Everything Must Go
T-shirt offered by Chappell Ellison on her new blog, Everything Must Go.
These days, concern for the fate of the planet coupled with recessionary economics means that we’re both acquiring stuff and getting rid of stuff with greater care. We use eBay, Craigslist and swap meets to seek happy new homes for our goods as if they were so many rescue dogs. Big silver earrings. Approx. 2” long. Material: cheap metal. Origin: Forever 21.
Brave souls accept the challenge
to pare down their wardrobes to ten items, or wear the same outfit
every day for a year. We're reevaluating our collectibles, subjecting them to a more rigorous test of meaning, asking: under what circumstances were they acquired? How well have they been loved?
Strong man figurine. Rubber. Found in New Mexico. A little banged up.
Paradoxically, the pressure to deaccess increases our focus on goods that were once casually purchased and just as casually tossed way. So intent are we on making our property justify its continued existence in our closets that things begin to glow with the charged ions of significance, and object romance has become a literary genre. In Important Artifacts and Personal Property from the Collection of Lenore Doolan and Harold Morris, Including Books, Street Fashion, and Jewelry
, Leanne Shapton spun the tale of a doomed relationship through the lot descriptions in a fake auction house catalog. In their Significant Objects
project, Joshua Glenn and Rob Walker invited writers to invent narratives for flea market items that were later sold, along with the stories, on eBay.
And now there’s Everything Must Go
, Chappell Ellison’s bloggy hybrid between a stoop sale and a memoir.
Monkey finger puppet. Wool. Gift from an ex. Good as new.
Ellison, a Design Observer contributor who was my student in the design criticism MFA program at the School of Visual Arts, is looking for people to adopt her possessions. “In an attempt to learn how to live with less, I'm giving away my things, one by one,” she writes. “Sometimes the object will be accompanied by a personal narrative that might make you want the object more (or less).“
At the same time, she is looking for connections, even with the ghosts of consumables: “In letting go of these objects and their memories, I hope to understand more about the way in which we place meaning into the stuff that surrounds us.”
Ellison refuses to ship the items to their new homes, and not just because of the nuisance involved. She says she wants the transactions to be immediate and human.
Reagan Bush pin. Origin unknown.
It is probably no accident that her enterprise shares a title with a new movie in which Will Ferrell plays an alcoholic, freshly unemployed man who is locked out of his suburban home by his wife. The man settles in with his possessions on the front lawn. Neighbors think he is running a yard sale. Rebecca Hall, who lives across the street, tells him, “Once you get rid of all that stuff, you’re going to feel great.” Everything Must G
o, the movie, is based on a Raymond Carver short story called “Why Don’t You Dance?” The tale, however, tells us almost nothing about the man who moves his belongings into the yard. Against the obliterating force of an alcoholic haze that wipes out almost all of his backstory, Carver makes the objects stand out: A rattan chair with a decorator pillow stood at the foot of the bed. The buffed aluminum kitchen set took up a part of the driveway. A yellow muslin cloth, much too large, a gift, covered the table and hung down over the sides. A potted fern was on the table, and a few feet away from this stood a sofa and chair and a floor lamp. The desk was pushed against the garage door.
Context changes meaning. A sofa, totem of interior comfort, looks lost and pathetic on the lawn. The message of consumer society for as long as people have shopped has been that our possessions are our equivalences. In Carver’s story, domestic objects cannot adapt to a sudden shift in circumstances any more than can their owner, whose only remaining choices are whom to sell them to and for how much. “Will you look at this shit?” asks the woman who acquires some of his things, when she shows them to her friends.
Voluntarily shedding goods is a way in which we test the limits of our identities. Passing goods to others is a way in which we extend ourselves into the world. In the end, we are permeable creatures; it's the stuff we own that's rock solid.