Adieu to the Agony Aunt

The word ‘magazine’ conjures up a love/hate relationship for me, more on the side of emotional torment and felled trees and propaganda these days, rather than the love and dedication I once showed my favourite publications. Magazines have been marketed toward women for a long time. In Australia, the Australian Women’s Weekly is an 80 year old bible for mature women everywhere. Other magazines didn’t come along until much, much later. In my house growing up there was always the AWW and the two tabloids, New Idea and Woman’s Day. As a major novel reader, glossy magazines were like lunchtime fodder to me, and I would flip through them regularly. I’m not sure when the music magazines like Smash Hits and then TV Hits began appearing, maybe at age 9 or 10, but suffice to say, there were a lot of magazines around me. Probably partly because my friend’s dad owned the newsagency we stopped at every day after school.

Building a mountain

My earliest memories of reading magazines involved things like horoscopes, regular columns and song lyrics. I definitely collected wall posters from their centrefolds. Those along with the song lyrics comprise part of the earliest evidence of my ‘snippets’ from magazines. Unfortunately, over a space of around three decades, a mountain of magazine paper grew in my storage, for no reasons other than memory collecting, references to information and inspiration. When a pile of papers takes that long to build, eradicating them becomes a long, drawn-out journey. Hence the love/hate relationship.

I’m not sure why I started to pull things out of magazines. My best guess is because my mum always told me the story of collecting and collating in a nice folder, news articles about her favourite musicians and movie stars, and as a teenager her own mum threw it out without asking her, and it caused her great hurt and long-lasting devastation. To me, in typical twisted child interpretation, it showed me that a) that was what you did, and b) my collection would be safe because my mum would never do the same to her own child. To look at the oldest of my magazine articles and cutouts, there is that similar pattern: favourite song lyrics and articles about favourite tv stars or shows, movie stars and singers.

As I reached my older teenage years, my tastes developed into young girls’ magazines and then later into women’s magazines for twenty-somethings, with occasional intellectual magazines and a good helping of gossip magazines when I lived in the States and got sucked into the tabloid machine. As I moved into this cycle, I still collected some profiles on favourite people, but by and large, these magazines became my how-to guides for learning how to live a life ‘every woman should’ as dictated to me by the editors, writers and advertisers behind these pages. Every category was covered, from renting and share-housing, career, money, beauty tips, to men, relationships, raising families. Feature articles that profiled real life people won my heart too. I would say I got in a habit of picking up magazines every week or month throughout most of my nanny career, largely because I lost the ability to read and sink my proverbial teeth into novels – I was too tired at the end of the day, while magazines provided an easy downtime that I could flip through in five minutes or read from cover to cover in an hour before heading for bed. Maybe that’s why women are targeted so frequently by magazines – in our roles as partners, mothers and family-makers, magazines are all we have time to read usually.

In full environmental exploitation mixed with dedication to the cause, my collection was partly stored in maybe four or five large ring binders, filled with hundreds of plastic sleeves containing little and big articles stuck to paper, to show it off beautifully – in addition to all the loose leaves of tear-outs everywhere. One was just dedicated to a single home and lifestyle magazine and all the inspiration I got from different homes and décor; funny given as an adult I’ve never really had a home of my own to decorate as I had originally been inspired to, and now I know the shape of a home I’m after is completely different to those stuck in that folder.

Wind change

The amount of stuff I collected was abnormal I think. Not only did I have containers of articles that stayed in storage over the years, I also shipped home from the Bahamas a very heavy load of more paper. Paper that should have gone out with the garbage! Yet my return to Australia was the big wake-up call I needed.

  • As an unemployed student, magazines changed to a luxury I could do without, and much more expensive than they are internationally, around triple the price.
  • I didn’t have time to read them anymore, I had to read academic articles instead.
  • I had my ‘back catalogue’ of articles to fill the void.
  • New technologies meant that more information became available on the internet, on laptops and then smart phones.
  • My tastes began to change – for a while I would follow a couple of tabloid websites, but I started to notice the media’s focus on beauty and size and other superficial things and lost interest and didn’t want to subscribe to that.
  • Put together, I could see just how much paper I’d accumulated, and I didn’t want to add any more.

Lo and behold the decluttering started as I began studying at university. I allowed my stacks of paper to be my downtime activity, but also a clean-up act. As I organised them into the sorts of categories listed above, I was shocked by the futility of my piles. I had no attachment to or use for 1980s song lyrics. The pile of posters went to recycling. Articles about favourite tv stars by and large turned out to be a lot of tabloid fodder rather than direct interviews. Fashion articles and book/film reviews were outdated. That was a lot of paper to disconnect from in an instant. I only wish I had taken a ‘before’ photo. Yet as I moved into the category piles, I started to learn a valuable lesson.

Life is a learning journey. In your teens and twenties, there is so much to experience and learn through mistakes, trials and errors. To learn from family, friends, travel, media, the internet, yourself. Magazines can provide a certain amount of guidance when you are young, but the older you get, the fewer lessons you need. You earn your self-confidence, your wisdom.

