100 Lessons In Life – #100 When your stuff starts to own you


I knew this girl at university, a friend of a friend. She was that kind of 70’s bohemian type (proper boho, rather than Sienna Miller-esque fash-boho) all velvet flares and bell-sleeved shirts. Her long brown hair fell into silky snakes around her shoulders, she wore zero make-up  – and I doubt she ever had. I’d never seen anything like her before. With my blue hair and fluro make-up I found her minimal aesthetic mesmerising. She was, and remains, the closest thing I’d ever seen to Patti Smith…

She happened to live with 13 other people (so boho) and they had a bit of a soiree – somewhere between a full blown house party and book club. On the way to the loo I took my wine-fuelled opportunity to have a peek into her room – out of pure curiosity. It looked almost Parisian, with it’s minute balcony blowing in warm summer air and a light bulb glowed an amber light across the room. There was a mattress on the floor, with palest blue bedding. A fifth-hand tattered copy of Being and Nothingness lay next to one side, and a clutch of clothes were slung over a rope-bound wooden chair. She had a few bits of ‘interesting’ silver jewellery on an unvarnished wooden table and a random wooden cross, hung crookedly on the way. That was it, pretty much. Just a few token things, the vestige of a true bohemian life. I looked around one final time and figured that, if you were in a ‘hurry’ of some kind, you could pack up everything she owned and fit it into one suitcase. And I’ve been obsessed with that idea ever since.

It took me two weeks to pack my room up when we moved house at the end of that summer. The stress was unbelievable. I tried to sort through it and minimise my hoard of junk, but it was still colossal mass of things. I’ve repeated that same pattern of having huge amounts of stressful stuff each time I’ve moved in the decade since. When I moved into my own flat, this year, my collection of scented candles piled up threatened to engulf me whole, like a towering venus flytrap that’s been on hunger strike. It’s not that I’m a hoarder, or that I can’t get rid of things – that’s not the issue. I just have a lot of stuff – books, clothes, make up, parts of memories and travels afar. But every time I think of my ideal room, my mind drifts back to that bare, minimal room. It feels freeing just thinking about it.

There’s a balance, I suppose. Between having the things you love around you and cluttering your life (and mind) with pointless oodles of junk. Junk that becomes a task of such gargantuan proportion when it comes to tidying that you end up losing an entire weekend to sorting one single part of it. And I tried to Marie Kondo it – but I truly love everything – and getting rid of it all seems impossible. The pile never diminishes.

So how do you pull back from having lots of much-loved stuff to a more minimal existence, in a tiny (but beautiful) flat? I don’t have an answer. But, I’m working on it, with that room from 10 years ago as my adored idyll. The lesson in life? Stop buying all the things. The real lesson in life? That’s never gonna fucking happen.

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