By Sandra Burgham
When I agreed to contribute to this publication, I said to the editor, “Ok, as long as you’re not expecting articles about how your life will improve if you clear clutter.” How we laughed — until this morning when I realised that actually that is exactly what I want to write about. Who wrote that you spend the first half of your life accumulating “stuff,” and the second half getting rid of it? Oh, that was me in the December issue of The Hobson, reflecting on my determination to kickstart the trend of “under-indulgence” at Christmas. Let’s say this is Part Two.
Because it’s spring, and that’s when I get serious about spring-cleaning my life again and start the fanatical Trade Me purge. I would love to declare that I live some sort of minimalist lifestyle, but the truth is that I am still slowly plugging away at it. My private obsession that gives me an incredible sense of satisfaction (others sort photo albums or the junk drawer) is selling stuff on Trade Me. Friends say “why don’t you just give all that stuff away?” – and a lot of it I do – but I have found simply giving stuff away contributes to an out-of-sight-out-of-mind disposable mentality. I’m playing the long game. Going through the tedium of dealing with my consumerist past makes me more acutely aware of how I want to live now, and in the future.
A couple of years ago UCLA published a report, “Life at Home in the 21st Century”. Amongst other things, it found that 75 per cent of garages studied had no room to store a car. The garages were filled with “boxes, storage bins and other storage items”. Recognise yourself? Interestingly, the study examined the lifestyles of an extended group of families, and there was a correlation with mothers’ stress levels and dealing with those belongings.
I have dragged my unwilling son into the Trade Me process in the hope that something will stick; there is also the incentive that the cash is converted to holidays — experiences that live on. While he is unimpressed, he does knows that once I paid for an eight day trip to Japan based on stuff I sold through Trade Me and my husband, a serial hoarder, managed a trip to Cuba the same way. I don’t know what we have been doing with our lives, but our home seems like a Russian doll of Trade Me treasures. When we reach the satisfaction of the littlest doll, we will release ourselves of this tedium and live like an idol of mine, Graham Hill.
A sustainability architect and founder of treehugger.com and lifeedited.com, a project devoted to living well with less, Hill is a living embodiment that less is more. He encourages his followers to redesign their life to reduce their footprint and possessions, and as a result enjoy more money, health and happiness. Now in his 40s, he is a new generation leader that strikes a huge chord with a growing audience globally; those who are reassessing what is meaningful to them. These are people who reject the consumerism that the baby boomer and establishment generations have come to represent.
As we watch Auckland property prices skyrocket and fear our kids will never be able to get on the property ladder, maybe it’s time to explore another value set. Lifeedited.com champions small space living with limited possessions; not only increasingly possible in a digital age but practical and smart in the Auckland property squeeze. But there is also something fundamentally attractive about living with less.
I have come to notice in the work that I do as an executive coach that the aspirations around what people want to do with all that money they dream of accumulating, is not a lifestyle of luxury yachts and helicopters. Rather, I hear of visions involving living like a peasant in France, having the freedom to potter around and enjoy the simple life; or start a foundation to give away the money they have accumulated. I do wonder if there is a correlation between the prioritisation of money as the core goal, and a real connection to a deeper purpose. And let’s remember that while consumer activity has increased substantially since the 1950s, overall happiness has flatlined. Sitting on chunks of precious Auckland real estate are large tracts of faceless self-storage units. In the US, this industry is valued at $US 22 billion and is one of the fastest-growing sectors in commercial real estate in the last 38 years. Let that be a lesson to us all, because I am sure one of our dying regrets will never be that “I wish I’d brought more stuff”.
— Sandy Burgham
This post first appeared in The Hobson October, 2016