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

As I write this, I am sitting in a small, cluttered room which I have been intending to ‘sort out’ for months. How might the advice of William Morris, designer, writer and socialist, help me decide what to do about it?

First, I suppose I should get rid of everything I know not to be useful. The trouble is that 90% of all my clutter comprises things we know could be useful one day, such as the two packs of computer wipes, a light bulb, a travel plug adapter, and a rarely used fax machine – all of which are making my room look untidy.

Second, there are some things that are not useful, such as the painting by an asylum seeker of military helicopters over Mogadishu, and a print of Joseph Wright of Derby’s asphyxiating dove in an air pump. Perhaps I can keep them, if we say that Morris really should have said ‘of aesthetic merit’ rather than ‘beautiful’.

A few things remain that still break his rule. I have one or two small boxes which I label ‘Unchuckable Misc.’ as well as some photo albums. I’m not one fir accumulating large amounts of memorabilia, but there are some things from my past life which I would like to keep. Most are neither useful nor beautiful.

So Morris’ advice turns out to be a combination of the incomplete and the obvious. For who would want to keep anything they neither thought had a use or did not like? And why should we get rid of things which fit neither description but have some value, sentimental or financial?

"Remember that the most beautiful things in the world are the most useless; peacocks and lilies, for instance." (John Ruskins)

(Adapted from ‘Should You Judge This Book by Its Cover?’ by Julian Baggini)

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~ by irwin on February 11, 2012.

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