Why I Won’t Be Hitting the Diffusion Sale Next Year: My journey into minimalism

Year upon year, high-end fashion retailer, Diffusion, has a sale. Prices are slashed as the metaphor runs, by 30, then 50, and finally 70 percent. Every year I go in, every year I spend up to £500 and feel pleased with my bargains. Then buyer’s remorse hits. You might know it well. It’s when you suddenly realise you’d rather have the money than the things you bought with it. Diffusion has a seven day exchange only returns policy. When your money is spent, it’s spent. I’m left with nice clothes but a bitter aftertaste of regret, wondering why I’ve done it again. 

Last year, I discovered minimalism. At first I thought it was about having as little stuff as possible. Whilst the challenge excited me, it felt pretentious and hardly aspirational. Over time, I came to realise it’s about having the perfect amount of things, things that you love, untroubled by clutter that you don’t. Within a month, I cleared out perhaps 80% of my things, mostly books, clothes, CDs and items I thought were useful despite the fact they were never used. The weight lifted mentally was immense. No longer did I have all of these things adding stress, reminding me of the money I’d wasted, of the greed I’d been a part of, and of the unspoken obligation to use them when I didn’t want to. They added pressure, not enjoyment. I was free to enjoy the things I loved, like a husband who’s renewed his wedding vows. A declaration of love to my surviving things: if I could do it all again, I’d choose you.

Then came January. Diffusion slashed those prices and I found myself inside. I bought an Alpha Industries jacket, the style I’d wanted for ages, at a good price. I may have spent a little too long looking at alternates but the right decision was made in the end – I loved it, I loved how I looked in it and it added value to my life. Days later, I couldn’t help but pop back in. The jacket was reduced again, £28 cheaper. Me being me, I saw opportunity. Return it at the higher price, buy it again and have £28 credit to pick up a tee. I didn’t. I bought another two coats and the credit turned into a loss of around £200. I regretted this as I left the cash register and realised I’d done it again. 

I was fortunate. The prices at which I bought enabled me to sell the three items online and actually make a small profit. I no longer wanted any of them; my knowing this type of shopping made me unhappy and doing it anyway killed the buys and the experience for me. I wanted to wash my hands of it. 

And so this reminds me that minimalism is an ongoing ideal to aspire to. It isn’t easy, but when you get it right for that moment in time, it’s utterly wonderful. After a purge at the weekend, I lie on my couch looking at the intentional living I’ve created in my lounge, with the sun peeking behind the clouds and I can smile. I’m getting it right today. 

Why?

Why do we have 1 in 20 unemployed in the UK, vast swathes reliant on meagre benefits to survive and unprecedented inequality, with all the problems that entails?
When you posit the question that way, a considered answer requires an examination of our education system, of why minimum wage is below subsistence level for many, and of why we have a system of governance designed to protect the rich rather than enhance living standards for all.

A Memory of My Father

I haven’t seen my parents in eighteen months, though we exchange weekly messages. Both are well and happy. 

In March 2000, Dad and I attended a radio rally at Drayton Manor Park, and I had a horrible cold. I was out of tissue, and my dad went to the toilets to get some for me. 
I watched as he pulled off sheet after sheet after sheet – it must have been nearly half a roll – to get to the middle where it would definitely be clean and free of germs. 
That episode left a footprint on me as an unconscious signal of love and care, one that’s brought me much comfort down the years.

The Unwanted Transfer of Clutter

Recently, I had friends around, who saw my pile of things to donate/toss, amongst them, several books, a loo block, shoelaces and a blue plastic box. 
My friends pored through the items as if offered some sort of golden ticket. Could they have this; could they have that? Yes, of course! If I can pass anything on that’ll be of value, definitely. Even if I actually wanted it, if it was of more value to someone else, I’d seriously consider parting with it. 
But why did they want it? The plastic box: I know where my friend will keep it. I’m sure it’ll remain unused; a great just in case item; my friend has an extensive Tupperware collection. I know of its unhappy, unused existence, because I stopped using it around four months ago and only just discarded it. Should I have said no? That seems a little judgmental and controlling. Superimposing my values onto my friends is probably a great way to irritate them too. 
The shoelaces attracted my other friend, who’s to put them in his Adidas Superstars, a pair of clean, white laces to replace the clean, white laces. Those replaced would go into another pair, from there another pair, until the twin fogs of disinterest and disbelief had fully descended. 
So, the items went, yet I feel frustration at adding to clutter problems elsewhere, and in so doing, firstly, preventing a charity from making a little money, and secondly, making it from people who may have gotten more value from my discards – the opportunity cost of saying yes was the sacrifice of two meaningful ends. 
What do you do with your discarded items, if people want them, and you feel they will get no value from them?

