Sunday, 7 June 2015

The Clutter Affair

There are so many things that have gotten me to sit in front of this computer and talk about my stuff. Between moving house, going to New York and living in a tiny apartment for almost two months, seeing wonderful art, wanting to buy a house in the near future, having conversations about how little I need to live healthfully and realizing why I had held on to an unfinished book for almost 4 years, I could find no more excuses to hold on to things as a way of thinking I had a life.  Ooh yes. Things made me feel I had a life.

I went to the extreme and Googled hoarding disorders because that was the only starting point that I had. Disclaimer: I'm no expert so don’t sue me later for these written words. This is what I found:

  • Hoarders have a persistent inability to part with possessions, regardless of value, and have an excessive attachment to them even if they’re trash or worthless. (I'm not excessively attached to things, am I?
  • Things can be a reminder of happier times, new pleasant experiences, or as a representation of a loved one. (I may have kept only a few things because of this reason, right?)
  • Hoarding or cluttering can also negatively affect one’s mental and emotional well-being as well as their ability carry everyday tasks. (Doesn't fully fit the bill but I'll get into more detail in later posts.)

Ok, there are other characteristics that tell me I'm not a hoarder. I'm still able to use my living spaces, have a fairly high standard of hygiene and my procrastination and distress have been mostly due to uni and my job, not from stuff. Thankfully, I don’t need an intervention. However, I'm still left thinking, where did this need to get rid of stuff when I'm obviously still attached to it come from?

The little hoarder in all of us hangs onto things because we think it give us status, we will get it repaired someday, it reminded us of our first kiss/job/meaningful moment, it was too expensive or too much of a bargain to throw away, it is part of who we are, it needs to be used at least once, it makes a home, the ad told me I needed it in my life, etc.  

I’m holding onto all this physical baggage for emotional, social and made-up-in-my-head reasons. I fastened myself to my things because they made me feel safe, accepted and allowed me to reminisce. I now feel dragged down, overwhelmed and financially disadvantaged (i.e. poor) thinking about the stuff that I have displayed and those things that I have ‘organised’ in various spaces around the house that I don’t really need. I don’t want to be defined by the things that I own anymore.

I was gonna write a fairly detailed account of why I've started to write this blog but when I started I realised I’d end up writing 25,000 words on the subject and it’d get really boring for an introductory post. I need to hook you up first then bombard you with long posts. Instead, I'll mention the three things that made me say enough. The rest will come in future posts. Yeah, that might work.

1.  The emotional decluttering

We've all done decluttering at some point or another in our lives, right? My early memories of it consist of having to choose which toys to keep from the box they were kept in. It was an unpleasant experience partly because they were things I enjoyed and, at age 4, I wasn't really aware of the concept of owning something for a long period of time. The other part involved how distressed my mother seemed at the time. Surely there were other things happening that made her feel like that so I can assume the decluttering was a result of. This would happen every few years and it went from toys to clothing to household items, but never books. Getting rid of unnecessary stuff was not a pleasant experience. I don’t think I ever really did any decluttering when I moved out on my own, thinking that I had little or I used all my stuff.

Fondly remember puppets like these that we had to throw out
because 'we hadn't used them'. But they were so much fun...
Then came the time last year that I went to a bible study about Christian appearance. There was talk about the need for a Christian to be modest in the way they dress and present themselves. Instead of letting the world judge you by the way you look, you should rely on your presence and Jesus to make an impact on people’s lives. After about an hour of discussion, tears and the realisation that I didn’t need jewellery or my beloved foundation to make me feel good about myself, I went home and threw out a heap of stuff. Correctors, powders and that half used bottle of foundation went into the bin. To a point it felt liberating but I made a quick calculation of how much money went into the bin and let’s say I wasn’t particularly impressed with myself. Decluttering was not a happy experience yet.

In the following weeks, after I was only using mascara and the occasional lip colour, I started getting compliments on how healthy my skin looked. What?! I’ve been told all my life that without makeup I’d look terrible yet there were people saying I looked fresh sans the one thing I valued and invested quite a bit of money and time in. Could having less make me live better? Could my ideas about what is worth my effort and energy change?

2.  The New York experience

Beautiful New York, some people say otherwise but this is my blog...

Ooh, New York. Bustling, loud, bright New York. The city that changed a lot of those ideas that I didn't even know needed changing. I could go on and on about how amazing that trip was for me but then again, I'm gonna keep it short and relevant.

I lived in this 2-bedroom, 46m2 apartment in the Williamsburg/Bushwick area neighbourhood of Brooklyn for almost two months. I had a bed, a desk and a place to put my clothes, the unit had a fully functioning kitchen, a dining table and a bathroom complete with a bathtub and a sink not over the toilet (apparently a luxury in some parts of NYC). The permanent tenants were a girl from interstate and her cat. She made that place look so incredibly homely with minimal stuff. She had enough cooking equipment to prepare most things, a place to sit down in front of a computer and/or eat, a hallway to store some books, iron, vacuum cleaner, etc. She had enough things to have people over. Did the amounts of things she owned interfere with a fulfilling way of life? Apparently not. Hers wasn't the only place I got to visit in that vibrant city and most people, most of them of modest means, seemed to have no issue with their little spaces and their adequate amount of stuff. I’ve grown around houses where the more stuff and space you have the better and more functional, but this girl and city were disproving the expectations I had.

