The easiest way to declutter? Not buying useless crap in the first place, writes Hannah McGowan.
The popularity of TV shows like Tidying Up with Marie Kondo makes me gloriously happy. Reducing clutter is in, “sparking joy” and “thanking” items for the service they provided before you biff them is becoming everyday lingo. There is so much practical benefit to being tidy and organised, respecting and loving what you have. But there has also been a backlash from those who argue that dear little Marie and her contemporaries cater only to the financially elite.
While involuntarily minimalist people do not need guidance on shedding belongings, most of us still manage to have an excess of stuff – no matter how much or how little money we have. The popularity of ideas like Swedish Death Cleaning and TV shows like Hoarding: Buried Alive attest to the fact that our homes are often crammed with an uncomfortable amount of possessions.
People are really getting it – having lots of stuff doesn’t make you any happier. In fact, it can add a great deal of stress to an already hectic life. It can even become a fully fledged nightmare, as any episode of Hoarders demonstrates. While hoarders lie on the extreme edge of the spectrum and are considered to have a genuine disorder, many ordinary people find themselves creeping further and further into cluttered chaos.
With so much focus on getting rid of stuff – an excellent step in reclaiming your home and life from the tyranny of objects – no one seems to be bringing up what should be obvious: why are we buying all this stuff in the first place?
If we brought less into our homes, couldn’t we avoid this tedious elimination process altogether? It seems backwards to focus on purging when purchasing is what got us into this literal mess.
The truth is that we are still not being taught how to spend our money most efficiently on what we actually need.
Why is this? Why is it unthinkable to celebrate something like Christmas without a bunch of stuff you don’t really like or want or certainly don’t need?
I got given the most hideous gnome-like Santa-thing this year with “$35” blanked out in black Vivid on the back, and all I could think was DAMN that would buy a lot of food. I tried to sell the thing on Facebook Marketplace for a fraction of the cost but no one would take the awful creature. I have nowhere to put it, I have nothing like it, and I can’t even give it away. It is completely useless. Yet valuable resources, labour and shipping went into the creation of an object with no value. Even shit can have value as a fertiliser. This thing? Not even that.
I’m not saying don’t buy gifts, or that we shouldn’t enjoy finding them giving them to people. I love giving gifts. I absolutely adore it. With very little disposable income I spend the year excitedly browsing op shops, marketplaces and school fairs, learn how to make useful and cute crafty things for people, and really think about what someone needs or has a use for. So when I present my teenage son with his first leather jacket, an immaculate 80s dark blue number to rock in the winter, a secondhand NZ classic hardback to my dad, or a vintage hand-stitched needlepoint of a badass ship to my vessel-loving mother, it has value.
We need to reexamine the way we buy, what we buy, why we buy and how we buy.
While the concept of tidying your habitat and letting go of objects that serve no purpose is important, what appears to be more pressing is the issue of purchasing them in the first place.
There’s a bunch of aspects to fixing our disordered relation to possessions, including addressing the psychological urge to spend, understanding advertising and consumer culture, retraining our eyes to see value, and ultimately learning to keep more of our money for things that aren’t useless. But if there’s one message I’d love to leave you with, it’s this:
Reclaim your life and money from the corporate machine! Fuck the system! Revolution!!!
BUY LESS SHIT!
Subscribe to The Bulletin to get all the day’s key news stories in five minutes – delivered every weekday at 7.30am.