Monday, May 16, 2011

Carefully Curating What We Own

ergonomic office chair

I often write about books I've found enlightening, but today I want to point to an essay: The Last Viridian Note, by Bruce Sterling, written in 2008. You don't need to know anything about the Viridian Design Movement to appreciate the points Sterling is making — and making very well, indeed. Here are some excerpts, which I hope will inspire you to go read more. (You may want to skip over the first 15 or so paragraphs, though.)
It's not bad to own fine things that you like. What you need are things that you GENUINELY like. Things that you cherish, that enhance your existence in the world. The rest is dross. ...

The things that you use every day should be the best-designed things you can get. For instance, you cannot possibly spend too much money on a bed. ... The same goes for a working chair. Notice it. Take action. Bad chairs can seriously injure you from repetitive stresses. Get a decent ergonomic chair. ...

You will need to divide your current possessions into four major categories.
1. Beautiful things.
2. Emotionally important things.
3. Tools, devices, and appliances that efficiently perform a useful function.
4. Everything else.

"Everything else" will be by far the largest category. ... You should document these things. Take their pictures, their identifying makers' marks, barcodes, whatever, so that you can get them off eBay or Amazon if, for some weird reason, you ever need them again. ... Then remove them from your time and space.

Beautiful things are important. If they're truly beautiful, they should be so beautiful that you are showing them to people. They should be on display: you should be sharing their beauty with others. ...

All of us have sentimental keepsakes that we can't bear to part with. ... Is this keepsake so very important that you would want to share its story with your friends, your children, your grandchildren? ...

You will be told that you should "make do" with broken or semi-broken tools, devices and appliances. Unless you are in prison or genuinely crushed by poverty, do not do this. ... There is nothing more "materialistic" than doing the same household job five times because your tools suck. Do not allow yourself to be trapped in time-sucking black holes of mechanical dysfunction.
Photo: The Think chair, from Steelcase — one of many ergonomic options


Cynthia Friedlob said...

Excellent! -- And we're on the same wave length. My last blog post was about looking at your possessions as a museum curator would. So, if you have a collection or two, document and display the items with pride. Otherwise, it's all just a bunch of stuff!

JustGail said...

I have some "make do" items in use for quite a long time now. Often obtained because I couldn't find (and sometimes find but not afford) what I really wanted. And after a while the "make do" item just blends into the background - working but not quite what your really wanted. Sometimes (often?) it's better to do without until the right thing comes along. You'll be that much closer financially, and there will be less whining about replacing that "perfectly good" item, or asking why you bought that in the first place.

This puts a new twist in the sometimes over-used William Morris quote.

Jeri Dansky said...

Cynthia, somehow I'm not surprised that we're on the same wavelength!

Just Gail, I had exactly the same reaction - what Sterling writes is reminiscent of the William Morris quote, but with more depth.

And I agree that it's sometimes/often better to do without until the right thing comes along. I did that with my living room coffee table; I didn't have one for the longest time, until I saw one I really liked.