Catharsis… or clearing the decks

Catharsis is defined by the Concise Oxford English Dictionary as ‘the process of releasing pent-up emotions’, but recently I have been thinking of the medical definition of ‘purging’. So, domestic catharsis is taking place…

As I’ve mentioned before, here chez Snail we are hoarders. It sometimes seems that nothing gets thrown out because anything might turn out to be useful. There is always the worry that, should we dispose of any item, as soon as it is gone we will need it. However, over the past few weeks I have been trying to have a clear-out.

I don't think it even fits me anymore!

I don’t think it even fits me anymore!

Rather than throwing things away, I have decided that selling is good. It’s not the time of year for car boot sales, but it does seem to be the ideal time to sell things that other people might consider would make good seasonal presents (whether for the solstice, Christmas, Hanukkah, Yalda… whatever). So, with this in mind, I have launched myself into e-bay selling. I have raided the loft and found never-opened jigsaw puzzles; I have delved into the coat cupboard and emerged with motorcycle gear (we haven’t had a motorbike for about 8 years now); I’ve unearthed hardly-worn shoes from the bottom of my wardrobe and hardly-worn clothes from the hangers. The satisfaction of selling such items is two-fold: we make a little money from them and they go to someone who actually wants them, rather than accumulating dust here or ending up in landfill.

Currently I’m only scratching the surface, but I have good intentions to be persistent, so that slowly I will make a dent in the ‘stuff’. Now I just have to hope that I don’t suddenly unearth a motorcycle and need that leather jacket and gloves again!

Secondhand socks

My teaching involves setting the learners lots of activities to do. At these times I want to let them get on with it without my input, so I have small blocks of ‘spare’ time. I used to take a book along with me to read, but I did tend to get interrupted and so never really got much reading done. More recently I have started taking some knitting with me. This is an ideal way to fill time, and I can even chat and answer questions whilst doing it. I lug lots of teaching stuff around with me, so don’t really want to be carrying chunky pieces of knitting, so I usually take a sock.

Hand-knitted socks

As well as keeping me amused, the activity often elicits questions, particularly since I usually knit on four or five needles and use self-patterning sock yarn. Usually, the questions are about the complexity of the process and the reason for using so many needles, but a few weeks ago I was asked a question that rather had me stumped:

why do you knit socks when they are so cheap secondhand?

I’m rarely at a loss for words, but this one was hard for me to answer. Fortunately someone else responded with the most obvious question:

you can buy secondhand socks?

And the answer was “yes you can,” apparently very cheaply from car boot sales. As an infrequent visitor to car boot sales, I have little idea about what one can buy at them, but the few times I have visited such an event my perception (at least here in west Wales) is that the stalls are dominated by books, old videos, bric-a-brac and plants. My friend Anja obtained all the crockery and cutlery for her wedding reception from car boot sales, but I have never thought of them for clothes shopping. The group discussed the subject and, it turned out, that in the local area (which is very rural) no one had encountered a significant market in secondhand socks, but if you visit the big car boot sales around major cities in the UK, they are full of very cheap, hardly worn clothes, including socks. Perhaps this reflects the relative affluence of cities compared to the countryside; perhaps it reflects attitudes. Are  country-dwellers less likely to consider their purchases disposable, or simply too poor to just discard clothes when they no longer appeal?

I suppose that I shouldn’t be surprised that clothes are not always bought to last – the prevalence of retailers on the high street selling cheap items, often produced in sweatshops should be an indicator that these are disposable goods. If you have to save up for an item, you are surely more likely to value it than something that you buy on a whim for just a few pounds. In addition, the perception is that it’s ok to get bored with a cheap item, because you can throw it away and get a new version. I suppose, however, that the fact that clothes are being sold on is a good sign to some extent… if even socks can find a second home, then there must be hope for all sorts of other items.

Self-patterning socks

But wouldn’t it be better if we valued the items that we do own. Considering that 20% of the world’s population use 80% of the world’s resources, perhaps a small step to redressing this balance would be to cut back on using any more stuff. And, in fact, knitting socks may lead me to do this. First, most sock wool is guaranteed for 10 years – so the product that I am making should last me a good deal longer than most socks that I could go and buy from the shops. But second, because I will have spent time in the act of creating these socks and because they are unique, I think that I will value them more – perhaps taking time to mend them should they become damaged, rather than simply discarding them.

We often hear the phrase “reduce, reuse, recycle”, and buying second hand delivers the second of these, but if we could all do a bit more of the first we could make an enormous difference.

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