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.
You know you’re a minimalist when your eldest, in role play, says to your youngest, “Your baby stole one of my necklaces!” and you sit thinking, “Why do you have more than one?”
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.
We are experts in deciding what is worthy of our time as we watch online clips of Internet crazes, eccentric pets and strangers arguing. If we don’t get gratification within a few moments, we swipe on ruthlessly.
Yet we fail to realise the amount of time we waste, sacrificing the possibility of meaningful activity for these thoughtless pacifiers.
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?
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.
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.
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?
When it comes to things, decluttering is great, but it isn’t the focus. It’s a fleeting snapshot.
Knowing why we keep what we do, and how it enhances and enables more meaning in our lives, brings ongoing contentment.
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.