Let’s commence this post with some relevant thoughts from the late great comedian, George Carlin:
Most of us love STUFF.
It’s amazing that there is an entire industry dedicated to storing our extra STUFF. And our appetite for stuff we don’t need is seemingly insatiable. I started thinking about the topic of this post after I read THIS PIECE by Richard Glover on The Age website this week, about our love affair with things, and this socially acceptable form of hoarding. We like to hold on to stuff. Stuff gives us a false sense of security, continuity, to blur the reality of impermanence and continuous cycles of change. We ascribe meaning to our stuff. We use stuff, even if we are not conscious of it, to give ourselves an identity and boost our self-esteem. We use stuff to gain the esteem of others. And we enjoy our stuff visually and sensually.
Because of this, it can be hard to relinquish stuff. Even when we know we have to, or when we have no need for certain stuff anymore, we sometimes find it hard to let it go. We can feel almost inadequate when we don’t have stuff. Our minds rationalise why we need to hang on to it: “I might need that later…” we might say. So we store our stuff away. This is fairly harmless if it’s just old furniture or mementos. But some kinds of stuff are just not worth hanging on to.
The STUFF we don’t love: de-cluttering the mind.
I love George Carlin. Truly. LOVE. I have loved him since I first discovered his comedy when I was 17. I found more wisdom and joy in Carlin’s work than during 13 years of mandatory public education. He gave me solid subversive laughs and simultaneously opened my mind, at a time when I desperately needed both of those things.
The VCE years were experienced as Dante’s Divine Comedy – in essence, HELL. I’m certainly not alone in that. During those years we moved into a rental property near white supremacists. Like, active white supremacists, who, despite never having introduced themselves formally or brought over home baked biscuits, let me know they were ‘in the neighbourhood’ thanks to welcoming stickers, love notes left at my bus stop and “Third Reich” themed messages carved into wet cement on a sidewalk.
Such nonsense would not phase me in the least today – I’ve been through enough STUFF in life, in general. Unfortunately, at the time we moved into this neighbourhood, I had secretly developed (again) quite serious anxiety – which I of course did not understand as such. The overwhelming feeling of being unsafe in my own house compounded the pre-existing anxiety, and, in conjunction with all the other challenges I was facing at the time (including physical symptoms of illness I was in deep denial about) the baggage on my mind was HEAVY. Making it difficult for me to give my best to my studies, my relationships, or anything else.
The important thing is, I got through it. I didn’t get through it well, though. Despite being told by teachers and counsellors I had an “intense” intellect that if I just focused on developing would serve me well, I didn’t believe them, and I certainly didn’t believe in myself. Consequently, I found inappropriate ways to escape, had uneven grades, and my relationships sucked. But I survived, and eventually was able to dump the psychological STUFF that this period of my life had cluttered my fragile mind with. That’s where Carlin went from amusing to mentor. Because one of the things that helped me do that mind de-cluttering was this: nurturing the natural ability I already had, that most of us have, to find humour in the most heinous and dark situations.
On the Philosophy page, I write that one of the important lessons I have learned in life so far from others and through personal experience is this:
Our realities and experiences are shaped by our perceptions. Much of the hardship and suffering we experience in life can be overcome simply by disciplined shifts in perspective.
This is essentially what finding the humour in a messed up situation is: Shifting your perspective. It’s not just a form of pain relief – it can be a spiritual practice, if you are able to find humour without suspending empathy or understanding. Carlin often failed on the empathy front, but when it came to looking at things from a different perspective, he was unbeatable. It takes a certain type of mind to be able to do that really well. In the past I was thus mostly attracted to men who’d lived through shit – real adversity of some sort – but could find light and humour in it too. Those who had a genuine understanding of the extremes of dark and light. Their humour had a depth of understanding, maturity and humanity to it. I’m still drawn to that, in general… a great perspective.
These days meditation is the primary daily practice that helps me regain a healthy perspective and unburdens my mind. But a solid laugh has power to burn off psychological debris. I recently met up with old family friends who have been living in PNG for the past 14 years. I listened as they told stories of multiple family tragedies, village hardship, and dangerous living in Port Moresby, interspersed with hilarious anecdotes about the seedier side of PNG’s capital, and it’s extremes – for example, a church that is a house of hypocritical worship by day, and drinking hole at night. Catching up with them hammered home two things for me:
1) I am friggin lucky to be living where I’m living now; and
2) Find the funny in everything. You’re going to go through hard, trying times. You’re going to grieve, feel pain. Don’t resist it. But as soon as you can, try and find what’s funny. It’ll make your way through life that much easier.
Living with less STUFF.
For spiritual and material reasons [explained in the post ‘Live Simply‘], I’m consciously striving to keep things light both inside and outside these days. I have gotten rid of a lot of material STUFF I just didn’t need or want, and am continuing to “streamline” my living space and routine. Accumulation is an impulse I don’t seem to have anymore – perhaps this is related to the meditation practice? I can’t be sure. Although I have tremendous respect for and truly admire the artistry and craft involved in making jewellery, I personally don’t wear or own “bling”. My daily uniform is a pair of Jasper Conran glasses, Issey Miyake perfume (clearly not completely non-materialistic), Aveeno moisturiser, blouse, dark jeans, and boots. I like consuming books and DVDs, but I mostly borrow them from public libraries. I don’t own or drive a car, and recently gave a whole heap of useless clothes away. I have no intention of changing any of this once I secure more regular and substantial income sources (other than the car/driving part). I want to continue living as simply as sociably acceptable, keeping the bulk of my resources for work things, fun things, family things, and charity. As Notorious B.I.G. said: “Mo money mo problems”. I like having less STUFF to think about, quite frankly. Frees my mind up to contemplate the bigger questions.
If you’re interested in lightening your load of STUFF in 2012, both inside and outside, here are some resources that can help you start the process…
For decluttering tips:
From Zen Habits.
From The Art of Manliness. Don’t ask me why I occasionally drop in on this site.
For selling or giving away your stuff:
The recycle superstore.
A re-use and upcycle website that allows you to give away items you no longer need – haven’t used this but know someone who has.
For instructions on how to start a veggie patch when you’re short on space:
Brilliant book from two lads raised in Italian households. They also run a successful business installing edible gardens. They know what they are talking about.
For EXTREMELY simple recipes:
4 Ingredients aims to SIMPLIFY all forms of cooking by creating quick, easy and delicious recipes made with 4 or fewer ingredients that can be easily found in your local supermarket. This would have come in handy when I was share-housing.
For minimalist inspiration:
A blog that celebrates minimalism in art, architecture, industrial & graphics design, fashion, and music. I like. Currently trying to find a good minimalist ecodesign site. There’s got to be one out there somewhere…
The Simplicity Collective is founded upon the idea that a ‘simpler life’ of reduced resource and energy consumption is a viable and desirable alternative to consumer culture. Philosophy + facts + consciousness raising intellectual fodder right here.
Not really about minimalism at all, but simply brilliant. Vasili’s Garden, the grass roots gardening show that explored some of the most epic food gardens in Australia, IMHO. Books + DVDs available. And recipes. Wholesome, unpretentious, GOOD.