Picture: ISTOCK
Picture: ISTOCK

Middle-class homes are bursting with stuff: clothes seldom worn, books once read, and crockery or appliances never used. We wonder where it all came from and now, increasingly, how to get rid of it. It should be easy but, oddly, it's not.

How did we get here, drowning in stuff? It's partly due to blended families, with each partner arriving with all their baggage, marrying or co-habiting later in life, well after we have set up our own homes, but also because we are perpetually encouraged to accumulate.

Six dinner plates will never be enough - what about when you entertain?

Magazines tell us to decorate and then redecorate our homes, and if we can't afford to do that (who can?), to buy new scatter cushions to pep up a room with a pop of colour or add a new lamp shade or curtains.

We keep the replaced items just in case we need them.

The growth in the past 18 years of mass-market decor stores means you no longer have to be wealthy to keep reinventing your home - only relatively well-off. Think of MRPHome with its 163 stores, the second-largest contributor to Mr Price Group's revenue, and TFG's @home with its 140 stores, as well as all the other homeware shops in South Africa's many malls.

Think, too, of the advertising that offers us time-saving devices that then clutter up kitchen cupboards, or make us believe we really will need that treadmill.

But all this clutter is more than just buying or wanting more things. It makes us feel anchored, surrounded by all these possessions. Decor magazines talk about curating our homes. The items we have around us tell a story - or so we think - of who we are and where we come from.

This preoccupation with material things makes work for us: perpetual tidying and cleaning. To dust my bookshelf is at least a two-hour job, if I do it properly.

But it's the attachment to things that makes it so hard to part with them. How many paintings by my children should I keep? I love them, but I have hundreds. And what about the books that made me view the world differently but which I probably won't read again? The gifts given and appreciated, but for which I can't find a place?

However, help is at hand. From lifestyle TV programmes that tackle extreme hoarding and bestselling books on decluttering, to consultants who will come to your home to advise you on what to get rid of. A whole industry to help middle-class folk cope with the ailments of materialism.

TIME magazine named Marie Kondo, who wrote the bestselling book (and others) The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, as one of the world's most influential people in 2015. Others have jumped on the bandwagon.

Consumers who have had enough of buying stuff present a problem for retailers, not just for executives and shareholders, but for the people they employ. Especially in South Africa, where retail is such a large component of GDP.

So now we're pushed by retailers to keep buying more stuff, and pulled by a trend to get rid of it. For some of us, it's not that easy, especially if we are afflicted with sentimentalism/sentimentitis.

Now where did I put that book my father gave me, the one his father read to him as a child? What was it called again?

• Enslin-Payne is deputy editor of Business Times

Please sign in or register to comment.