I’m a packrat. I freely admit it. However, lately I’ve come to start calling myself an “archivist” – it sounds much more respectable; and there can be value in preserving things for posterity.
A recent series of photographs by Huang Qingjun, however, makes me wistful for the simplicity that some people live with. Well, almost.
“The idea for the series about people’s material goods, now called Jiadang (Family Stuff), came in 2003 with some photos he took for the magazine Chinese National Geography. But the project didn’t really get under way until three years later, when Huang started travelling around China looking for suitable places and people.
“Most people thought what I was proposing was not normal. When I explained I wanted to set up a photo, that it would involve taking everything out of their house and setting it up outside, that took quite a lot of explaining,” he says.
“But almost all of them, when they realised what I was trying to do, they understood the point.”
These captivating images raise the question: How much 家当 (jiadang) do we really need? So many of us are accumulating things far beyond our needs, in a mad rush to die with the most toys. While I could surround myself with gewgaws and gimcracks (especially in my kitchen) until I had no more place to live, I do understand that 99.9% of it would be useless if it ever came to living without electricity or in, say, 350 square feet of space.
Leonardo Da Vinci once said that simplicity was the ultimate in sophistication. Less stuff means less work taking care of it, dusting it, and moving it; less money spent on acquiring it; and more time to pursue the only thing we can really take with us – relationships.
Am I going to “sell all that I have, and give to the poor” tomorrow? No, not bloody likely – I’m an addict and I know it. But I will be more careful in future, and will bend my will toward offloading as much of it as I can possibly bear to part with.
My thanks to Huang xiansheng for a wonderful glimpse into an unburdened life.
Read more and see more images at the BBC.
The Old Wolf has spoken.