A little while ago my housemate suggested that we take out contents insurance. On the surface it is a simple and sensible idea: for less than a hundred dollars I could have the security of knowing that if we were robbed or flooded or if the house burnt down, my possessions would be replaced. But when I looked around at my things the idea become a little more complicated.
At first I thought the microwave and CD player could be easily replaced, they are after all practical tools without any particular sentimental value. But then I remembered how much the CD player has been through with me. Hours and hours of essay writing, house parties, private parties…, and the microwave, well my grandmother gave it to me when I first moved out of home, so I have quite an attachment it. And from there the idea of replacing things just got more difficult.
Most of my money over the years has gone on books. I don’t have a car, or a washing machine or a lot of shoes, I have books. They are new and second hand- bought in country towns across Victoria, art galleries in Italy, university book stores, and garage sales. They have been scribbled in by me and earlier owners, stuffed with post-it note’s and book marks and they have grown furry with repeated readings. I value them- but I don’t think I could assign an actual dollar value to them, and I certainly couldn’t go into Borders with a list and just replace the lot in an afternoon.
Aside from my books one of my most favored possessions at the moment is something that would hardly fetch a gold coin at a garage sale. It is my Matisse poster: an enlargement from his 1947 series ‘Jazz’– One half is a colour stencil cut out of a flowing dancing figure and the other half is loopy French handwriting that I cannot read or translate. I love the composition, and it is by no means an irreplaceable image, but the tatty edges and grey smudges from frequent re blu-tacking tell stories that a fresh poster simply would not.
The poster was purchased at the NGV in 1995 when the Matisse show toured. I would have been a fourteen year old, country high school girl when we went to the show, and what a show it was. Capital A Art on a truly grand scale. All those high ceiling-ed rooms given over to the great Matisse. His pattern crammed images, his simple flowing figures, his bold colours have all stayed with me over the intervening years- and so has the poster. It moved with me from home in Mirboo North to the many share houses’ I have inhabited over the years; from high school to university and beyond. Obviously the memories exist without the poster- but still it is not something I could part with easily.
I watched the first episode of Wendy Harmers Stuff on the ABC the other night- so at least now I know that it isn’t just me and my family that have an attachment to our ‘stuff’. The things some people horded on that show were just… well worthless in my eyes… but to their owners I am sure every single thing had its own stories and memories.
If I or many of the people on Wendy’s show were to divide our things up into two categories, those with monetary value and those with sentimental value you can probably imagine where most things would end up.
The notion that my treasure is your trash was reinforced when we were robbed a few years back. They didn’t really take anything of mine. This tells you a lot about what I think is valuable and what thieves (and possibly the general population) think is valuable. But none of that changes how I value my stuff. I place a future value on my olive tree; yes at the moment it is just a gangly youth that I carry around with me from house to house, but one day- in eighty years or so it will begin to be a spectacular tree. My collection of sewing machines has spilled into the hallway and I have boxes of fabric in just about every room of the house and they may seem like junk to my housemates, but they have the potential to be all sorts of amazing creations just as soon as I have the time to imagine and sew them.
My appliances, my poster, my books, not to mention my photos, diaries, letters and my favorite (completely un-wearable) ripped jeans are all the stuff of my life: my belongings, not my possessions and therefore un-insurable. Which means that the hundred dollars earmarked for the insurance is probably going to be spent in Readings.
Re-reading the above made me a little melancholy – because while the things mentioned are not lost, they are out of reach to me in Australia. And the sewing machines mentioned got new homes in my pre-trip garage sale. Of course new adventures and new collections of things have found me since I packed up the old ones. But I still miss my books and my fabric baskets.