One interesting way we depreciate the quality of our life is to acquire, retain and store junk. You visit anybody who has lived in a house five, ten and fifteen years, and you can be sure of the enormous amount of junk in their attic or basement. Even their bedroom may look like a storage room. There are things enshrined the owners have not used in years. And they hardly intend to use them. They may not even know that they have them.
At long intervals the owners say to themselves, “I really need to clear up the basement. There is a lot of stuff I don’t need.” There the matter rests, a pious wish too troublesome to act on. At best they pull out an old toy and a broken CD and place the former with a neighbor’s child and the latter in the trash can. But the vast inventory remains untouched.
Why? Why is it so very difficult to get rid of things, even things we don’t use? Partly it is our acquisitive instinct. We love to acquire things. It makes us feel more powerful and successful. To get rid of things is to feel denuded and weaker. Partly it is our attachment to things around us. Even when those are of no earthly use to us, we are invested in them and cannot bear to part from them. Like Professor Higgins complaining of a missing face to which he has grown accustomed, we miss whatever has once crossed our threshold and occupied a space in our universe.
Growing up in the east, I had clearly seen how scarcity compromised the quality of life. Living in the west, I have now slowly begun to see how the reverse, abundance, also compromised the quality of life. Plenitude, instead of adding to your well-being, can choke you. With so many books, I forgot what books I had. If I knew the books I had, I had a tough time finding the one I needed. I wasn’t going to waste time sorting, arranging and cataloguing books instead of reading them. The answer was keeping a few, passing the rest on to friends, libraries and charities.
Books are the tip of the iceberg. We are choking on the profusion of clothes, shoes, watches, jewelry, computers and every other kind of possession. Traveling frequently, I learned to maintain two of every thing, one for my home and the other for use overseas. Now my epitaph can read, “Here lies one who had four of every thing he needed.” I have friends who have ten of everything they need.
One does not have to be a believer in Feng Shui to realize that a balance is easier to achieve between us and our environment if we make that environment, often our home, less complicated, less burdened by multiple, meaningless objects. The great architect Mies van der Rohe chose the simple motto: less is more.
The Beatles sang:
Buy buy says the sign in the shop window
Why why says the junk in the yard.