OK. I admit it. There may just be one or two items I don’t really need in my flat. To be honest, subtle hints have been dropped by visitors from time to time. Do you really need so many books? So, how long is it going to take to knit up all that wool? Mum, you’ve got too much stuff. Maybe subtle wasn’t the right adjective …
As I keep telling people, if I had a normal-sized house, none of this would be a problem. But the truth is, I live in a one-bedroom flat, and not a very big one. Were it not for the hall cupboard my living room would look like something out of The Hoarder Next Door. As it is, most of the contents of said cupboard are inaccessible. Who knows what might be skulking in the dark recesses? My daughter called me this afternoon to ask if I had a saw, and I had to admit I didn’t know. If I’m honest, it would have taken me several hours to find out. I rest my case m’lud.
I could come up with any number of excellent explanations for my behaviour. After all, I was born less than ten years after the end of the war. There were shortages back then, and nobody got rid of anything. It might come in handy. I was brought up to be frugal. Repair. Re-use. Recycle. Don’t throw it out. Fix it. And it’s so much more eco-friendly … I’ve no doubt this principle can work. But there are limits. One friend recently unearthed two tins of wartime powdered eggs in the back of her mother’s larder. Another’s grandmother kept a hoard of twenty-year-old loose tea ‘in case of emergencies’. It would have created a few emergencies of its own if anyone had tried drinking it. Yet another remembers how his mother used to iron and fold paper bags before adding them to her stash. My own parents had so many empty ice cream tubs in the garage they had to park the car on the driveway.
It’s OK. I haven’t reached that stage. Yet. The difference is most of my stuff is useful, you see. I’m actually going to wear all those trousers some day. No, really I am. I just need to lose a few pounds … And the carrier bags? Well, I can’t just throw them away can I? I mean they’d only end up in a landfill somewhere. Anyway I’m going to use them. Every last one. Honest. You’re not buying it are you? Neither am I.
I’ve been doing a lot of research online since the blog started. Did you know you can hoard electronically these days? Over the past few weeks I’ve built up such a collection of bookmarked web pages it’s becoming hard to find anything I actually want to read in the midst of it. Be that as it may, there’s some fascinating reading out there. Among the gems I’ve turned up by clicking on links is a book called Buddhist Boot Camp. Don’t worry, it’s not gathering dust. It’s on the Kindle. Yes, you can hoard on a Kindle too, but at least it doesn’t take up as much space … I’ve just started reading it. In a chapter called Less is More, the author talks about becoming minimalist. His dad once stayed a few weeks with him, to try to understand how he lived without the material clutter most of us believe we need. He ends the chapter with a quote from his dad. You don’t have anything, yet there is nothing missing from your life.
That grabbed my attention. I don’t consider myself particularly wealthy, and compared to most of my friends I’m not. But as I’ve already confessed, I do own an immense amount of ‘stuff’. Over the years I’ve come to take for granted things I couldn’t even have imagined in the past. The machine I’m working on now, for instance. I’ve begun to believe I need all those shoes. Clothes. Books. CDs. I’ve allowed myself to be influenced by a culture of materialism. There’s a sense that owning the latest gadget, the most beautiful dress, or the book everyone’s talking about will actually make me happy. I’ll be a better person. More attractive. Lovable. Socially acceptable. It’s a very subtle poison, that feeds on our discontent, luring us onward with vague promises. If onlies. Only to leave us disappointed, time and again.
Because let me tell you now, far from material bliss, I’ve ended up with a stack of obsolete belongings. They’re creeping out of cupboards and spilling across floors. They need to be to be folded, stacked, reorganised, dusted, washed and protected. They get in the way of everything I do. They absorb my time, energy and effort. Distract me. Disturb me. Draw my attention away from everything that makes life worth the living. I can stand that earlier quote on its head. I have everything, yet there is something fundamental missing from my life.
The theme of minimalism is not unique to Buddhism of course. It’s a thread that runs throughout spiritual thought. Jesus wouldn’t recognise the greed and materialism we take for granted. They have no connection with any of his teachings, much though we like to imagine that capitalism is somehow rooted in Christian values. The man who said sell your possessions and give to the poor has more in common with Buddhist Boot Camp than with our culture of accumulation.
So today’s post is by way of announcement that I want to do things differently. I’m trying to dance to a different drum. I want shift the stuff. Minimise. De-clutter. Simplify. Reconnect with the spiritual. It’s going to be a fight. I know that already. I’m going to need all the help I can get. But it’s going to be worth it. So if you’re reading this, please feel free to prod me. Remind me. Leave a comment on Facebook from time to time, asking how much stuff I’ve managed to get rid of. Or better still, share your own experience from the journey. Because there really is a better way.
Sell your possessions and give to the poor.
Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out,
a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted,
where no thief comes near and no moth destroys.
For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Luke 12 v 33-34
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