Then this happened. I was lucky to come across this photograph, which was part of an exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum that sums up the feelings that I didn't know I was starting to have.

Marry Mattingly: Pull 2013
I can’t find the explanation from the author about this particular piece but from  what I remember and have gathered from the collection, she wanted to show how we allow ourselves to be dragged down by everyday stuff. We focus on saving it, adding more, guarding so nothing happens to it and obsess about upgrading it without knowing where it comes from or how it is really affecting us in a holistic way. Bing! I want more of this radical thinking.

I fell in love with the idea of letting go of things and having less. But it also came to a time when the city offered endless shopping and overweight baggage wasn't too expensive, I couldn't resist but get more and more. The thought in my brain hadn't quite reached my limbs. *cough* sounds like excuses *cough*.

3.  The untouched book

If having to pay $100’s to transport stuff that I didn't really need didn't stop me from getting more stuff, the realisation that I hadn't finished a book because I had held on to my emotional past finally did it. In an ‘Oh no, I can’t be that person’ sort of way.

This book may have its own post because it had some heavy realisations for me but for the third time, I’m gonna do a tidy, to-the-point version.

After I came back from New York, I knew I didn’t feel the need to buy anything anymore. I had enough clothes, make up, books, resources to live for a few decades and knew that acquiring things had a very short happiness span. I wanted to spend my money and effort in travel and adventures. I wanted to experience the world not buy it. I had conversations with friends about it as I just found a new life motto. My money and effort would be spent on things that involved others and not just myself.

Then I moved house, I didn't think I had a lot of stuff and because I moved a few boxes at the time, I didn’t actually see how much I had accumulated in a few years of being in the same place. ‘I'm only moving what I need and the things that I really want.’ I thought.

Well, was I wrong? The whole declutter thing came into my mind constantly but when I glanced at my bookshelf and saw ‘The Address Book’, a memoir of the homes of 70’s Australian performer Jane Clifton, I knew it was time to get those limbs into action. I realised I had kept that book because it represented a romantic relationship, which I didn't want to end but inevitably did. I started reading this book a couple of weeks into the relationship and never read the last 50 pages or so because I figured if I finished reading the book, the very little I had left of the liaison would be gone too. Talk about not letting go and, wait, what was the second point about hoarding that I mention at the beginning of the post? The book became part of my bookshelf so it stayed there, not being read or being loved by anyone. It stayed there as a reminder of something past. I don’t want that book to remind me of that relationship because I’m well and truly over it (not lying to myself or others in this one) and because it is a good book in its own merits. It needs to be read by other people. I want to pass it on and I also want to be free and make room for new things. If this is one of the things I noticed, I want to see how much other stuff I’m holding on and for what reasons.

I want to experience the world and all of the things that it has to offer. Time for me to cut a rip on that bundle and let some stuff fall out. Life? Bring it on!

After pointing all the above out, I feel I need to say the following:

This blog is about my views and experience about trying to live a more fulfilling life through the use of less material things and decluttering. This is not a judgement of how other people live their lives and what they know fulfils them, whether it’d be a new TV to watch movies in or a bunch of pretty glasses to drink out of. We are all different, deal with situations in the best (or only) way we can, have distinctive priorities and appreciate life in various ways. This blog is my quest to answer the why. Why do I need to have that? Why did I find that comforting? Why and what do I give value to in my life? I’m writing this from the perspective of a late 20’s, single, employed woman. I can also recognise that my views will change when I move countries, have a better paying job or *gasp* be prepared to settle in one place later in life. There’s also the possibility that I might have to share spaces with another person...

Writing this blog doesn't mean I'm gonna get rid of all my possessions and gonna live in the bush and off the grid. Mostly because I do not have the monetary resources or skills to do that and because I still want to be surrounded by society and all the good things it can offer. I enjoy art, and let’s face it, art can produce a lot of ‘stuff’ in itself, I need a car to get to work and a phone to communicate with those around me, among many other things. I might even go shopping for superfluous items but the main question is why I am doing it. I believe self-awareness and action from such are two steps to actually make one free and fulfilled.

In a lighter note, if someone takes 5 minutes to read my posts and enjoys them/leaves them with food for thought, my purpose will be served. Yeah, ok. The stuff that I post may not be news or ground breaking for some people but consciousness and dialogue are always needed in this world, I believe. Please feel free to validate my views. :)

Finally, why The Clutter Affair as a name? Well, the obvious name of The Declutter Project was already taken in Blogger. I had to think of another name. I'm starting to feel constraint must be the mother of creativity. I chose the word affair because it would allow me to show the relationship I have with each thing and not just get rid of it, which was my original purpose for this blog. If this had just been a project, I’d probably just be taking pretty pictures of my rubbish and then chucking it out without much thought. A project would be like running away, an affair on the other hand... In an affair there are intense emotions, things you have to talk through, learn where you stand, experience it, wave it goodbye and be happy that it happened but know you can’t live with it any longer.

Am I making too much out of throwing shit out? Maybe, but at least I’ll have fun doing it.


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