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The difference between what you want and what you need - the modern laws of accumulation


Here’s some stuff Michael Blucher wanted to get off his chest – and out of the third drawer in the kitchen.

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If you’d indulge me briefly, I’d like to devote a little time to exploring our curious relationship with “stuff”.

Old stuff, memorable stuff, “valuable” stuff, stuff that we’re keeping, just in case we need it – one day, in the however distant future.

To provide a little context, there’s a major renovation looming. And you know what that means? A perfect opportunity to purge. And She Who Must be Obeyed is grasping said opportunity with both hands. A major spring clean, just in winter.

She’s posted her ruthless formula for retention on the fridge. WHEN did you last use it? WHEN will you next use it? Do you REALLY need it?

The slightest hesitation in answering any of those three questions….and WHOOOOOSHKA!. Out it goes, onto the footpath, the impending prey of the trailer brigade, Steptoe and Sons, scouring the streets for collectables, recyclables, other people’s “stuff” that they too, can squirrel away and not use. Just keep, until the person in their family who must be obeyed comes up with their own brutal formula for retention and sticks it on the fridge.

Out it goes, in it comes, out it goes… life’s “circle of stuff” keeps spinning, until the day we die, and somebody puts us in a box and throws us out.

Beyond the nostalgia and fond memories, I’m sure there’s a psychological explanation as to why we hoard stuff. Logically, it’s symbolic of the past, every item a tiny addition to the sum total of who we are, where we’ve been, and what over the years, we’ve achieved.

Does gender contribute to the size of the pile of stuff in any given household? Possibly. She Who Must be Obeyed would say “definitely” but I’d counter that by pointing out we’re usually pretty handy. And you need lots of stuff to repair other stuff.

How do you know what you’ll need? You don’t. So you keep it, just in case. Besides, we don’t have to store hair straighteners or curling wands.

In this day and age, it’s also much easier to accumulate new stuff. Just the click of a few buttons on a computer and four days later, it arrives on your doorstep.

Much the same deal with other people’s stuff – jump on Facebook market place or Gumtree or Ebay, and go your hardest until your hoarding heart’s content. So many bargains, and you can see what they look like. Not like the old “Trading Post” days, when you were shopping blind. “Jousting sticks? What’s he want for them? Tell him he’s dreamin’!”

Yes, the modern laws of accumulation have few boundaries.

It wasn’t just the architect’s plans and the builder’s quotes on the kitchen table, or the unmissable note affixed to the fridge that stirred my consciousness about “stuff”, and the associated separation anxiety that comes with discarding it.

A fortnight before, a seminal moment experienced at a social gathering where in attendance, there was not one, not two but three couples who within the space of a few years had watched their family home go up in flames. Their life’s work, burnt to the ground, leaving them and their families with nothing but the clothes on their back.

Anybody struggling with their spring clean would benefit from chatting with these people about “stuff”. At one point, Stu, the most recent victim, couldn’t even prove he was who he was.

“I’ll just need a driver’s licence sir, and we’d get you sorted with a new phone plan,” he was told in the telco shop, while trying to reboot the charred remains of his life.


Passport? Nup.

What about some documentation, listing your place of residence? An electricity bill for instance?

Bahahaha. Place of residence? Just so we’re clear, this T-shirt, these shorts, the slightly burnt thongs on my feet… that’s all I have in the world right now. If you’re not going to take my word for it, then we have no further business,” he advised, with all the politeness he could muster .

Fortunately, another young staffer recognised Stu from the television news, so he was able to take the first small steps along the road to renewal.

“There’s a big difference between what you want and what need,” Stu says. “There’s probably just as big a difference between what you think you need and what you really need, though some new thongs would be nice!”

As a gentle reminder, even a twisted source of inspiration, I’ve printed off a photo of Stu and his family, and stuck it on the fridge, right beside her formula for retention.

Yep. This is going to be one hell of a spring clean. And in winter.

She Who Must be Obeyed is going to be pleasantly surprised, even delighted with all the stuff I discard.

Of course, I’ll keep the stuff I need for all the repairs. You can’t get rid of that.

You never know when you’ll need it.


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