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Beautiful and Useful

“Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be beautiful or believe to be useful” - William Morris

As some of you know my father-in-law died recently. He was 91 and I think was at peace. A day or so before, he’d told us he loved us and that he’d had “a good life.” He’d travelled a lot and worked all over the world and accumulated mementos and souvenirs everywhere he went. We’re currently clearing his house, a home full of books, photos, pictures, memories, and mementos, and we’re coming across all sorts of treasures.

As we’re doing it, I’m also thinking about how much “stuff” I’ve gathered over the years that is in my own home and how much of it I love, and how much of it is just “stuff” that brings me no joy whatsoever.

There are books – so many books. Some of them I love, and some of them (the Balanced Scorecard and Lean Thinking are a couple of examples) I found torturous when I read them back in the late 90’s and haven’t opened them since. Yet I still have them.

We’ve found notebooks with notes of Bill’s travels, what he saw, who he met and what he’d eaten. There’s a vivid and full description of a trip he and his wife Betty made to Russia, and I contrast that with the copious notebooks I have that are full of to-do lists and “work” stuff that I’m sure would bore the pants off anyone who came across them – that is if they could decipher them in the first place.

One of the many “treasures” is my mother-in-law’s sewing box. We think she bought it in Uganda in the 1950’s where my husband was born, and it travelled all over with her. Everywhere she lived, it went too. It’s beautiful. The wood is smooth and beautifully carved. Yes, it has scuffs and marks – all signs that it has been used and loved.

It’s full of reels in all sorts of colours. Some are old and wooden and some newer and plastic. There are needles, thimbles and measuring tapes, and inside it’s beautifully orgnanised with little sections for all the contents. I used it late on Friday evening to alter a dress my daughter wanted to wear the following day. There was exactly the right shade of pink thread in the box. It’s beautiful and useful.

The word decluttering leaves me cold. But holding on to beautiful and useful, and letting go of “stuff” right now that makes sense to me on so many levels. There’s a lot to be said for William Morris’s words of wisdom.

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