It’s amazing how much stuff we accumulate throughout our lives. Furniture, clothes, books, pictures, electrical goods, photographs, pictures drawn by our children that just cannot be thrown away, not to mention cuddly toys!
As a boy we had very little in the way of possessions (stuff). Dad was a farm labourer and, at times, Mum supplemented her housekeeping with a cleaning job, so we had little money and, certainly, not enough to fritter away on stuff!
When I joined the Army in 1964, at the age of 16, I was dressed in a suit, and took with me one small bag containing not much more than a change of clothes and a toilet bag. I was issued with a myriad of army clothing and equipment and all civilian possessions were locked away for the next 3 months.
As my initial pay was £2.12.06d (approximately 3 US dollars) per week (equivalent to £49.63 in 2016, $70.54 US) and I was only allowed to draw 10 shillings one week and £1 the next, I could not afford to buy any stuff, other than absolute necessities. If I ran out of boot polish and blanco in the same week I was in trouble! Especially so, as in those days I smoked!
Army life will have to be covered at a later date. Suffice to say that I did not accumulate stuff during my 3 year apprenticeship.
As a single man I was allowed one, (0.25 cubic meter), wooden crate to transport all my stuff around the world. All, that is, that I could not carry within my allowance on board the aircraft that whisked me off to exotic climes. The carriage of goods and chattels was handled by MFO, Movement of forces overseas. Thus the crates were termed MFO boxes!
When I married we started off with 5 such boxes and, after a year and a half, we had managed to double that to 10, mainly due to having acquired a daughter along the way. (Disclaimer – We DID NOT pack our baby)
Everything we had, had to be capable of being transported in a box, or had to be crated. We were held to a strict limit and anything over the limit had to be paid for. As the years progressed, the rules changed. We were allowed to transport furniture and, eventually, the system was handed over to civilian removal companies.
Having to pack up your home every 2 or 3 years, and set up a new home, hundreds, perhaps thousands, of miles away gave a unique opportunity to have a really good sort out so we got rid of stuff on a regular basis.
Fast forward a few years and we moved into civilian life. No regular moves any more so we started to accumulate stuff. In the attic, in the shed, in the spare bedroom, under the beds, on top of wardrobes, everywhere you looked (and we tried not to) there was stuff.
Daughter left home for university, but what did she leave behind? Lots of stuff!
As we get older, we quite often have to deal with stuff belonging to others. When a parent, or older relative, has to move into care, or dies, we can be left with all manner of stuff to sort out.
It can be very traumatic and, at such times, it makes us focus on our own stuff.
Who is going to sort it out?
What picture does our stuff paint for those left with the task of sorting it?
I don’t know about you, but I am nosey! I quite like to see what other people have. What they have found to be important. What they have lovingly cared for all their lives. And do you know what? Outside the context of that individual’s life, quite often you will find the stuff is really nonsense.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I am not trying to belittle what they have held dear all their lives. Lets face it, if it were not for all of this stuff, where would our historical knowledge have come from?
So, what, if anything, do we do about this stuff?
We decided that we would make a determined effort to make the job much easier for those who will have to sort out our stuff at some stage in the future.
Firstly we emptied the attic. What a filthy job! Stuff that had not seen the light of day for years. Trying to get it out of the house without leaving a horrendous dirty trail was a challenge, but we managed better than we could have hoped for. We were dealing not only with what we had put up there, but with various items that previous occupants had deposited.
What treasures did we find that we just had to salvage? Not a single thing! Some items went to charity shops but most ended up as trash. I did leave one item up there for a future historian to discover, a packed flat MFO box, complete with regimental number, rank and name boldly stamped on it.
Over the last couple of years we have continued with the task of stuff zapping and, in the process, have learned of all sorts of recycling schemes. We have been able to donate a considerable amount to charities via their shops, adding to the value by allowing them to claim tax back on the amounts earned.