My girlfriend and I made a little pact between ourselves: to limit our personal possessions to a hundred items after an unforeseen conversation we had about consumerism, rising costs of living, material and emotional values etc. etc. The plan here is to limit oneself, acting on the belief that excess in material objects brings no value to one’s well-being. We initially wanted only 80 items but I thought it too gruelling. Maybe next time. I don’t even remember how our conversation really went, but the next moment, I was whipping out an A4 sized paper at 2 in the morning, making a list of things worth keeping. The process was a painful one, but let me walk you through some instances and strategies: I started out by making categories of clothes, gadgets, necessities, gifts from people*, diaries, cds, and made some conditions for clusters which goes something like this:
- Books remain unconditional. They shall not be included in the 100 lists project. (Because I will cry)
- All lingeries count as 1 item
- Gifts from one person counts as 1 item e.g If I have 7 gifts from Andrew Garfield, I will count as 1 item because they come from the same person
- Stationeries count as 1 item
I was freaking out. Listing my clothes down took a quarter of the page and when I moved on to diaries and cds, I was on the brink of a breakdown. At every corner of my room that night, were piled up papers and memorabilia from years back, some tossed in garbage bags, ready for the bin. I was framed within my past, and I was aching as the centrepiece of this shrine.
That was when my dramatic tableau was confusingly interweaved by a sense of absurdity– why am I distressing over the demise of lecture notes and cringe worthy words from old diaries, that checkered shirt I never liked, or the gold Casio watch I now use only as an alarm clock? I mean, I don’t even listen to that Jimmy Eat World CD anymore.
Our desire to collect things remind me a little of the dominion one feels when building an empire. Let one brick go, and the entire wall crumbles. I had painstakingly collected really old and retro matchboxes, and I’ve thrown all of them (demolition of empires) and I kept only 3, symbolic of pieces of historical ruin found in museums.
It was heartbreaking, but in that 5 hours of clearing out my room, deracinating material attachments from my life, I was dwelling in some sort of philosophy. I know it sounds extremely cheesy. I sometimes criticise my actions, that it represents a kind of middle class existential struggle where only the ones with too much time in their hands could endeavour to. But let’s face it: I am urban and I have urban problems. However, the ethos of strife, attachment, greed and consumerism is ubiquitously manifested daily in our lives, whether we like it or not.
Though I wouldn’t call any of this philosophy per se, here are a few things I’d like to note now that I’ve thrown most of my things away, keeping only 100:
- Conscious about what limited clothes I had, it is easier for me to pick out what to wear for an occasion or when I go out
- I did not even document the diaries I threw away. In retrospect, I don’t miss them at all.
- Because, a certain physical linkage to your past doesn’t necessarily define your future
- Diverting cashflow to experiences is found to be more fulfilling
- Boundaries forces you to define for yourself what values your life hinges on. It’s scary, but also a wonderful, eye-opening, slap in the face kind of discovery
- Now, whenever I buy a new item, I will have to discard one from the list. This brings a whole new perspective on the value of things and whether I need it. Helpful.
And that raises a few questions, I hope to re-evaluate always: What drives the decision to preserve one object over the other? How am I and my life defined by the things I own? Are they synonymous? How is my sense of belief and happiness defined by my attachments around me?