be replaced by a shinier new model in due course.

We have the ambition of donating items, but somehow we have convinced ourselves that others will also not see the value in a cracked torch, a digital radio missing an aerial, a well-worn chair.

But most things that are broken, can be fixed. Most things that are worn, can be spruced. Most things that are not useful to us anymore, will be useful to someone else. The permanent change this week, is to fix more, upcycle more, repurpose more, and trash less.

I have started with a furniture project, rather than toys and gadgets (which are the worst offenders in our house) if only to prove to ourselves that it can be done.

Like many, we have moved house a few times in our lives. We have been single, then cohabited, then married, and are now a family. As a result have accumulated furniture along the way that might have been useful in a previous property or lifestyle, but are no longer useful.

Where once our lives separately fit into a backpack, then the back of a medium sized hatchback car, then together a van, now we have accumulated enough material belongings to fill a family home, a shed, a garage, and a loft-space. This has happened somehow without trying, and also along the way still trying to be a good citizen and passing possessions around. My parents have our old TV, a friend took an old sofa, there have been trips to charity shops, clothes banks, all with the aim of trying to appreciate what we have, more. But still the mountain grows.

I guess what I am doing first also - is acknowledging this. We have now moved every piece of furniture that does not fit or does not 'bring us joy', to a separate place (the garage). It is not a big pile, perhaps between five and ten large items. We have the ambition to take a weekend, and begin to work through it all and see what we can re-use, what we can donate and what might be useful to others. It might take longer than that, and might need more methodical thinking down the line, but for now it is a beginning. In a world where some people do not have enough to eat or have any furniture or belongings at all, this sounds materialistic and vain as a process when written it down or admitted out loud - but a beginning is a beginning.

As we cleared furniture we already had ideas, just by having this new habit in mind. We have looked with new eyes at furniture that we once loved, and have seen past the colour or the condition, and thought more creatively about how it could be used elsewhere.

The first was an old chair that Emma's parents had given us a few months back, and was therefore on its second or third life, and had already somewhere along the line had a new coat of paint. For us, it was spending its new existence in the bathroom, so it was no surprise that the paint began to peel a bit through the natural accumulation of water. Despite the fact that its a well-built, solid wood chair - this cosmetic problem would have made it a very likely candidate for decluttering.

Instead of relegating it - I have tidied up the peeling paint with a piece of sandpaper, and by using old wall paint to make it the same colour as the bedroom walls, I have gained a great new chair for a dressing table, perhaps even an upgrade from the old one, which some months ago went to the garage pile.

The second, was an old bedside table, that we have always loved, but have never quite found a new purpose for. We always had an idea in mind, but it was always too tall to fit in the intended spot, and so in stages sat in our room, then moved to another room, then moved behind a door because we kept falling over it, and finally was relegated to the 'garage' pile.

For this piece of furniture, all it required was to take a saw to the legs, and instead of being too tall for the spot we intended, was now the perfect size.

In this case, it is an example of sometimes how life can be so pressurised, and move so fast, that you don't see a solution that is right in front of you and don't appreciate what you have because perhaps it was bought a few years or a decade ago. You don't remember the excitement of it first coming into your life, and you don't remember the money that changed hands at the time. The easiest path, and the one of least resistance, is to take something that is perfectly good - but that you have lost interest in, and throw it into a big hole in the ground.

It is out of sight, buried, and perhaps after a short feeling of guilt, out of mind. But actually, it has not gone away - it has simply become someone else's problem. Someone else has to figure out how to destroy it, or where to put it until it naturally disappears, which depending on what it is made of can be a long, long time.

But, with a small amount of time and a sprinkle of resolve, to realise that all that was needed, was to repaint one item, and measure and removed five centimetres from each leg of another item - and instead of creating a problem we have created a solution. We are not practically minded, but all this took less time to do than a hour's highlights package from the weekend's football - I know this because I watched it on the computer whilst carrying out the task.

I would have to admit that the job I have done on these items, is perhaps not craftsman quality, and that I am not ready to tackle re-wiring of any complicated electrical appliances just yet, but there is a definite feeling of pride that I have made this planetwise choice, and have the resolve to continue to reinforce this good habit with our furniture, and apply it to every item that seemingly is destined to be decluttered or hidden away in a cupboard.

We are just individuals, but through having more care for what we have, we can make a big impact. We are all connected, and may of the tools we need to do this are already in existence. Stuff can be fixed, or there are even economically appealing online services such as eBay, which are dedicated in many ways to keeping existing physical goods in circulation rather than losing them to trash or to the attic. Second hand stores are enjoying a renaissance, charity stores have become spacious troves for art-deco treasure and collectible vinyl and art rather than the dusty retirement home of tweed jackets and bric-a-brac.

This project is about little changes that we can all make, and about making the next good choice. It is a big psychological step and habit to begin to think in a less disposable fashion about our belongings, but I think many of us are guilty of replacing rather than fixing, and of buying mass produced, faux antiques instead of taking something that is already made and giving it a new life.

Finally, as much as I am ashamed of past behaviours, I am now proud that when something in our son's life stops working, the first reaction in his three-year-old mind is to reach for his toy toolbox, or suggest we change the batteries, rather than turn away and accept that he must play with or use something else. To find the joy in taking something broken, and trying to fix it, has become as satisfying and as much of a game as playing with the item in the first place.

I remember this from my own childhood, and I am not sure I believe some of the criticism that is aimed at previous generations as the cause of the current disposable culture. I remember my parents insisting that I take care of my toys, that I look after my football boots, and remember shopping at second-hand stores for school blazers. I think the habit has crept in individually to us all, regardless of age or generation, and it is up to us individually to correct it, rather than blame each other. We will always need to replace things, but perhaps we can also rediscover the power of a set of screwdrivers, a coat of paint, or some insulating tape.

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