The value of temporary objects

There are three types of things: durable, temporary and junk. The culture of consumption specialises in junk. We all know what junk is – it doesn’t last and when it is no longer useful or desirable, it refuses to turn back into the components from which it was derived. Cheap plastic toys are junk by this definition, so is fast fashion and so are smartphones.  

The solution to junk is often argued to be objects that are durable.  A tee shirt that is still wearable after a few years is better than one that looks terrible after a few washes. A house built of sturdy materials is better than one built of flimsy materials. And a child’s toy that does not fall apart when someone trips over it is better than one that does so.

I do not disagree – objects that are durable (and repairable) are better than junk. But we should perhaps give more thought to the value of temporary objects. These – like junk – are not designed to last, but – unlike junk – can be gracefully retired once they break or we are tired of them. They ease back into Earth and allow people to keep creating, rather than be tied to the objects that already exist.

Some ideal temporary things include: flax baskets, murals on the side of buildings, pottery bowls, glassware, colouring books, knitted and wooden toys, paperback books, homemade greeting cards, pencils,  and gardens. I heard once that it was a tradition among Romany Gypsies to burn the caravan and all the possessions of someone who died. This strikes me as a rather good idea: the next generation does not have to deal with all that stuff – even if it is lovely and well made – but can start again.  

We all know the pleasure of making things and making temporary things is an excellent, low-impact way to pass the time. Imagine a world full of such things – it would have so much more creative possibility and beauty than the world we live in now.  

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