Having travelled to some far-flung places and met people from all walks of life, I'd say that some of the happiest, most grounded people I've ever met were the ones who had the least 'stuff.'
|helping at a school in Vietnam|
Now don't get me wrong, I like nice things. Who doesn't? I'm like a magpie when it comes to anything sparkly. If it glimmers or catches the light in any way, I'm scooping it up in my beak. But as I'm getting longer in the tooth (and I mean that literally: receding gums are all part of the ageing process I'm told), I'm finding I'd rather spend my hard-earned wonga on experiences and travel rather than inanimate objects that will inevitably gather dust - and one thing I loathe is housework. So why would I want to pay good money to clutter up my little terraced house with things that will ultimately necessitate more cleaning? No ta! Give me a mini-break or a night out with the girls any day of the week.
There's something liberating about cancelling all but the most essential direct debits and giving excess clothes to the local Oxfam - although it can feel weird seeing a perfect stranger trotting down the high street in one of your old outfits. I remember once taking a bag of old clothes into work with the intention of dropping them at the local Cancer Research shop on the way home, when a colleague offered to do it for me. Imagine my surprise when he came into work the following week casually sporting my gothy old floor-length leather coat.
Obviously part of the reason for buying less when you get to my ripe old age is that you're more likely to be fortunate enough to have everything you need; gone are the years of living in a tiny flat full of mismatched hand-me-downs donated by various well-meaning rellies, whose contents were functional rather than fashionable. I'm now the proud owner of a stylish Dyson rather than the ancient vacuum cleaner I used to have, which put more dustballs onto the carpet than it sucked up. Swirling Seventies-print curtains are no longer hurting my eyes, and I don't have to peel my feet from sticky fourth-hand carpets with onimous-looking stains. Ahh, the memories of starting out in that first rented flat!
Having replaced all those nightmare items, though, somewhere in my mid-twenties came this ugly desire for MORE. No sooner did I have my own flat, than I wanted a house. Then a better house; a bigger house; the biggest we could afford! Living in Essex didn't help, where everyone wants to be Charlie Big Potatoes, and the ostentatious nouveau riche brashly flash their cash.
The law of the land in Essex was such that everyone seemed to be competing to be skinnier, blonder and browner than their neighbours. Luckily I've got naturally light blonde hair (brownie points for me!), but when I think of the countless hours spent creosoting my body with fake tan and sucking in my belly with Spanx.....I was inadvertently trying to emulate a Pepperami.
Oh I was a bit of an animal alright.
Fast forward 10 years and I just can't be faffed with all that. Yes I try to look good, but my clothes are more likely to be Primani than Armani. I like my little house. I don't own a car (although that's more to do with being a public menace on the roads than not wanting to show off in a spanking new Merc). For me now it's all about doing rather than having. Give me a few rounds of cocktails and a juicy steak with a mate over another new top any day.
This may in part be due to the fact I'm no longer married and have no children of my own. What felt like the end of the world a few years ago has now led to a seismic shift in my attitudes - if there's no-one to leave it to, why strive for all this stuff in the first place? Far from sounding morose, this realisation has actually been pretty liberating.
You can't take it with you. All those shoes, chests-of-drawers and nick-nacks will eventually get slung into landfill after I shuffle off this mortal coil, so why create more work for the house clearance guys?
The physical clutter to show I once existed on this Earth will end up as firewood, but the memories of my life, the things I actually DID and the adventures that I've had, well they are the important things and will be forever in my heart...
|at the Argentinian salt flats|
This article has also appeared in So magazine.
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