According to Wikipedia, What If ? is a non-fiction book by Randall Munroe in which the author answers hypothetical science questions sent to him by readers of his webcomic, xkcd. According to decluttering experts, the question is the leading obstacle to a simple and joyous life. I beg to disagree. In fact, my opposition to the idea that “What if I will use it later on?” beggars owners of cluttered homes is so gargantuan, I have taken time away from resting this festive season to pen this piece in the hope that it will prevent someone from getting a case of material regretitis in 2021. Believe me, material regretitis is a disease that is quite hard to cure completely.
Let me preface this by saying that I do not have a Western outlook. I was born and raised in a Third World country. Thus, many articles on decluttering or simplifying one’s life wash over my head. I cannot relate with writers who contend that it’s easy to buy another gizmo again on Amazon.
Secondly, I live in a place where it is hard to find stuff. There is no Goodwill or thrift shop around the corner of my block though there’s a Red Crescent box for donations. Thus, I find it hard to let go of stuff that I know is still useable after forking out hundreds of dollars in shipping fees over the years …
Thirdly, I believe that the act of thinking about decluttering one’s possession is a tacit admission of privilege. Not only do you have more than what you need to survive, you can afford to either sell, give or throw them away without affecting the quality of your life. Not everyone has that privilege.
So yeah, I’m privileged. I’m even more privileged because I get to write about why this privilege should not be carried to the extreme by going on the latest home style bandwagon, the KonMari (remember the cocooning trend made popular by Martha Stewart and predicted by Faith Popcorn?). Let’s not quibble about the need for organizing and regular tidying up. That’s a given. Right now, though, thrift stores are swamped with the things that people have decluttered from their homes. But what if the stuff did not go to thrift stores but instead went to the dump instead of being recycled? I ask this because I have observed that people who have immaculate homes do not seem to have environmental concerns.
And so here goes. It’s my attempt to show that sometimes, maybe for a certain period of time, not letting go of stuff DOES spark JOY. Not to mention monetary savings.
Above: The container on the right was given by hubby’s company as a Ramadan gift ten or so years ago. It is a very sturdy box which now conveniently houses my Altenew dye inks. I love it because, unlike other crafters who have albums of their ink color swatches, I don’t want to consult or open an album to see the colors of my inks. The plastic box on the upper left is, of course, a Ferrero Rocher one from 2017. It holds the sponges for my Ranger ink blending tools. The Ferrero cardboard box on the lower left was a Christmas gift from a family whom we visited in Dubai in 2016. It now contains the alphabets for our letterboard. Not included here is the chocolate box holding my jewelry. As you can see, I keep chocolate boxes but not for sentimental reasons. What if I had thrown them away right after eating the chocolates?
Above: When our printer died, I did not throw out its ink. Instead, I made alcohol ink and made my homeschooled daughter use it in her Paul Klee-inspired artwork.
I realize that a lot of the examples* here are art- or craft-related. That is not mere coincidence. Because crafting is an expensive hobby. Honestly, though, we are saving lots of money by holding on to stuff. Take for example my daughter’s outfit on a recent outing to the city. She wore a leather belt of mine that was 25 years old, my five-year-old peach-colored pair of Naturalizer shoes, my 11-year-old pink bag from Nine West, and a pair of pants that were hand-me-downs to yours truly four years ago. Oh, and she just wore out the sandals which I purchased with friends but which I hardly used (they were comfortable but we hardly ever go out!) In fact, I just showed her a pair of white Adidas shoes in pristine condition. They were bought 11 years ago. Just in case you’re wondering — yeah, we have AC 24/7.
All these examples are not meant to proclaim “Hold on!” We have given away balikbayan boxes of our old clothes, bakeware, juicers, shoes, books, CDs, toys, blankets, towels, etc. I did not grow up in a single house and still don’t have a place I truly consider home so material objects do not constitute a considerable commodity to me. In fact, we gave away 90% of the gifts we received during our wedding within a span of two years.
What I am protesting is the assumption that asking yourself “What if?” is leading to more clutter and, ultimately, unhappiness. Yes, my house is cluttered right now but that’s because I’ve been lazy, preferring to craft instead of clean the house. Whether the residents in our house are unhappy is questionable. I long ago decided that the level of clutter in our house is inversely proportional to my children’s happiness. Two of my boys have grown and flown so perhaps that shouldn’t be my standard anymore, eh?
Maybe if people practiced intentional purchasing they wouldn’t have to deal with clutter. I don’t know. I practice it (it could be years before I buy a book and even now I am crying inside because there are items in my wishlist that are now retired) and still, there’s so many books and clothes to put away. I look at folks who have less kids than I do and think that’s it! Yet it’s not. It’s more about having habits of tidying up. I do believe, though, that truly exceptional mortals — those whose souls reach deep, deep into the stars to plumb ideas — have become comfortable with clutter in their lives.** For, unless they have paid help, how would they have time to spend on the pursuits and passions that make them so interesting in the first place?
*Please note that items shown were NOT immediately recycled. They were kept in storage for a period of time, sometimes years.
**I say this because I do not want to regret at my deathbed having spent a lifetime cleaning and cleaning and organizing and organizing. I’d rather create not so much to leave a mark but to leave something of value to my family and friends, not just memories.