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?”
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.
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.
A core tenet of living a meaningful life is contributing to others. Not only does it benefit them, but us too. The more we are focused on helping others, the less time we have to focus on our wants (which so often become regrets), and the Devil makes work for idle hands…
Inspired by a recent poster’s suggestion that the everyday phrase ‘collect them all,’ “gave them the shivers,” I explore these three words which embody the thoughtlessly-excessive mindset cultivated by brands and perpetuated by the folk that buy them.
Following the Industrial Revolution, costs of production fell with more efficient methods of manufacture, and the advent of cheaper, lower-skilled labour. By the time of the Great Depression, over-supply had been a significant problem facing society and the birth of the throwaway age was born. To use that produced, we would have seasons of fashion, such that even if the car or skirt still performed its function, it would be discarded as owners wanted something newer. Keeping up with the Joneses in full swing, product quality began to dip to encourage rapid consumption and replacement.
Collect them all is the legacy of this movement. Rolling off the tongue easily, accompanied (in my head at least) by Tony the Tiger’s enthusiastic tones, it enters through the back door of the mind – without the slower-thinking frontal lobe having the opportunity to assess the toxic consequences its acceptance entails.
From attempting (and never quite managing) to collect them all in my younger days, I’m attuned to the onerous obligation undertaken by the would-be collector. How many times have I wasted money and attentional energy in buying a packet of stickers or box of cereal in the aim of getting something new? Not too many more than the number of times I felt a crushing disappointment (remember, I was young!) in unpacking a(nother) duplicate. At what point do you realise the expenditure of additional resources is an exercise in futility?
Often when people find themselves in debt – and I’ve been there, I assure you – it is the little day to day purchases that take their toll. Tiny, repeated, bad habits of over-expenditure and unthinking consumption, day in, day out, produce mountains over time. We can shift them, but it is never easy.
Advertising’s tripartite phrase is the industrial capitalist’s utopia, encouraging us to buy things we don’t need, things we probably already have – under the illusion that we’ll use them all up and it will be okay. It makes sense; there’s no additional cost, right? In reality, our minds are so programmed to chase materialist novelty that a new thing comes along, persuading us to part with our hard-earned cash and relegating our part collections to needle-in-a-haystack-flea-market-tat, if not the bin, let alone a stressful I’m-going-to-complete-that-one-day-display positioned alongside all the others. We end up with more than we can use, adding to a culture of excess, and, doubtless where novelties from food purchases arise, the obesity problem.
The choices thus far have been shown to affect us as purchasers, and us alone. There is a wider impact, that on the environment. 99% of the things we use involve the production of waste: effluent from factories, harmful pesticides and landfill, in varying ratios. As an advocate for minimising waste responsibly, the amount of resources caught up in frivolous, unnecessary purchases is scarcely imaginable. And even if it is recyclable, because of the manufacturing waste and the transportation pollution, recycling will never be better than not using resources in meaningless ways in the first place.
The movement is long underway – if you’re reading this, you’re probably a part of it – to extract maximum value from our resources, to determine expenditures which will maximise joy, purpose, or both. Increasingly these arrive in the form of experiences. It is my hope that over time ideas such as ‘collect them all’ will be relegated to the scrap yard, first as unnecessary, and, finally in their resting place as parodies of an archaic system in which consumption appeared compulsory.
There is never enough joy to counterbalance the loss of freedom created by debt. Save the old-fashioned way, and you may find that having worked for the money in advance, you choose the money instead.