APARIGRAHA – owning only what is necessary; non-hoarding; believing that we live in a universe in which there is enough for everyone.
When my mother died, five years after my father, I was too floored by grief to go through all of the things in her retirement flat. So I put them into a storage unit, vowing to deal with them box by box, month by month.
Four years on I am just coming to the end of this process. And it has been an education in ways I never imagined. Not because I of the discovery of any racy hidden secrets, but because my own journey into aparigraha.
I’m an only child so not only did all the responsibility land on me, but it consisted of my entire family heritage.....in stuff.
My parents weren’t epic hoarders of the ‘How clean is your house?’ calibre. Our homes were always neat and tidy, newspapers recycled and things put away. Plus we moved countries and houses on a reasonably regular basis, so clear outs routinely occurred.
But they boxed up and hung on to things for sentimental reasons – I’ve found my teething rings, my father’s business cards from our days living in Singapore, Mum’s art college sketch books. And I always tended to do the same, to keep things that represent milestones, feelings, special people, occasions. But as the months passed by I started to become exhausted and even angry by the hours I spent sorting, bagging, selling, puzzling over what to do with it all, and feeling sad at memories I didn’t even know I had and didn’t particularly want. It started to eat my time, sap my energy and stop me from living in the now.
I’d got rid of the fridges and sofas and impersonal items earlier on. Amazon and e-bay was good for anything of value (and you’d be amazed what has ‘value’). But it was the sentimentals that floored me. For example my father’s piano, which I learnt to play on, which he’d told me was the focus of all his family’s East End knees ups, which I had no room for, which was too battered to sell......but I just couldn’t bear to dispatch to the dump.
By chance I came across Francine Jay’s wonderful book The Joy of Less. It helped me realise that my stuff wasn’t my parents. Nor was it me. ‘Sometimes we fear getting rid of certain items are equivalent to getting rid of part of ourselves’. Yep, guilty.
‘Even stuff that’s hidden away (be it in the hall closet, down the basement or across town in a storage unit) stays in the back of our minds. In order to free ourselves mentally, we must shake off our stuff entirely...When we’re no longer chained to our stuff, we can savor life, connect with others, and participate in our communities. We’re more open to experiences......The less baggage we’re dragging around (both physically and mentally), the more living we can do!’
She advised a conversation with my stuff, asking it whether it fills my heart with joy when I look at it, or was just ‘proof’ of an experience or an energy sapping obligation. And so we talked, my stuff and me.
It was the shove I needed. By the end of this year the storage unit will be no more. My loft is pretty much under control and my knew-found enthusiasm for de-cluttering has spread throughout the house. I’ve just spent a blissful weekend throwing out files of press cuttings from my PR business after transferring the best ones onto hard drive, and there are five more bags of charity shop stuff waiting in the hall.
Of course I’ve not yet got it down to the one bowl/one mug/ one coat level that we could argue constitutes ‘only what is necessary’. But I now throw at least one thing out for everything new I bring into my house and......breaking news..... shopping no longer holds its appeal. So I’ve more time, money and creative energy. And I’ve discovered a whole internet community of minimalists. People, mainly in the US, who’ve downsized joyfully to tiny apartments or reduced to 100 possessions, who’ve rid themselves of debt, depression and overwork, and shaken off the pressure of consumerism that keeps us believing the next purchase will make us happier, prettier, smarter, better.
And I’ve found the piano a home. It’s gone up to Leeds where a friend of mine is happily revisiting her childhood piano lessons on its battered keys. That makes me a great deal happier than having it sit in a storage unit.
Jay Kipling www.jayyoga.org
Resources: www.missminimalist.com www.rowdykittens.com www.becomingminimalist.com www.zenhabits.net www.peaceandprojects.com