Here are some things I have thrown away over the last month:
Two sandwich toasters.
A full set of Ikea cutlery.
A two-pint glass with “beer monster” printed on the side.
A fridge that was probably fine.
A load of wooden beams for roofing. (“That is good wood!” said the man who works at the recycling centre, incredulously, as my husband pitched the slats into the big skip for waste wood.)
A scratched but sound table top. (“That’s wood, not bric-a-brac,” said another man who works at the recycling centre, waylaying me and ending my hopes of sending the table on to whatever the furniture version of going to live on a farm is. “It’s not good enough condition.”)
A perfectly fine bedstead. (This I slung bitterly into the wood skip, not willing to risk another bruising rejection of my rejected possessions.)
After the savage dismissal of my table top, I sat in the car and cried for a bit. Not just because I was 13 days into a two-week process of house clearance and moving, though I was, and that seems like a perfectly legitimate reason to have a brief sob; it was the waste that got to me.
My own detritus was painful enough. When you move, it’s sensible to carry only what you want to take, and in the preceding month, we unloaded uncountable bin bags of stuff to the charity shops of Bath. I don’t think of myself as profligate or wasteful, so this evidence of both my profligacy and my wastefulness was unwelcome. Clothes that didn’t fit or didn’t suit. Toys our children had neglected or outgrown. Books – not many of these, but the packing made it undeniable that a whole mass of volumes have sat on our shelves, unopened and unliving.
But then there was the other stuff, other people’s stuff. The house we were moving into had been student accommodation for most of a decade, and the whole cellar was tightly packed with boxes of possessions no one wanted to take with them, and no one wanted to throw away.
Someone had left a full wardrobe of clothes and a collection of manga in a zip-up bag, all now lightly mildewed. There was set after set of crockery and cutlery: plain white economy porcelain, or the mix-and-match assembly of spares from mum and dad. Person after person had come to this house, each bringing their own offering to the underworld of homewares in the foundations.
My husband and I hauled everything out. We were Jesus of the unwanted pots, harrowing the hell below our living room floor. And then we ditched it all – some we donated and some we kept, but more that I would have liked went to the tip. Guilty as I felt, I decided the original sin of this stuff was in its making, not its junking. All of it had been wanted at point of sale: the doughnut maker, the “beer monster” stein, the cock-and-balls cookie cutter with optional depresser for marking a biscuity bellend (student house). And none had been wanted after.
This seems an abjectly terrifying use of human ingenuity and natural resources. It seems so hideously inefficient: shouldn’t there be some kind of system so the owner of sandwich toaster one could inform the owner of sandwich toaster two that an operational sandwich toaster was already in residence, so no need to add your own to the small electrical graveyard? A register of unnecessary objects.
But I know also that this stuff is all necessary in its way: these are the tokens by which wealth is circulated, production maintained, employment created. All this festering junk is the waste crapped out by a functioning economy, and we fill first our homes and then the land with shit.