Although I grew up hearing that a little and good is better than a lot and to throw away, one of the first things I did when I got my first salary was to go ripping off discount stores to renew my wardrobe. With that purchase, I thought I was stocked up for any occasion: office clothes, dresses for hypothetical events that never came, blouses for the summer, and sportswear in case one day I decided to do it. Of course, most of those clothes were almost always of poor quality and ended up in the trash the following season.
In her compilation of reflections, affiliations and phobias Agua y soap, the journalist Marta D. Riezu explains that the cultural origin of this trend is deeply rooted in our culture: “In Spain there is a true cult of the accumulation of bullshit, something logical in a country that has known misery. The opening of the ‘Todo a cien’ was our great leap forward towards that unknown: abundance. We went from having little and bad to having a lot and bad. Over the years something similar has happened to me with relationships—it’s better to have few good ones than infinite and superficial ones. For a long time I wanted to increase my social circles as much as possible, and accumulate friendships, love affairs and new acquaintances. The constant expansion seemed to me the most natural form of evolution, with the emotion before all those people that I still did not know. And although living in New York today, a city of endless renewal, feeds and satisfies that desire for novelty, I increasingly value relationships that survive vital cities, stages and moments.
I think of the message that Ana, my unconditional friend, sent me right after one of our last meetings, telling me that we’ve known each other for 25 years. On paper, we can’t have less in common at this stage of our lives. And yet, it is the ping-pong wall against which I bounce ideas, faithful adviser and at times historical memory. And although new friendships arrive, which arouse the emotion of being able to choose which version of myself I am going to be this time, there is something unique in caring for and sustaining something for so many years. The Anglo-Saxons, who always have expressions that sound right, call it quality over quantity.
In her manifesto How to Do Nothing, writer Jenny Odell explains that our idea of productivity is always linked to innovation. As a society, we don’t tend to view maintenance and caring for things as productive, the author writes. We live in a culture that pushes newness and growth over cyclicality or regeneration, and that makes us disdain anything that is not new. I am in the city that precisely represents constant mutation, that fascination with productivity that Odell fights against, where everything changes without ceasing. You blink and the neighborhood restaurant or the old laundromat on the corner have been demolished to make way for a luxury apartment building. But this mourning for all the things that won’t last makes me appreciate the things that miraculously do so much more. I recently went to a meeting and someone commented on the dress I was wearing, and I was amazed to say that I had bought it for my first book fair in Frankfurt, many years ago. And with that same surprise and vertigo I read Ana’s message again, thinking that I wish there were more garments and friendships that survive 25 years.