Unwish lists and lockdown consumption

Spending more time at home forced many people to look closely at things in their lives. Buying, hoarding, stocking, keeping busy demanded materials. As much as our socialising, learning, and interacting moved online, our leisure and rituals became increasingly physical, and called for things to keep them this way. More cooking and baking called for more equipment. The absence of gyms asked for various tools at home. Replacing restaurants and cafes with deliveries meant constant accumulation of boxes and bags. People like me, who tried to live with minimal possessions and invest into experiences instead (travel, events, workouts, etc) had to completely reconsider their lifestyle, as most of these experiences became unavailable. Where does it leave our relationship with material objects?

During these months of limited socialising, there was another backlash against Marie Kondo’s advice on only keeping stuff you like. Several comics and tweets made fun of people who cleared their possessions and now only had ‘7 T-shirts to fold’ to occupy themselves. Corporations continued making profit as more people wanted stuff shipped halfway across the world and delivered to their door – pet toys, gadgets, clothes and more. In this context it was quite refreshing to find this blog post by Fran Cresswell about ‘unwish lists’ – things she is determined not to have. A day or two later, a former neighbour posted a photo of a jacket her family has had for around 40 years – she, her cousins and other relatives had it, and now her kids enjoy it too. Many practices that our parents’ generation happily abandoned because they had been imposed on them are now rediscovered, because they can be adopted by choice.

So in addition to the principles in the cited blog post, I would add that things on my unwish list would include stuff I want to retire (it is not in a shape to give away), things to swap or give away (mostly books), things to repurpose (I transformed a number of handbags into storage units, which relieved the guilt of discarding them, as some were gifts), and, most importantly, things to never acquire.

The latter category would include things that can be rented, and for this we need better infrastructure. I believe that owning festive clothes is completely pointless, but most rental companies only offer extremely tacky and hideous stuff. Jewellery rentals already exist, but have not become mainstream. The Valletta Design Cluster is promising a tool library, and some tools to borrow are already available at Friends of the Earth premises in Floriana. I hope that in the future renting a set of dishes for a party, a BBQ set, or even things like window cleaning equipment will become a possibility. And yet, in an emergency situation like the current one, relying on rentals would mean that these services would depend, like many other things, on delivery workers and become more expensive to use.

Before sharing economy allows using more stuff without owning it, we can try the old ways: talking about our needs, asking around.

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