Claire Gardner: Inheritance? Plastic tat and debt

Claire Gardner. Picture: Ian Georgeson
Claire Gardner. Picture: Ian Georgeson
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ONCE we had wiped away the tears after my lovely granny died, the family ran around her house sticking labels on furniture and bits and pieces we wanted for ourselves.

My sister bagsied a fierce-looking portrait of our great-great-grandfather while my mother opted for an expensive- looking mahogany sideboard and some silver cutlery.

Cousins chose collectable china dolls and uncles and aunts raked through cupboards and jewellery boxes in the hopes of striking gold.

Then we started riffling through drawers and boxes and discovered some real gems – a dusty old record collection, wartime correspondence, stacks of faded old photographs and a wardrobe of exquisite silk dresses and scarves, lovingly collected over many years.

And the more we delved into cupboards and discovered mounds and mounds of trinkets and blankets and books and toys, it became clear that granny had never thrown anything out – ever.

That was 20 years ago – but what is still clear today is that the compulsion to hoard belongings is still as strong.

A recent survey discovered that on average we have a rather impressive £1,000 worth of unused clutter. Clothes, books and shoes are among the top items we insist on hoarding.

According to the research a third of Britons are guilty of keeping outdated technology such as old VHS and tape cassettes.

And the reason many of us keep a stash of stuff under our bed or in the attic is sentimental value and the conviction that we might well need it again.

Well, this might be true – what with Chancellor George Osborne having just delivered another austerity budget – it appears that many of us are hardening our hearts and flogging our precious clutter for cold hard cash.

Yes, in these tough times the selling and buying of second hand bootie is on the up. Re-cycling, Up-cycling (restoring or refurbishing old items) and even cycling rather than driving to save a few pennies, is on the rise.

Internet companies such as Gumtree, which allows people to sell second hand goods online, and Freecycle, where you can advertise free items you are happy to give away, have reported a huge increase in users looking for a bargain.

And determined not to miss out on this cut-price market place, I recently decided to give it a go.

I was on the hunt for a bike as a birthday present for my nearly ten-year old son.

Having been told that a brand new set of wheels would set me back a tidy £250, I decided a second hand gift would definitely be best. So I searched online and quickly found a suitable candidate in Edinburgh for the appealing price of £40.

The next bit felt a bit like organising a blind date.

I e-mailed the seller: “I like the look of your bike – tell me more.”

He got back: “16 inch frame, in fine condition.”

Then came the intimate name and address-swapping bit.

So I found myself knocking on Dan’s door – having left his address and mobile with a friend – just in case Dan turned out to be a bit dodgy.

£40 and a quick test cycle later I was popping my bargain bike in the boot of my car – and that was that. Happy days.

Inspired by this brand new world of buying and selling, I started to cast my eyes around our house looking for stuff I could flog on-line to see if the survey that claimed we were sitting on an average of £1,000 worth of clutter was true.

Now I don’t know who the researchers asked – but they certainly must have been a minted bunch.

The sum total of our “treasure chest” was a few knackered old bikes, a bunch of scratched CDs and some utterly worthless plastic kids’ toys worth the grand total of about £50.

Hardly worth the hassle of advertising online then having a bunch of strangers turning up at your door.

So having got over the fact that I wasn’t going to make my fortune from the tat in the garage, I did start thinking about the quality of our belongings.

Like most families these days, Ikea flat pack furniture rules in our house– and there’s not an expensive mahogany sideboard to be seen.

The solid silver cutlery that my granny’s generation enjoyed has been replaced by cheap alternatives.

There’s not a collectable china doll to be found in our house – just brightly coloured plastic junk.

No fierce looking portraits – just prints and posters.

Which does leave me wondering – when we all start popping our clogs – what on earth will we leave behind for the next generation – apart from debt.