Use with joy. A brightly colored sticker on, of all things, a waste paper or trash container. In today’s world of too much of everything, we have containers for plastic, for glass, for organic, for paper, for just plain trash. It’s one way of trying to save the environment and is amazing how much we humans throw out. Especially, plastic and metal. So, we need the right kind of container for all this “stuff”. Most are relatively simple, keeping in mind that they can’t be tipped over with their insides scattered to the wind, or rummaged through by cats and dogs.
I’ve frequently wondered though what the person who designed my waste paper canisters, or put the sticker on, was like. The concept puzzles me. For on these black rather streamlined containers with a swivel top (can’t think of the right word in English but the Italian “basculante” pops up), there is a large sticker, saying Use with joy. I never thought of using a waste paper basket with joy. Although I suppose if I were a fan of Marie Kondo, who tells us to discard anything that does not spark joy, I would understand. Could she have been the designer? Not that I feel a surge of joy every time I consign a piece of paper to its black innards. Among other things, I don’t agree with Marie Kondo. True, I have too many things littering my living space. But then one never knows when they might be useful. I just hate to throw things away. As evidently do my sons, and as was also true of my parents and in-laws. For which one is of course grateful for it is family history. Many of the items collected over the years would fall into the category of “useless”. A notebook with at least a dozen blank pages, an empty jam jar, a special Christmas card, ribbons from a gift. Things, but are they really useless? A thing is just a a thing, muses Count Rostov when he is forced to move from a suite into a servant’s room on the top floor of the Hotel in Moscow and say adieu to his family heirlooms. But then is a thing just a thing?
That jar… those ribbons, they could be replaced. But then they wouldn’t be the same. That specific jar once held raspberry jam, which takes me back to the raspberries I used to pick on the farm over seventy years ago, the ribbons were from Christmas presents perhaps three years ago when friends now on the other side of the globe were with us. True, none of these give me a surge of joy when I use them, but they are tied in with my past. Nostalgia if you like. Which is why I disagree with Amor Towles/Count Rostov that a thing is just a thing. But of course a thing is NOT just a thing. Or perhaps, we can say it is and it isn’t. Physically, it is. But a thing has a soul and that remains. It is ineluctably part of the thing but at the same time part of us. Of course in order to survive and not recriminate the past, the Count had to relegate things to a past and close the door. Opening it occasionally, but with equanimity, without regrets. To the contrary. With joy for what was. A life must be lived and that can only be done by not dwelling on yesterday but by seeing what today holds, how we can make the most of today. Of course there’s no way we can eliminate that past for it is who we are. It is our relationship with the thing and therefore with past time that matters.
Still, I am puzzled by the Use with joy sticker and can’t help wondering whose idea it was to put it on a waste-paper container.