Saturday, January 10, 2015
The language of home-making
Certain words having to do with home work give me a lot of trouble, such as "throwing away" which suggests a scornful rejecting action, or "purging" which is also something we do when we are extremely ill. Why are all the words, besides "cleaning," so negative? Why do so many words about the supposedly pleasant activity of home making make us cringe, why are they used as insults like "hoarding," or the vocabulary of abandonment and the horrors of old age: flung out, obsolete, discarded, junk, unsalvageable, useless, tired, old, worn off, shucked, trashed, crap, thrown away, shit, etc.?
We are naturally attracted to a word like safe, or saving. It sounds noble, it sounds good - it sounds like the actions of a person who cares. And yet, saving thingscan be one of the
worst things we do to ourselves. It doesn't take a leap of imagination to know what happens if we save too much - we know. We know it all too well. But not saving enough, or having our savings suddenly taken from us, can be tragic. Inside us, in our very genes, there are instincts to keep and instincts to throw away, as well as generations of family, community, and society-wide habits to examine. Like language, the way in which we keep or reject things changes through time. Not long ago we threw things over the stone wall when we were done with them. Archaeologists love middens - think about the hilarity of museums, where much of what we're looking at was once refuse! Most of us these days recycle, but that's also a habit that's come in and out of fashion as long as we have recorded history. Thrift shops and second hand stores have a long and colourful history, and so does the tradition of destroying possessions utterly as a show of power. Inheritance. Now there's a charged word, right? We save. Sometimes we are undone by our savings, sometimes we are saved by them.
No one wants to think of the things they saved as garbage. One of the things I avoid at all costs when I help clean out a person's house is to put their things into black plastic garbage bags, unless they bring them themselves to put a lot of clothes in or actual trash. The people who get rid of stuff with a little too much glee (especially other people's stuff) are viewed by people who save things as untrustworthy or even malicious, unsentimental, delusional, overreacting to fears of loss by refusing to bond or become attached. Personally, I've found myself thinking "creepy" when I hear about someone voluntarily putting their life's possessions into a dumpster rather than have to sort or assess. Where did we lose our middle ground? Did we have one? What's a healthy middle ground, and who gets to define it?
I think the answer lies in our language. Think what this means: I save it. I don't save it. Whatever "it" is, I have placed a value on it by saving it or not saving it. I saved the salad tongs; I didn't save the crystal vase. I saved the birdbath; I didn't save the bottle of cognac. I saved the leftover paint; I didn't save the extra tiles to the bathroom floor. Who respects my value? Why? I give it away. Am I then generous? I sell it. Am I thrifty or avaricious? I throw it away. Am I wasteful, logical, sane...? If I am forming a sense of myself using the objects of my life as a pivot and signal, as many people do, those questions are vital to my self-esteem. In my (relatively new) mindfulness I am aware that what I do, the names for these actions we do together to reduce clutter, writes the story of what is happening. Will I, will you have a story of generosity and growth, or a story of violence and loss?
"Every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end."