This is a very well used phrase in my household. Anytime something breaks, tears, gets dog-mauled or stained, a timely reminder chimes forth in the form of my mum’s happy voice. “It’s just stuff”, she says. How true!
Rewind several years ago and I can remember being quite fond of all my ‘stuff’. I had a rammed-packed wardrobe of high street clothes, an accumulation of shoes fit for a centipede and various trinkets, lotions and potions. After all, a girl needs all this, ‘stuff’. Right? Wrong. Two years ago I left to backpack around Australia with my boyfriend. Anything I wanted to accompany me on this adventure had to fit into a 60 liter rucksack. Whilst I was certainly an avid shopaholic as a care-free teenager, I wasn’t very attached to my stuff. This was a fortunate trait as I was quite ruthless with my leftovers. Anything that I wasn’t planning to take or that hadn’t been worn recently or was likely to be worn in the future, went to the charity shops. Good bye to those ridiculous stilettos that hurt every bone in my feet. Good bye to the printed t-shirts of my teens and good riddance to that massive box of makeup mayhem! I found the clear out to be a hugely liberating experience. I was also amazed at the feeling of peace that came about through knowing I didn’t have so much to keep and look after.
Fast forward those two years and here I sit in a coffee shop marveling at my change of outlook on stuff. It seems, we get a bit carried away on those rainy days with ‘nothing to do’. A curious browse turns into a frantic list of I needs. But do we reaaaaaally need it? Will it make us happy in the long run? The media plays an important role in dictating our means of happiness. Through various channels, we are assured desirability, entertainment and comfort if we buy this and that. Whilst there is a feeling of excitement at the time of purchase, the novelty factor quickly wears off and is soon replaced by disappointment and sometimes, guilt. This is because materialism isn’t the answer to lasting happiness. Buddhism teaches that until we experience liberation from the tiresome cycle of desire and aversion, we will continue to fall prey to the concept that stuff makes us happy. It also teaches us to patiently and persistently find time to be quiet and still. This is also known as meditation.
Meditation is acceptance of oneself as we are in this moment. Through meditation we learn to love who and what we are. As we practice more and more, we are less likely to crave ownership of material items and thus find appreciation and love for what we already have. It’s all very well reading about people’s methods of liberation and enlightenment but it all remains a concept until we experience it on an individual level. So, here are some steps to help you on your way to a more clutter-free, content life!
- Clear up, clear out! Start your new life by sorting through all your belongings that you don’t use regularly. Take them to charity shops and gift them to friends. Try to avoid selling unless it helps ease your current financial situation.
- Ask yourself, “Do I really need this?” Next time you find yourself on a frantic shopping spree, ask yourself this simple question, put the item back, wait a few moments and see if you’re still inclined to buy it.
- Find time to be alone. As intimidating as it may seem initially, find some time each day to sit in silence and stillness. Listen to your heartbeat or be aware of your breath. You may even want to stare at a candle. Whatever you choose, try to do it a little each day until you begin to enjoy it.
- Give to charity. Giving to those who are vulnerable and less privileged than we is a humbling act of kindness and a great dose of reality.
- Say Thank You. Whether you say thanks to your mom for all her selfless acts, to your friend for always being a listening ear or to God, for His love and grace, saying thank you regularly and with sincerity helps cultivate appreciation for what we already have.