The turned tide

One by one I have browsed through my articles by category and scanned a handful of useful articles onto my hard drive and bid the paper version adieu. I have an e-magazine folder featuring my treasured categories, but by and large the content features the most articles on sustainable home ideas and vision-board or Pinterest type visuals – things that I like and might want to refer to one day but not for now. I have a folder in there for recipes, subdivided into easy markers like desserts, portable snacks. A few articles on money management or general career tips or home remedies. What has emerged from this is the theme of timelessness. Things that could have been told to me by my grandmother, or my parents. I’m content to keep these for referral, tucked away in a cosy corner of my hard drive, out of sight but easily accessible from any corner of the globe.

The final point to raise about magazines that I have noticed over years of reading and collecting: propaganda. Look carefully at magazines and you can see a theme of consumption promotion, a cog in the wheel of the never ending cycle of product pushing. The simple components of any women’s magazine are, features, fashion, beauty, travel, recipes, books and films and other ‘what’s new’ pieces, columns, agony aunts, and not forgetting, advertisements, classifieds and ‘promotional articles’, which look like articles but are written by the company rather than the magazine. Other non-women’s magazines I have read have similar sections. Looking objectively, it’s a lot of space and opportunity for a magazine to push an agenda or allow advertisers or sponsors to pay them to do so. Here’s where the following image spotted on social media this year rang a bell.magazine I recall early on in my twenties, enjoying a new magazine but not feeling like it was relevant to me; I didn’t have the office job or the place of my own or the boyfriend or the busy dating life of a ‘normal’ single girl. I didn’t have body hang-ups or weight issues or subscribe to fashion trends. Then I went to Sydney for a holiday, and I distinctly recall feeling over several days there, that magazines were targeted toward big city women, who were caught up in that ‘rat race lifestyle’. Everything made sense. Did I stop reading magazines then? No. Was I more aware of the propaganda? Not really. Even abroad, let’s say when I moved to the Bahamas, I looked to magazines to tell me which summer beauty products would be the best or most useful while I lived there, far easier than picking for myself from the sea of products in a store. I think that is where magazines really show their biggest advantage – they are quick and easy to read, and can show busy women and mothers what’s out there in the wide consumerist market so we can save time and just find what we like among the glossy pages and go out and find that product, rather than take the time for ourselves in the stores. A consumeristic push, but one that works as a win-win for both publisher and reader. Unless of course, like me and most minimalists, you see through it and/or think differently.

Today, as I said, I sit more firmly at the hate end of my love/hate relationship with magazines. I acknowledge they served a guiding and inspirational purpose in my youth, and allowed me to get to know favourite celebrities better. There are certain nostalgic elements to holding onto older articles, but I have found far more beneficial to me personally are the American People’s special edition issues, the 1980s and the 1990s – even though they cover Americana rather than Australian history, there is enough nostalgia in there to allow me to value and read them occasionally as keepsakes, and throw the rest away. Move on.

I no longer buy magazines; last year when I was in England I bought my favourite magazine of all and it took me months to find the time and interest to read it; my most recent trip there I resisted any urge, knowing it would be a waste of space and time. My mum still buys her favourite glossies and if I’m bored and visiting I might flick through them, but they confirm for me that I’m happy not to buy and read them. I know if I ever needed to, I could read them in my local Australian library anyway. As best as I can recall, I am down to a small concertina file of articles divided into categories. In my next trip home I think I could do away with them in few hours of reading, reflection and recycling. I do like to give each one a little bit of attention before doing away with it; maybe it’s my hoarding nature. I feel like if I gave it value in the first place, and paid to keep it as part of my storage all these years, the least I can do is check its validity, accept closure on that piece and say my goodbye. It’s one of my success stories in my decluttering journey I think, certainly one of the most time consuming. Adieu, Agony Aunts everywhere. I’m happy with my life’s journey and you no longer play a part in it.

2 thoughts on “Adieu to the Agony Aunt

  1. Oddly enough as I have decluttered I have discovered magazines! However, I have discovered the unusual independent magazines and magazines dedicated to a particular interest. My favourites are Womankind, Happinez and Selvedge (fabric and stitching), and every now and then I buy New Philosopher when they are covering a topic of interest.

    I think as I got rid of unnecessary stuff I also got rid of unnecessary reading habits and discovered the space for more interesting ones. I tend to keep the magazines for a few months or so and then pass them on to others with similar interests. The subjects are timeless so you can easily read an issue that is several years old and it is still relevant.

    What they all have in common is that they are not glossy. Seriously, they are all printed on thick matt paper. I like that!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks for your comment Gillie.

    I hope that one day I can find interest in the right sort of reading material again. Right now I am trying to get through some books instead, but every so often I’ll be in a store and see a more intriguing magazine and think about buying, but these are political/current affairs and around $20, so I remind myself I should look them up online and see what I can read there instead. One day I’ll be invested enough to remember and actually do something about it.

    I’m glad to hear you find new joy in your magazines. Enjoy your reading!


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