In a recent blog we looked at the history of furniture through the ages and one of the most striking things was the minimal amount of possessions with which ordinary people survived right up until the early part of the 20th Century.
A table, wooden bench, stool or chair and a straw-filled mattress were all the possessions many people had.
Similarly, within the living memory of the current older generation, many of whom lived with rationing during and just after the Second World War, the amount of clothes they had as children would be likely to be school uniform and a couple of outfits for out of school, indeed most often sweaters, blouses and dresses would most likely be home-made.
Gradually, of course, as more women joined the workforce and manufacturing became more sophisticated the combination of a lack of time and ever-cheaper mass-produced clothes changed people’s habits.
But perhaps the most important driver was the change to the economy, where businesses producing consumer goods, from clothes to furniture to fridges, needed to make a profit and therefore needed to encourage the idea of the importance of having the newest and the best – and the consumer society was born.
Technological improvements also played their part, of course, and the increasing sophistication of the components making up whatever the item was. Gradually, the idea of such things as fixing the family car at home rather than having to take it to a specialist began to die out.
So, we lost the ability to make and mend possessions, embraced the idea of “new being best”, became used to the idea of nothing lasting for long and evolved into a “throwaway society”.
Make Do and Mend Re-brand – Recycling
But nothing is static in human society and as awareness has grown of ever-depleting natural resources and of the damage being done to the environment, whether from pollution, the spread of landfill sites for rubbish and most recently the amount of plastic covering the land and immersed in the sea we may be on the verge of a new “make do and mend” movement – now rebranded as recycling.
Since the financial crash of 2008, and more recently, the UK’s decision to leave the EU, there has been a growth in repair cafés, where people can bring items they don’t any longer know how to repair for themselves but where they can find someone who can teach or help them to mend the items they bring with them.
However, it’s not only about being more careful with money. Those who have used the cafés say there is a satisfaction with being able to keep loved and familiar items, of re-learning lost skills but also there is a social element that people enjoy.
Equally this evolving attitude to possessions and keeping them or finding someone else who might want them has given rise to a wide variety of crafts leading to the trend for “shabby chic” painted furniture for example.
Clearly society is evolving again, and for the sake of the planet such movements hopefully will grow, but in the meantime for those who can’t afford to or do not want to get rid of “stuff” and for those who have made a business out of re-purposing items, but are now living in the much smaller spaces that are modern houses, there is always the option of a self-storage unit.
We’ll be looking at our attitudes to possessions in another blog soon.