Are we what we own? Maybe not any more

LAST week I did something very out of character. I got rid of some books.

It’s not quite the first time. I’ve been known to pass one or two onto family or friends to read. Sometimes I’ll take a bag of paperbacks to the charity shop. But this was different. This was a substantial amount, roughly 300 books, picked up by the owners of The Book Nook (a fine second-hand book shop in Stirling that is definitely worth a visit if you are in the area.)

They took away history books, art books, photography books, novels, thrillers, science fiction. They took away old books and new books. Books I had read avidly and some I’d never really looked at.

In the week since the books disappeared, I’ve vacillated between mild feelings of anxiety (how long before I regret giving away that book about Roman history?) and exhilaration. I cleared an entire bookcase, huzzah. That just leaves six bookcases to go.

I do not live in a minimalist home. I am surrounded by books, CDs, DVDs. They are a marker of taste (good or bad). They are increasingly a marker of age too, I guess. It’s all very twentieth century, isn’t it? Books apart, I’m surrounded by dead or dying media.

Read More: We’ve given up on accountability

There’s a comfort in being surrounded by things you love. Still, I’m sure the notion to hoard, to surround yourself with things you invest meaning in is all very revealing about personality. This desire to store up belongings against … well, what exactly?

I’m not alone, I know. But maybe our number is diminishing. My sister loves telling me how she has got rid of all her CDs and DVDs and feels the better for it. My daughters, meanwhile, have a vague nostalgia for the videos they watched as kids but like everyone else they stream everything nowadays.

As a result, I wonder if the idea of ownership is changing. Those of us on the wrong side of 40 and 50 were raised in a culture where what we owned were markers of our identity. What we listened to, watched, read, reflected who we were. And we used the album cover, the paperback book, the film poster on the wall as a projection of who we are. The physical object as a symbol of the subject.

That’s changing, isn’t it? It’s not that younger generations aren’t interested in using what they are reading, watching, or listening to as badges of identity. But the thing itself, the physical object is losing its power.

That’s perhaps an inevitable reflection of the shift online. But it is already having huge consequences. It’s a lot more difficult to make money from making music for a start.

The question is how far-reaching this shift in attitude might be. At its most extreme, one wonders how future generations will come to feel about something like home-owning. If it’s not even economically possible (which for many it increasingly isn’t) does the idea of owning a home lose its shine altogether? And how will that change our culture and society? It was only 50 years ago in the 1970s. Could to say that figure reverse?

Meanwhile, I’m wondering how far I will go in disinvesting myself of the things I own. There are books, records, trinkets that have a fetishistic power for me, that are draped in memory and association. Can I really imagine getting rid of them?

Maybe not. I certainly can’t imagine living in a house without books. How dull would that be? But maybe I can learn to live with less. So, it’s DVDs that will go next, I’ve decided. I’ll probably have to watch them again first, though.

The Herald Scotland

The Herald Scotland

The Herald is a Scottish broadsheet newspaper founded in 1783. The Herald is the longest running national newspaper in the world and is the eighth oldest daily paper in the world. The title was simplified from The Glasgow Herald in 1992