When did shopping become a competitive sport? This question jolted me recently in something I was reading and I must agree that shopping has transitioned from a necessary activity to a habitual one – think “retail therapy” – complete with bragging rights. I should know. I love to shop at Winners and HomeSense. Sale days, like the U.S.’s Black Friday, which I don’t participate in because it sounds stressful, no doubt add to the competitive nature of shopping.
But kids these days, mine anyway, are rebelling against the materialistic way some of us raised them – you know, the big house and all of the stuff needed to fill it, the big yard, the vehicles (the percentage of teenage drivers in North America is on a steady decline). And as they inherit a planet with threatened resources and species from us, it’s no wonder that they want to focus more on living and less on acquiring stuff.
My kids are inspired by guys like Graham Hill, CEO of Life Edited, a company devoted to the notion of living well with less. “I have come a long way from the life I had in the late ‘90s,” says Hill, “when, flush with cash from an Internet start-up sale, I had a giant house crammed with stuff – electronics and cars and appliances and gadgets. Somehow this stuff ended up running my life, or a lot of it; the things I consumed ended up consuming me.”
“The things I consumed ended up consuming me.” Wow. There’s a powerful statement. Ever felt that way? Just think of the hours and money we spend maintaining our homes and yards.
Hill says our homes, on average, are three times the size we had 50 years ago, yet we still don’t have room for all of our stuff because the storage industry, in the U.S. anyway, is a $22 billion industry comprising 2.2 billion square feet of space. Wow again.
Okay, so it’s kind of embarrassing just how good we’ve gotten at shopping, isn’t it? What does all of this buying do? Well, it makes us heavy on credit card debt, big on carbon footprints and stressed, even if we don’t participate in Black Friday.
I’m stressed right now. The amount of clothing bulging from my closet, dresser drawers and under my bed needs to be dealt with, but it overwhelms me. Then I read that Hill has just six dress shirts, when he used to have California closets filled with designer suits, and it sparks something. I recall how, when I was a teenager, my dad used to poke a toe at the mound of clothing on my floor and say, “You know, you can only wear one outfit at a time, right?” There are seven days in the week and I do laundry once a week. I mean, come on, how many items of clothing do I actually need?
For inspiration, I pluck Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project off a shelf, leaf through and find this section: “Toss, Restore, Organize”. Rubin observes the clutter in her New York apartment, then gives it names. There’s nostalgic clutter, “relics I clung to from my earlier life”. And bargain clutter, “buying unnecessary things because they’re on sale”. And anyone have this one? Buyer’s remorse clutter? That’s when you buy something, you know right after that it’s a bad purchase, you don’t want to admit it, so you keep it because somehow having it take up space might make it worthwhile.
Rubin was like me, she’d let things go for a while, was overwhelmed by the task, so invoked her Tenth Commandment: “Do what ought to be done.” She started with just her closet, then got such a kick from it, she was “jonesing” for more and went on to her dresser. Having less clothing choices made Rubin feel happier. She says, “Although people believe they like to have lots of choice, in fact, having too many choices can be discouraging.”
The rule thereafter is to think really hard about what else you allow into your living space. Hill says to ask yourself, “Is that going to make me happier?”
I follow One Fit Widow on Facebook and she often nags us to take a few minutes on the weekend, grab a garbage bag, and go through a room and get rid of stuff. She has regrets about how she and her husband lived their lives before his death. “We had the big house, the nice cars, all the stuff. I wish we had lived with less and lived life more. The moment he died I realized all that stuff didn’t amount to anything of real value. The clutter weighed me down, made me feel my loss even more, and made me feel completely alone.”
I know that feeling. Where I once saw the gates and fence running along the front of my property as security against theft, after my husband Hugh died and I closed them, I felt like I was in prison.
Graham Hill has three suggestions for downsizing. Edit ruthlessly. Think small. Make things multi-functional. Check out his super-slick 420 square foot SoHo apartment at http://www.lifeedited.com/about/.
In the website picture above, even Boris is disgusted by the amount of clothes I have.
Enjoyed this post, Rita. I agree that I am happier living with less stuff but truly living; more experiences, less materialism, it’s the way to go.