This article appeared in the January 24, 2019 edition of the Monitor Daily.

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What we talk about when we talk about ‘stuff’

Ann Hermes/Staff/File
Fixers Collective member Vincent Lai pried open a computer monitor for repairs at The Fixers Collective workspace in Brooklyn, N.Y., in 2011. A collective push to mend broken items is one part of a cultural pushback to consumerism. Another is the growing trend toward de-cluttering.

It’s January, when people’s fancies turn resolutely to thoughts of stuff.

Like most folks’ weekends, ours are full of chores. My husband spent a Saturday afternoon repairing our vacuum and showing our son how to replace a broken pane in the front door. I was reminded of that after two articles about the importance of, simply put, taking care of your stuff.

One is a Dutch-born effort to fix things rather than throw them out. Volunteers at Repair Cafes will fix anything from a chair to a jukebox, and teach others how to become handy themselves. There are about 1,700 cafes in 35 countries, including 75 in the United States.

Right now, the queen of clutter is Marie Kondo, whose Netflix show (like her bestselling book) has attracted legions of fans and detractors. That last seems aimed at her unwillingness to regard books as sacred objects. That’s because, writes Margaret Dilloway in HuffPost, she regards every object as sacred.

Ms. Kondo’s ethos doesn’t come from a desire to scold, but rather the Japanese Shinto tradition of showing gratitude for and valuing what you have.

“My mother disliked the disposable, acquisitional mentality of Western culture,” Ms. Dilloway writes of her Japanese-born mom. “She recycled long before it was popular, repurposing objects others might throw away.”

She sounds, in short, like a Yankee farmwife: Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without. The epitome of that New England ethos can be summed up by the attic box labeled “String Too Short to be Saved.”

We have a first-floor apartment, so there is no attic available. But I still have a sweater my parents gave me for Christmas when I was 16 – younger than my son is now. I get compliments every time I wear it.

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This article appeared in the January 24, 2019 edition of the Monitor Daily.

Read 01/24 edition