Australians routinely dump unwanted stuff on the pavement, where neighbours will come and pick over your things. Here’s the stuff dumped by Chris and his housemates on Sunday. An older woman turned up, asked me if it was alright, and went off with a fan. Taking other people’s stuff left on the pavement is not considered infra dig, and some people pretty much furnish their houses this way. In a throwaway culture like ours, this makes a lot of sense.
This is also presumably what happened to my things after I came back to Johannesburg. I carried on renting my Sydney apartment until my ex-husband decided to move in with the woman who’d become Wife #2, and that meant canceling the release and getting rid of my stuff. Mostly Ikea, but not bad. Whoever got the Samsung washer-dryer, the one that played the theme from Schubert’s Trout Quintet, got a bargain. There was also one of my paintings – a large apple, in lipstick naturally – and I’ve always wondered whether anyone wanted it, or if it ended up on one of Sydney’s dumps.
It was an apt end to my attempt at life in Australia. After I came back, I made a concerted effort not to accumulate stuff. Effectively, I retrenched my lifestyle. Now, I own very little apart from clothing (which you can’t rent), a laptop, a phone and a few items of furniture, leftovers from my previous life. I don’t own a house or a car. I’m not sure I want to; if I could rent everything I could, because it’s not the thing itself I want, it’s what it does.
Stuff imprisons you. It sends you into debt and keeps you trapped in a system designed to make a few shareholders and senior managers rich, and everybody else in their place. We are told we should want to own stuff – heck, I work in an industry whose sole purpose, pretty much, is to tell us that we want stuff – but we take it on at our peril.
I’d say it’s better to dump your stuff, and be free, but there’s also something reassuring about having it. It tethers you to one place; it eliminates some of the choices from your life. Having choices can be crippling. I agonize over the fact that I own so little while I live in a city so obsessed with owning things, or at least appearing to. I do find it incredibly hard to walk around the suburb where I live, looking at expensive houses and thinking that I will never have the option of getting that deep in debt.
Wealth is an illusion, my friend Chris said to me this afternoon as we drove back from Balmoral Beach. In most cases, it’s what the banks say we’re allowed to tell the world. Resisting debt, as both of us have done, is one way to look poor.
I wish I could say it’s easy to dump your stuff. But it’s hard not to hold onto it. Incredibly hard.