The Compulsive Desperation for Debt

Recently, a friend complained about her credit card bill. Some of the items weren’t hers and her spending partner isn’t going to pay. What interested me more was why she had a credit card in the first place. She had the money to buy the perfumes in question many times over. 

Curious, I asked. “To keep a good credit rating.” Why? Mid-sixties, she’s a homeowner who doesn’t drive, has money and won’t need to guarantee any loans for others. What does her credit rating matter? 
Years back I had tens of thousands of debt, and a superb credit score. I always made my payments, extendable credit was always an option. Now – I have virtually none. Just a mortgage and the balance of my ultra low interest student loan. And… my credit score is now worse! Just think about that for a second; my situation is better but my score is worse. This is the clearest sign of the debt disease. 
The system needs you to be buying before you can afford it, paying exorbitant interest, to prop itself up. And when you start to feel uncomfortable, then comes the magical solution: one loan to consolidate all your other debts, with more interest to pay on that!  
My friend’s concern about credit scores reveals a compulsive, unthinking desperation for credit to be on tap, even when it’s unnecessary, and bad for us. 
There is no good debt. It obligates us to work jobs we don’t enjoy, missing time with our children, even to stay in bad relationships for fear of drowning alone – I spent five years in this one. 
If debt is a disease, health is found in understanding that we can live happier, freer lives without (an excess of) debt, because, simply put, we can. 

What I’ve Learned the Past Month

When pain becomes more constant, fear of anticipation goes, and everything starts to get better. For the first time in months, I’ve spoke with clarity and eaten sitting up/standing, at times. 

Helping others makes me feel better about myself, and the motivation can last longer than a few moments. It doesn’t have to be tied to a reward. I’ve contributed beyond myself in a way I never have before and my relationships have improved as a result. 
By the same token, if you completely ignore what you want, and spend no time focusing on it, you’ll feel deprived and can’t be the best version of yourself, in the best place to think about others. As is often said, there’s a reason why airlines tell passengers to fit their oxygen mask first before helping others. 
I’ve seen how much my oldest daughter is like me in her developing personality. I see my strengths in her, I see my weaknesses; I’m in the best position to help her to shape those, hopefully to avoid some of the mistakes I was unable to. 

The Detail of the Declutter

Last year, I went through my Agatha Christies, unsure why I loved half and cared nothing for the others. It wasn’t to do with the plots, it wasn’t whether I’d been immersed in a televisual adaptation. Finally, I realised, trivial as it may seem, it was the font. The ones I loved had a particular look and feel that the others didn’t. 

I accepted this, quite proud of how I’d drilled down to the detail, and the decluttering and donating continued, my Christie books half in number. 
What are some of the stranger factors that have helped you to keep or discard?

Why All-You-Can-Eat-Buffets (can) Suck

Over recent times, I’ve ruined several meals by overeating, when, according to the setup, you can’t overeat. 

There’s an impressive-sounding phenomenon known as the law of diminishing marginal utility (the first bite is awesome, every bite thereafter is a bit less pleasurable than the one before). When the law meets a desire to get maximum food for your money, what you’re left with is bloating and nausea, disappointment and regret. 
And none of it makes sense. I don’t go to a buffet because I’m starving and need to eat seven platefuls as if I’m giving up eating for Lent. If I was starving, I’d buy a couple of 50p loaves of bread and load up. 
It’s time evolutionary psychology – I better eat all I can as I don’t know when I’ll get to eat again – got to grips with our age of plenty. 
By not sabotaging the meal in a fit of greed, I can eliminate the superfluous. I can be more selective, I can enjoy a taste of different cuisines, in good company, and relax, having to neither cook nor clean. Increased intention unlocks the higher-grade experience.