Saturday, March 01, 2008

Furniture matters

The living room is full of furniture. Dismantled wardrobes line the hall. When our friends announced they were moving to Australia, I asked them to pass on anything they didn’t want to take or couldn’t sell. I couldn’t face the thought of perfectly good wardrobes and tables ending up on the tip. So now we have new furniture, lots of it. “Do you only ever make friends with people who are about to emigrate?” asks Carbonlite’s sister, climbing over a wardrobe to get to the kitchen. She’s referring to the fact that our house has been almost entirely furnished by other people and their house moves.

7 years ago we moved to our Burton family home from a tiny two bedroom cottage in London. At that point we only had a bed, a wardrobe and a kitchen table. Luckily, shortly after our arrival some Swiss neighbours moved back to Switzerland, leaving us with a couple of unwanted set of chests of drawers and a wardrobe they’d have otherwise taken to the tip. Another friend moved to London and only had a small van, so our furniture collection expanded further. A further friend decided that Far Sawrey was too far to take three single beds, a filing cabinet and a mound of duvets, so we inherited them too. And so it is that our home is an eclectic jumble of…well, other people’s jumble. While other people’s houses are a reflection of their tastes, ours is a reflection of our ex-neighbours’ shopping trips.

But it doesn’t stop at the furniture. It was when Carbonlite really got into the green stuff that word began to spread. Now people regularly turn up with bikes, helmets, tyres, printers, files, and my personal favourite…back copies of Hello Magazine. My brother sent a pristine Ford Mondeo our way because he already had three cars in his drive and wanted rid of it. People constantly arrive with bags of clothes for the kids, which the children love, saving me a small fortune on the high street. When they grow out of them I give them away to others, a small scale community fashion industry.

Most of the time it’s great, we get free furniture, as well as saving it from being wasted and causing landfill emissions. At other times I wonder why I don’t get the chance to go shopping like other people and buy the things we really want, that reflect our personality and personal wealth. Sometimes I wonder why we accepted the huge 1970’s office sideboard that stretches the whole of our living room. And our crockery has depleted so drastically that we fight over cereal bowls in the morning, but don’t buy any just in case some bowls come our way for recycling. Last week we stayed with friends in Kew. Their newly refurbished house looking out onto the river is every home owners dream. But I couldn’t get past the spoons. When they opened their drawers and revealed a collection of soup, dessert and teaspoons that made me drool, I had to confess to the green eye of ‘spoon envy.’

But every spoon matters. Every impulse purchase puts another kettle or teapot into landfill. An American scientist recently told the world that the ‘Arctic is screaming,’ as a result of global warming. This is a direct result of our consumerism. Every time you take a wardrobe or microwave to the tip because it’s ‘not your colour,’ then the screams get louder. Next time you’ve tired of something, offer it to a neighbour or friend. They might need it, or know someone who does. Or contact Carnforth or Kendal Freecycle, and someone will immediately take it off your hands. On the other hand, if you’re thinking of emigrating and have a particularly nice set of spoons….