Jared Diamond set out to answer the above question in his book 'Guns, Germs and Steel' which I commend to anyone as a fascinating history of civilisations. 'Cargo' of course refers to belongings including the clothes that to someone from New Guinea would seem excessive. I've been reflecting on my cargo on a daily basis in recent weeks. I've been skint for about a year and a half but did some extra work before Christmas and so felt more able to buy things I felt I had a use for, like treats for the dogs that would keep them distracted so they didn't make constant demands on my attention and waterproof socks for cycling in the rain.
At the same time, I've been having a big clear out. The documentary 'We the Tiny House People' inspired me. In particular, I was struck by a comment by one of the interviewees who said for many, the current decade is about 'editing' one's life - getting rid of the extraneous. Watching 'Tiny House' and reading some links I followed from the above page put a fire under me and somehow made it much clearer what I had that was extraneous.
90% of what I'm getting rid of is clothes. They are so cheap and plentiful in London, and I move so rarely that I've got rather a lot and I tend to hold on to things because I don't follow fleeting fashions.
A lot of people are blogging at the moment about consumption and clearing out of clothes in particular. Some examples I've found helpful:
Get the best. Why stuff a wardrobe with clothes you kinda like rather than buying less, and really loving the things you own?
Then there is this Quaker pamphlet called 'Freeing Ourselves from Possessions' that includes exercises & meditations to help with doing this.
I discovered that many objects in my house have become accidental. They no longer belong here or to me (perhaps they never did). They are images of a self that I dreamed, a self that never fully emerged from the shadows.
and the manifesto of my friend Jo, The Dress Doctor:
Your wardrobe is your life story. It narrates and connects you to past events, ancestors, relationships, passing rebellions and flirtations with social tribes. Your visual identity is the evolution of these parts, coming from a lifetime of design and purchasing decisions.
Your clothing should be an extension and reflection of your self, not a mask or a decoy. There should be an emotional connection to it alongside a compatibility with your mood, needs and physicality. Knowledge of your body and what enhances it, knowledge of garment fibres and production and knowledge of the language made of these parts leads to a confidence and authenticity that is most appealing.
Those who possess pieces of quality are less likely to crave more. Take your time when making new acquisitions, as with them comes responsibility. If a garment does not feel right, it will never look right. Ask yourself if you are attractive in it? Is it wearing you? Does it fit who you are and what you do? Does it move? Is it comfortable, as this is a benchmark of civilisation? Is it for how you live, or your fantasy lifestyle? Think of the item you already own that is most similar to this object of desire. Is it a better version? Does it sit within the context of your wardrobe, or will it soon be left at the orphanage?
Isolation from production can lead to a lack of meaning. Learn what makes an item special; where its components originated, how they were produced and who arranged them. Value the craftsmanship in creating the whole. Is it made of materials that will improve with time, moulding to your body and acquiring a patina with age? We also change and improve with age. Demand that your clothes are made so they can shrink and expand as you do. Natural fibres should be stitched with natural threads to enable re-dying as stains accumulate and fashions move on. Embrace the new and recontextualise the old. We are unique and as such relate best to what is lovingly crafted rather than created.
Embrace the rights of ownership over what is yours. You have a lifetime of pieces to which there is already an emotional connection that can be deepened with the application of engaged fashion and craft practices, giving them further lives. Deskilled citizens and unthinking consumption have lead to our infantilisation, giving power to the machine that leads to the citizen’s acceptance of homogenised mediocrity. Love, appreciate and enjoy that which you already own. If it’s not fit for purpose then take action, refreshing rather than renewing and securing its place in the narrative of your life.