The Bearable Lightness of Being Stuff-Free

It has become something of a cliche to bemoan the modern Western predilection for accumulating stuff. As Tyler Durden so eloquently puts it in Fight Club, ‘The things you own end up owning you’. As we move through our lives, settled in one place, we are destined to wake up one day and realise that we have a house crammed full of stuff and have little or no memory of how we managed to cram it. It’s just so damn easy to collect crap. Crap that is, for the most part, utterly useless.

Why not give yourself a little test, while we’re on the subject? Take a look around you now (assuming you are reading this at home, of course). How many of the possessions currently in your line-of-sight can you honestly say you couldn’t live without? How much of that stuff would derail your journey if it disappeared overnight? How much of it is really just dust fodder and easier to keep than it is to get rid of? And do you ever feel just a little claustrophobic, or even besieged in your own home? We are often the products of our environment, affected by the conditions around us even when we’re unaware of the influence. The more clutter we have, the more cluttered we feel, and it’s no coincidence that sometimes a good session of cleaning or tidying is extremely therapeutic to those feeling weighed down, depressed or otherwise stifled by life. Within and without are intrinsically linked, one drawing comfort or distress from the other.

But be warned, potential minimalists, nothing, and I mean NOTHING, illustrates to you how much stuff you’ve accumulated more than putting into action the decision to get rid of it all. When I decided to become a full-time house sitter, I didn’t live in a mansion, not by any stretch of the imagination. I had a very modest one-bedroom apartment. But what space I did have I had managed to garnish with generous portions of stuff. Some of it was untidy (okay, most of it) and some was ordered to anal degrees. As a lifelong movie buff, a fair amount of my stuff revolved around my passion; movie posters, movie figurines, movie books, movie magazines and, of course, actual movies. Nearly six hundred actual movies in one format or another. The bulk of these movies, naturally, I never watched. I just liked them enough to want to own them. Add to that a great pile of clothes I never wore, cupboards of kitchen utensils I never used, a futon I never sat on and various electronic devices I never switched on. My home was essentially a museum of unused things and I just hadn’t noticed.

As I discovered, however, just because you’ve decided you’re going to rid yourself of the things that sit in your home serving no real purpose, doesn’t mean it will be an easy task. It’s all fine and dandy to jump up one day and renounce stuff to raucous applause from the gallery, but then you actually have to face it, catalogue it and pass judgement on it. It can be a real eye-opener. And then a real eye-clencher while you pray to God to please just get rid of all this stuff for you. What makes it so tough is that stuff has a strange survival instinct. You won’t expect it, but stuff fights back. Stuff plays every mental trick in the book to make it onto the lifeboat. It reminds you who bought it for you, attempting to trap you between nostalgia and guilt for even considering banishing it. Or it conjures up emergency situations in a thousand possible futures when you will kick yourself for getting rid of it. Stuff may even try to convince you it is self-aware and has feelings. Don’t be fooled. It’s just stuff and the truth is, to some degree or another it really does own you until you decide to show it who is the boss.

Yes, it is hard to get rid of years of collected clutter. Not just emotionally but logistically, too. Give to a charity store, give it to friends and family, sell it or simply have it removed and dumped. Most likely all of the above. Climb that mountain, however, and live for a few months with just the essentials, and you will be amazed, I promise you. You will be amazed at how quickly you forget what it was like having so much stuff to hand, amazed at how liberating it is to have everything you own in just a suitcase and a backpack, and amazed at just how little a house full of possessions can compete with the freedom to travel around and collect experiences instead.


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