After watching a fantastic play (for free!) last week at the Barbican, this is the question I came away asking myself.
The play was called The Encounter and was based on the true story of National Geographic photographer Loren McIntyre who went missing in the rainforest in 1969 as he tried to capture images of a reclusive tribe.
I won’t give the plot away but in a wonderful performance, one scene really stuck in my mind. There is a point where the tribe burn all their items; everything they have spent time and energy creating. All items are thrown on the fire in a giant purging exercise, everything that is useful or beautiful is done away with.
McIntyre, an American, wonders if this type of purge would ever be seen in the streets of Manhattan and he laughs at the notion that people would chunk their sofas out of their apartments and set light to their possession in the streets.
When he asks the tribe why they are burning their belonging, they answer that the items make them ‘stand still in time’ and that the items are ‘jealous’.
They’re two interesting concepts. The idea that our things make us ‘stand still in time’ is true although it might be more easily expressed as ‘our things hold us back’.
If we have to stay on the treadmill of stuff, if we have to purchase ever more, if we have to have the latest and newest items then we are being held back. Maybe we have to work long hours in a job we don’t like to pay for the items or pay off our credit cards. Or maybe we have to pretend to be a version of ourselves we aren’t because we think we should project a certain image.
The second idea, that our items are jealous of us, is a bit more abstract but what I read from that is that items our possessive. They take our time, they take our money, they take our energy.
The things we own keep us for themselves as we have to take time to shop, look after, insure and repair things.
Maybe what I’m trying to say is that we think we own our items and that we are in control but the real truth is our possession own us, they hold us back and take up our time.
By taking the first step to free ourselves of our stuff we are taking back control, although a trip to the recycling centre or charity shop will do instead of a giant bonfire!
PS the picture is of our ‘room of shame’. It is full of decorating items that I think are holding me back – until the house is finished and this room empty it will keep hanging over me.