Last week I read a book titled “Stuffocation”, a very soul-touching and resonate with my life and I believe millions other people in the West. It’s about how our brain are programmed to have more, bigger, newer stuff in our life. When our ancestors were living in scarcity having more means prosperity and survival, while those who didn’t have enough food and weapon simply extinct. Our brain evolved accordingly, passed down from generation to generation.
These survival instinct are performing as it should in the era of scarcity, where food and shelter were lacking and what we have defines our social status. But now it has gone to far, people have been accumulating too much stuff and it could be hazardous to their health. In the book there are stories of how hoarding could cause a catastrophic accident and the new movement of people to live simpler, happier with less possession. We call it the “experientialism”, the voluntary decision for living doing activities that we love instead of working for buying “toys”. Instead of working in a job we don’t like for buying luxury goods as reward for the hard work we did, experientialist travels, eat foods, bungee jumping, and make memories.
With less possession people spend less time for organising and cleaning their house, and more time to enjoy life with people we like. Few people even move to a smaller house or apartment to live simpler, not because they don’t have the money but because it suits them better. Experientialist is not the same with minimalist who live with as few possession possible, they still enjoy luxury goods but in less number. Experientialist may buy a porsche because he love the thrill in driving it, not because of the car itself.
I do consider myself an experientialist. It started four years ago when I was moving from a suburban house to a smaller apartment in the city centre. Since I was born until ten years old, my family of four have been living in a very big house in the suburban area. We have a garage for two cars (and the cars itself), three bedroom, a big living room and a garden as large as two basketball field. I could even ride my bicycle around the house, and we do have party every six months or so to celebrate my sister and my birthday in the garden. There weren’t many entertainment though, we ride to the city for one to two hours at weekend. Remembering back to my childhood, we do have enormous amount of goods, but the quality of goods we have are low.
Then we move to a smaller, but three story house in a small town. We decorate the house from the ground with new furniture, we fill the house with many stuff we bought in the shopping mall. Over the course of seven years we have accumulate many stuff, perhaps way too much. I still think we have over 50 plates and 100 mugs. Things were abundant, new TV, sofas, kitchen utensils, clothes, etc. Although we were living in a smaller house, it was more dense. Just like other medium-class family, we went to shopping mall nearby and bought things we don’t really need. Shopping was fun for us. I do too have many toys, Lego, playstation, PSP, Nintendo, gameboy, costing few thousands dollar in total.
When I was graduating from high school and decided to continue my study in the capital city, my family move to a 10 x 10 meters, three bedroom apartment in the city’s heart. Only then we realised we have too much possessions. Our three bedroom apartment have a small living room and our piano takes up most of the space. When we first move in, we throw 60-70% of our previous goods. My toys alone took five 80 x 50 x 40 cm boxes. At first I stacked the boxes in my 4x 2 meter room, then I decided it was no longer has any use to me, so I shipped it all out to my nephew. I also sell two out of three cameras and two out of four laptop I had. It took a year to throw all our previous, useless stuff, stuff that took up spaces but rarely use. Perhaps it takes all the impulsive buying and accumulating mountain of goods to realise we are happier living with less.
Now we hang our 40 inch TV on the wall instead of standing it on a table. We sell our home theatre because it’s cluttering our living room, cable everywhere and the sound effect wasn’t working as well too. Perhaps the hardest thing to be apart for me is my books, I read about 100 self-help books every year and subscribe to a photography and National Geographic magazines. Now I switched to e-book, and last year I throw over 300 books and 100 magazines. We throw out over 60% of the goods we had, simply because we don’t use it anymore or the physical space it took is not worth the enjoyment. All my possession now fit into 1.2 meter wardrobe and 100L dry box (cameras, watches, laptop).
I can say it was a revelation to myself and my family, we are happier living today than when we are living in a bigger house. It took my mother one fourth the time to clean the whole house than our previous three stories house, we go to eat out more often and we travel more often. For every possession we shipped out of our house, there is an exhilarating good feeling, specially when we know somebody who needs it. We do still buy things, but now when we do buy something, another thing has to go. We do have fewer possession, so we want to have the best of it we could afford.
To sum up our experience in decluttering our house and life, it took a realisation that time is valuable and we don’t want to spend a large percentage of ours in cleaning-organising our goods, we want to live life and travel to places we’ve never been to. Our possession are supposed to give us enjoyment instead of being a burden to us, so we have to cut the rope that’s weighting us down. By having a lot of possession we also spend more time and money to service and managing it, cars need annual check-up, laptop and cameras need cleaning and upgrade, even watches. There isn’t one time we miss the stuff we throw out, we have all we need today and even for the rest of our life.
Even today we do still on the process of decluttering our life, every time we shop we asks ourselves if we are going to enjoy it long term and where we are going to put it in our house. Is it worth the physical space it took? We are more aware of where our money go (to the restaurant and travel, of course), and we do enjoy life more than we ever have. Oh God, how I wish my sister is reading this every time she bought another clothes and handbags.