Wednesday, 7 November 2018

Things you can do without

In one of my all-time favourite books, Three Men in a Boat, there is a wonderful passage about packing. When the three friends realise that they impossibly can bring everything they have piled on the floor, they decide to select not what they could do with, but only what they couldn't do without. It's remarkable how many things in your household you can do with that aren't things you can't do without.

Take an avocado slicer. I bought it at a time in my life when I was buying all kinds of kitchen utensils, after I had rebuilt my kitchen in Stockholm and had plenty of drawers and hooks. We like avocado, and unlike many other “good-to-have” items, I have used it a lot. You can live without an avocado slicer, but since I had one I brought it with me, and I am using it frequently.

I have always been against one-purpose gadgets, but once you have them, some come handy. I once bought a very clever measuring spoon for coffee that was also a clip to seal the bag. It was never used other than as a measuring spoon, but now I finally use it the way it was conceived. 

I haven't brought the oyster knife because I don't anticipate eating oysters on my own. I haven't brought lobster forks, nor herring forks – none of the numerous objects that I use maybe once a year because they are there, but that are not essential. I haven't brought a can opener because I don't eat canned food.

I did bring my cheeseboard and cheese knives, more for sentimental reasons than anything else. Even if I have guests, I can serve cheese on a plain wooden board with an ordinary knife. 


I brought one of the many fruit bowls and two mixing/salad bowls, one large and one small. Since I don't have an oven, I didn't bring any baking trays or pans.

I brought my spiraliser because I use it all the time. You can live without a spiraliser, but vegetables taste so much better when spiralised.

I didn't bring the asparagus pot. We only got it recently, after many, many years of me thinking, as I do: Why would anyone need a pot just to cook asparagus? But it turned out very practical. However, I don't think I will cook asparagus in the nearest future. Or if I will, I can cook in an ordinary pot.

On my first list of things to buy were: orange juicer, kitchen drawer organiser, kitchen towel holder, laundry basket and rubbish bin. Of these, I have only purchased a juicer because I really, really need my freshly pressed juice in the morning. It turned out that you can live with your kitchen drawers disorganised, put your kitchen towel on the counter, keep laundry in a canvas bag and use a large flower pot to hold bin liners. Maybe if I had been planning to stay here for longer, I would have invested in a bin. But buying stuff when I am massively getting rid of stuff feels silly. 


There is no place in my kitchen for a garbage bin. It doesn't fit under the sink. I have it in a corner between the washing machine and the fridge. When I use either, I have to move the bin to the middle of the kitchen. My mind goes to Marina Tzvetayeva, who famously kept her garbage bin the middle of her living room cum study in Paris. She was not disturbed. I am.

So far, I have only entertained two guests, one at a time, and we had tea for which we needed two teacups, two small plates, two teaspoons and two knives. Every day, I contemplate the plates in my cupboard asking myself: Why do I need a set of six of everything? Well, because it is a set, and I haven't even brought the teapot, the numerous bowls, platters and sauce boats. How often do you use a sauce boat? The one day a year you may need a sauce boat, can you use something else?

I brought a spare duvet, pillows, bedsheets and towels. Just in case. I do have a sofa bed after all. But otherwise, how many bedsheets and towels do you need?

Clothes: I gave away several bags of clothes to charity. Going through my wardrobe, I kept asking myself: will I wear this in the coming year? How many outfits do I really need? My new walk-in wardrobe is small. Just one rack and bare wooden shelves. Some years ago I started wearing scarves and now have a dozen and a half. They marked a new phase of my life, so I kept them. They fill a whole large “Really Useful Box”. Ironically, I have recently bought several pairs of shoes, also as a new phase of my life. Why would anyone need so many shoes? Two pairs is quite enough. And so on.

I like the idea of minimalism, but I also like to have a few trinkets of sentimental value. I certainly can do without candle holders, or a cut-out wooden cat that sits on the door frame, or an Aalto vase, or a miniature Japanese stone garden. But I brought all these items to mark my territory. I smile when I see them.

Thing theory – yes, there is one! - distinguishes between things and objects. Objects only become things when they acquire an additional symbolic meaning. Some objects I brought are just objects, while others are things.

When I move on, ten months from now, I will probably leave still more objects behind, but I will bring my things wherever my life takes me next.


Milena Mileva Blazic said...

Best regards, Milena Mileva

Elizabeth O. Dulemba said...

Maria, You are on a similar journey to the one my husband and I undertook to come to the UK. I think you may enjoy my TED Talk about it: "Is Your Stuff Stopping You?" . Cheers and happy downsizing! :) e