So, this weekend we moved. Our new place is amazing and we love it. We do not love moving, however, which is unfortunate given this is the third time we have done it in four years, this time as a family of three. We always end up moving in proximity to Easter, and I have to admit I like the whole rebirth symbolism. And in truth, some parts of moving, and more importantly, unpacking, are bearable. Kitchen stuff, living room, bedrooms, electronics, baby stuff – all manageable in my book. Clothes are a bit more tedious. The part that I find excruciating, though, is everything associated with what in our household is euphemistically called “the computer room.”
Maybe you too have a “computer room.” It may be a garage, or a shed, or a basement. For us it was always the extra third bedroom. Now that the third bedroom is being occupied by a small human, I thought we may be forced to finally confront the computer room. But no, we have managed to obtain a house with a fourth bedroom so the computer room remains in its maddening, hoarder’s glory.
The computer room is for all the stuff we never use but for some reason persist in hauling throughout Western Australia. Paperwork from the last 11 years that I doubt we would need even for a tax audit. A sports bag bulging full of cords and chargers for various electronic gadgets that are lost, broken, or superfluous, like my digital camera from 2005 that probably has a quarter of the megapixels that my current phone does. The metal detector my husband bought in 2014 that we have never used. (I know we’ll use it one day, babe!) Some leftover decorations from the Mexican fiesta we threw three years ago. You get the picture. Mostly junk, detritus, crap, and in some cases perfectly serviceable items (hello metal detector!) that we just don’t need. And all that stuff? One glance at it and I feel weighted down, embarrassed and slightly ill, as though I am the epitome of First World excess because I have five bottles of sunscreen.
I know minimalism is kind of a thing right now, but you guys? At heart, I have always been a minimalist. You know those rooms in design magazines with shelves devoid of all items except an artfully placed terrarium? I would love to live in one of those rooms. I despise tchotkes and knick knacks and genuinely enjoyed living out of a backpack for a year. So having all this useless stuff, this computer room, feels like a betrayal of my essential nature. And I can try to blame my husband, who never met an object he couldn’t display somewhere, but the fact is I am complicit in the mass consumption our culture engages in.
An increasing amount of research and literature draws the conclusion that stuff doesn’t really make us happy. A psychology professor from Knox College, Tim Kasser, has spent 25 years studying the relationship between materialism and well being, and demonstrated that people who are more materialistic are less satisfied with their lives, more depressed and anxious, less likely to experience positive emotions and more likely to use mood altering substances. Another psychology professor, Thomas Gilovich from Cornell University, chalks this up to ‘adaptation’ — meaning that while we initially receive a happiness boost from a new purchase, we soon get used to it and our level of satisfaction derived from the item goes down. The key to lasting happiness, his research has found, is to invest in experiences — travel, hobbies, time with friends and family, as our satisfaction with the memories of these things actually increases over time.
In addition to the research based evidence, there are growing number of memoirs/self help books written by people who jettisoned status and possessions, improved their lives and became famous writing about it. The More of Less by Joshua Becker and Minimalism: Live a Meaningful Life by Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus, the guys behind theminimalists.com are a couple examples of this.
Knowing all this, I figure now, a fresh start in a fresh house, is as good a time as any to redouble my efforts against conspicuous consumption. However there is one stumbling block I foresee with this plan coming to fruition – we recently had a baby. And babies are notorious for accumulating stuff. I have said before that I’m not going to give in to the kiddie clutter and my child is going to play with rocks and sticks in the backyard, damnit. But deep down I know that’s not realistic as I already feel bad she doesn’t have many toys, despite the fact that she can’t really grasp objects or fully hold her head up yet. So I acknowledge that if I am going to start with small changes, I will need to look elsewhere.
When you’re unpacking the boxes of your life, it becomes glaringly apparent whether you have too much, too little, or just the right amount of something. What I realised this weekend is that I have way too many clothes.
Now, I enjoy shopping, but I really don’t do it that often. I feel like on the shopping continuum I’m in the middle between my sister, who is on the ‘what a cute cardigan, I’ll buy one in every colour’ end and my mom, who is on the ‘these khaki shorts from 1995 still have plenty of wear in them’ end. So, in the words of the Talking Heads, how did I get here?
Well, I’ve been lucky to remain pretty much the same size since puberty, so I tend to keep what I buy until it literally falls apart, as evidenced by the fact that I still have a few shirts from high school in my closet. Good thing too, as that late 90s fashion is so on trend! Also, the majority of my clothes come from op shops (thrift stores for the Americans). This is because I’m sort of cheap and I like lessening my environmental impact in the world of disposable fashion, but most of all because I love the treasure hunting aspect of thrift shopping. When I graduated from uni, I made my beer money by buying lightly used designer clothes and cool vintage pieces from op shops and reselling them on eBay. I would probably still be doing this if I lived in a town with more than two op shops … and if I didn’t keep all the stuff I find in them. This is probably the main cause of the ‘too many clothes’ situation. When you’re spending $2 on a shirt, why not buy 7? Do this for a number of years and only get rid of a fraction and you end up with a lot.
I’m also a holiday and special event buyer. I bulk buy clothes on holiday, unable to resist the siren song of all the shops we don’t have in our small town. And whenever I’m attending a special event, like a wedding or a race day, I will buy a new dress, which will then sit in the back of the closet until the next time there’s a special event, for which I will buy a new dress, and the cycle continues.
So, to help balance out the increased consumption that comes with having a baby, and as a small start towards a more minimalistic life, I have decided that for the rest of 2017, I am going to set the goal of not buying any clothes — not even from op shops! I am going to allow myself socks and underwear, if needed, and one pair of bathers (I live in the tropics where they are pretty much everyday apparel, and they wear out pretty quickly), but that’s it. I really don’t know how hard this will be, but I plan to use this space to talk about the experience.
I’m also going to clean out the computer room, donate anything I can and throw out anything that is no longer serving us. Somehow I think confronting the clutter demon (and getting my husband to agree on what to keep and what to toss) will be more difficult than giving up clothes shopping, but you know what they say about a journey of a thousand miles….