I was reading a piece about an innovative home moving company where downsizing specialists help owners get rid of junk they’ve accumulated over the years. It’s incredible the variety of stuff we purchase – and never throw away. Eventually it becomes a physical load of such formidable proportion that sorting it out is always pushed back to a date, inevitably, very far from now. Of course the smart people know where they’re going to keep things before buying them. But most of us buy first and are then paralysed by the enormity of the task of making space, and decluttering.
I am not sentimental about acquisitions. I have happily given away my wedding finery and good books I’m unlikely to read again. Yet, till last year, I had an entire cupboard full of saris, the most cumbersome of clothing to store. And which, at least in my case, a dead loss since I almost never wear them. That also has something to do with the fact that my cupboard is so chaotic that it’s always a pleasant surprise to discover the sari, petticoat and blouse together in one place. In fact, for years I have chosen a sari to wear based only on if the accompanying paraphernalia is retrievable. I also had a large collection of hats, which I reluctantly disposed of after reaching the conclusion that if I want to dress like Lady Diana, I need to be living in the Buckingham Palace. I knew another clean-up was in order when I had a raging headache and couldn’t find a Disprin. The strip had disappeared into what my son calls my “drawer of doom”. At last sight, this wretched space was home to three mobile chargers, bits of old lace, business cards of random people, and an absolutely bewildering assortment of medicines.
The rule of thumb for having a wardrobe where you can actually find anything is: for every new garment you buy, an old one must be thrown out. But it’s a tough rule to stick to. Even though you may know intellectually that amassing great amounts of anything wastes time and energy and causes stress. And the buzz from a new purchase doesn’t give you lasting joy. But shopping is irresistible and in the moment, it’s hard to be wise. All studies on consumption and happiness suggest that people are happier when they spend money on experiences rather that goods. Ideally, I think it’s nice to spend on both. For the fashion conscious among us, it’s also about self-expression and giving up being stylish is simply not an option. So we stock that one pair of jeans that goes with one particular jacket for 365 days a year but wear it only twice. So be it. But with homes getting smaller and time getting shorter, hoarding can be painful and anxiety-provoking.
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The minimalist lifestyle, advocated by writer Joshua Becker (www.becomingminimalist.com) describes it as the intentional promotion of things we value and the removal of everything that distracts from it. It’s a good metaphor for every aspect of life, actually, if a little simplistic. The culture we live in actively encourages over-consumption. We’re on a treadmill hurtling towards newer, better, faster – and much, much more. There’s something to be said for the excitement we felt as children when anybody presented us “foreign chocolates”. It would be lovely to experience that kind of happiness from a purchase, all too rare now. The excess clutter in our lives makes us jaded, and in my case, my dusty acquisitions are giving me allergies. By all accounts, the purging of possessions is hugely liberating. I will get down to it, some fine day.