I seem to have been making use of eBay, Gumtree and my local charity shop more than usual this year. I have been disposing of various items (books, DVDs, CDs, souvenirs, etc.) that had either outlived their usefulness or were perhaps never really that useful in the first place. Some of these things I hadn’t even had for that long, so why did I acquire them in the first place? It’s felt quite liberating and I’d like to think it reflects a greater awareness of my priorities.
I’m wondering if I may have found some affirmation of this in a recent column by Jason Butler, an expert on financial wellbeing. In his article Go without to find the real meaning of life, Butler tells us that ‘the average household has £3000 worth of possessions they no longer want or need’. That’s a lot of unnecessary stuff.
There is a serious point here. To break the cycle of simply replacing old stuff with more new stuff that you really don’t need, Butler suggests ‘questioning why you buy what you do, what needs you are trying to meet, the emotions that underpin those decisions and the effect it has on your overall sense of wellbeing’. This might sound a bit too much like hard work as you browse your local department store, Amazon or wherever, but as Butler says, ‘if possessions lead to possessiveness, that can cause us to fail to see what is really important in our lives’.
I need to add a couple of riders here. Firstly, we are not just talking about items of intrinsic value. This is about the things that for various and maybe obscure reasons we don’t really want or need but which somehow we’ve been unable to let go of – perhaps things we have just got into the habit of collecting or items we have stored for future use in the event of some unlikely contingency. Secondly – and importantly – we are not talking about those things that truly have significant personal value for us or carry strong emotional meaning or important memories. Hang on to these things, because they are special.
I wrote recently in these posts about moving on. There is something of that here too. Letting go of reminders of times past may also help us let go of any pain or difficulties unconsciously associated with them. In turn this may help us live more for the person we are today and to truly value ourselves as such.
One more quote from Butler, which nicely summarises what decluttering can do for him: ‘avoid defining my happiness in terms of what I own and more by who I am, what I do and the quality of my personal relationships’.