The tyranny of the minimum requirement

Last year, during my Year of Limited Purchases, I found myself exploring some related but nevertheless tangential issues.  For example, waste.  I expected that my Year of Efficient Eating would produce its share of new tangents, but I seem to have ended up back at waste.

I was watching Britain From Above on television.  There were so many people in such a small space and all needing the stuff that maintains their daily lives.  There was the image of delivery container stacked upon delivery container, along the runways of a disused airport, juxtaposed with the subsequent removal of garbage and waste.

Over the holiday break, I helped clean out a cupboard – a cup cupboard.  Sentimental cups were kept.  Recently used cups were kept.  Recently acquired cups as gifts were kept because, in time, some of these will join the ranks of sentimental or useful cups.   Fifteen minutes later, over half the cups were on their way to the second-hand shop.

What if all the stuff being delivered in Britain From Above was going into the cup cupboard, how do we work out the minimum requirement of cups and how often to buy new ones?  The obvious answer to the first part is “When the cupboard is full”, which is what prompted the recent clean out, but it then comes out of the cupboard and goes somewhere else.  The result is we don’t actually notice how full space is getting.  My niece, when she was so very young, once proclaimed “There’s no such place as away”.

So a more thoughtful answer could be that it depends on the number of people using the cup cupboard and how often someone is prepared to wash up dirty cups.

The answer to the second part – after you have set up house – is only when one breaks.  The difficulty is that people will give you things you wouldn’t buy yourself and your own tastes will change over time and a marketing campaign will convince you to buy better cups and one day you’ll be feeling down and a new cup will catch your eye in the shop window…