This is podcast 119 and it’s about having stuff. Many of my shows are about this topic, of course. A lot of the time, I encourage you to have less and to get rid of things that you don’t need or really want anymore. Especially things that are broken or out of date or that you haven’t used in a million years. I advocate having the items you love and need, the ones that spark joy and the ones that keep your life running smoothly without extra effort.
Back in podcast 101 I said, stop acquiring. What I meant was stop acquiring mindlessly, or aspirationally. I’ve never suggested you refrain from shopping. Shopping is fun. Just do it in a mindful way. That means avoiding shopping as an activity in itself. If you’re into the joy of the hunt, make it an observational safari, not one where you feel compelled to drag home a trophy animal.
I read James Clear’s newsletter this morning, about the Diderot Effect. The story is that French philosopher Diderot suddenly acquired a lot of money and upgraded some possessions. Then he saw that his old things looked pretty shabby in comparison and that sent him on an upward spiral to upgrade everything, whether he actually needed to or not. The effect can also occur if you buy something that has lots of go-withs, lots of accessories.
If you can afford all these things and truly want them, I don’t see a problem with this. Clear, who I admire a lot, advises avoiding temptation to buy more stuff, imposing limits on yourself and resisting buying new things. Those ideas make sense.
He has one more suggestion that I disagree with though, and that’s to let go of wanting things. To me, that’s shutting off life. Life is about discovery and expansion and the delight of the new. Sure, it’s about appreciating what is here right now as well and wanting what you already have.
But to keep yourself stagnant, stationery, in terms of having new things in your life feels stingy to me. And really not fun!
To his credit, he does also mention getting rid of things to maintain balance. “Always be curating your life to include only the things that bring you joy and happiness,” he writes. Totally agree. I put that idea at the top of the list.
Many times I’ve also talked about the joy of new stuff. The fresh energy of a new puppy, a new dress, a new car or a new plant in your garden. New things can brighten our day and open up new possibilities. Newness is sparkly and uplifting.
Don’t disparage retail therapy. It’s a real thing. It has proven psychological benefits. Buying things allows us to feel some control over our lives. Buying something beautiful makes us feel beautiful as well. Getting a new thing can mark a transition in your life too. I have a friend who gets a tattoo to mark each big life occasion, like adopting her daughter.
Think of your possessions as a flow, as a collection in flux. The more freedom you have to acquire new things, the less stress you feel about discarding the things that no longer serve you. Because acquiring isn’t a good idea if you are never discarding.
Here’s where the tricky part comes in. If you can think of all your possessions as temporary, it’s easier to let them flow in and out of your life. Strive to be lighter about things in general. When people are asked what they’d take when fleeing their burning house, they say things like photos and pets. That’s it. They don’t say the designer end table or the coat they just bought. They don’t say the exercise bike or the Instant Pot.
It’s a delicate balance, being able to appreciate and love what you have, yet not be attached to it. Zen, baby! That’s what we’re talking about here. It’s not contradictory to love shopping and also love letting go of the old and unnecessary. In fact, this is freedom.
My aim as an organizer has always been to help my clients declutter and get organized to make their lives simpler and more fun. Simpler doesn’t mean barren or sparse, it means that your life doesn’t require so much management that you run out of time for fun.
What you can do right now: next time you buy something, especially something minor like a new toothbrush, let yourself enjoy the shiny newness of it. Get a fun color or shape. Give yourself that simple thrill of novelty. And then happily ditch the old toothbrush.