Clutter really is a first world problem. Poor us, drowning in a sea of our own belongings when people living in third world countries don’t have enough to get by.
Next time you find yourself feeling overwhelmed by how much stuff you have, pause and take a look at it from the perspective of how much better it is to have the choice of too many things rather than not enough.
When I lived in Bali many years ago, I knew people who literally only owned the clothes they stood up in. To stave off the boredom of wearing the same thing every day, they would regularly swap clothes with each other.
One day I would see a T-shirt on one man, the next day on his friend, and a few days later on someone else. No-one kept track of who originally owned what. Apart from underwear, there was no sense of personal ownership or loaning items out. It was like a communal wardrobe that they all contributed to and all drew from as they wished.
The guilt of having too much
Many people born into the baby boomer generation were brought up to eat everything put on their plate and be grateful for it because there were millions of people starving in Africa. It was so deeply embedded in children’s psyches by parents at that time that the background dialogue may still run in a person’s head at each mealtime to this day. They may only be vaguely aware of it, but it’s a guilt script that keeps running in an endless loop.
The logic is flawed, of course, because you can’t mail your unfinished peas across the world to someone who would really appreciate eating them. And the current obesity epidemic means that some people really do need to learn not to eat everything on their plate, or at least not to load it up with such gigantic portions in the first place.
The same thing has happened with recycling. Governments have done such a good job of indoctrinating us all to recycle as much as we possibly can that some people avoid the guilt of sending anything to landfill by not throwing it away at all. Their home becomes so full of non-recyclable items that it starts to look like the garbage dump they have tried to avoid creating.
The middle path is what’s needed, of course. Not so much food or belongings that you become overweight or overwhelmed by clutter. And not so little that life is a day-to-day struggle for survival.
So how to manage the guilt of first world clutter?
You’d think that a hoarder’s home would be their haven. But in my experience of working with people who suffer from hoarding behaviour, this simply isn’t so. One woman I knew felt so claustrophobic surrounded by the mountains of clutter in her home that she would spend most of her day in the park with her dogs. Anything not to have to face the problem she had created for herself that she felt helpless to change.
When she finally reached out to get help with her clutter, she still felt great guilt at letting anything go unless it could be given to someone who would use it. Consequently, she gifted large boxes of useless cheap items to friends, who I’m sure promptly put them straight in the bin.
As the process continued, there was a gradual change in her attitude as she came to understand the deep emotional scars that had compelled her to collect such a stash of things around her. The more she understood and forgave herself, the less attached she was to what happened to things after she had let them go. She began to trust me to dispose of them in the best way possible (some to charity shops and some put in garbage bins).
Most importantly, she realized she couldn’t change the past but she could change the future. She couldn’t turn back the clock and un-buy everything she’d bought. But she could learn to stop, think and choose differently when tempted to buy more of the same again.
Stop, think and choose differently
Those of us who live in the first world have very privileged lives compared to what our lot would have been if we’d been born into a third world country. And with that comes a responsibility not to over-indulge just because we can.
The trick is to become more conscious about our purchases. Take clothing, for example. Carefully consider each item before you buy. Do you really love it? Will you really wear it? Unlike my friends in Bali, you won’t have to share it with all your friends until the day it finally falls to bits. But do you like it enough to at least wear it yourself for an entire month if you had to? If not, you are probably about to purchase first world clutter.
You can ask yourself similar questions about anything else you want to buy. Do you really love it? Or will you at least really use it? When you love or use something well, you’ll feel gratitude when it comes to the end of its time with you, not guilt. The guilt only comes when you buy something frivolously or needlessly and have to admit later on that you did so.
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Copyright © Karen Kingston, 2019