Con­sumerism = clut­ter

It’s time to lib­er­ate our­selves from ram­pant, planet- dam­ag­ing con­sumerism, if only for our own san­ity.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - MOVIES - Man­gal Balasegaram writes mostly on health, but also delves into any­thing on be­ing hu­man. She has worked with in­ter­na­tional pub­lic health bod­ies and has a Masters in pub­lic health. star2@thes­tar.com.my

I MUST be turn­ing into some kind of birth­day Grinch, be­cause when my daugh­ter cel­e­brated a re­cent birth­day, I al­most gri­maced at the sight of her many presents from friends.

Lovely that she has gifts, as well as friends to give her gifts. But, hon­estly, she has more than enough toys. Any more and she won’t know what to play with. Which child, though, would agree with such an as­ser­tion?

The in­ces­sant del­uge of stuff – not just toys but all man­ner of con­sumer goods – can feel over­whelm­ing, par­tic­u­larly when we keep far more than we dis­card. We seem to be al­most drown­ing in a sea of shame­less ma­te­rial ex­cess. Draw­ers that won’t open be­cause they are too full, store­rooms stacked top to bot­tom with stuff, un­used goods still in their boxes. So much stuff. It was in­evitable some­thing – or some­one – would come along in re­sponse.

You might re­mem­ber Marie Kondo, the Ja­panese guru of de­clut­ter­ing and or­gan­is­ing, from Star2’ s de­clut­ter­ing chal­lenge in Septem­ber last year. Listed by Time mag­a­zine as one of the 100 most in­flu­en­tial peo­ple in 2015, Kondo has taken the world by storm with her spar­tan “Konmari” method of de­clut­ter­ing, de­tailed in her books such as the best­selling The Life- Chang­ing Magic Of Tidy­ing Up.

Who would have thought that we would want a book on tidy­ing up? And yet go­ing by its pop­u­lar­ity, and hers, we do. Kondo in­sists that you should only keep things that “bring you joy”. ( A few other items, such as screw­drivers, are ac­cept­able, she says). Her “Konmari” method – which also de­tails how to fold clothes – has turned into a verb.

“I am try­ing to Konmari my life,” my friend and for­mer col­league Shashi Kala de­clared re­cently on Face­book. The goal was to get rid of clut­ter such as un­used elec­tri­cal items and un­read books.

The in­spi­ra­tion for the clear out came from a mean­ing­ful source. In re­cent months, Shashi has met with home­less peo­ple in Kuala Lumpur, the “Kolumpo Below”, through Pro­ject Tikar. Led by Joyce­lyn Lee, the pro­ject aims to pro­vide peo­ple on the streets with mats ( tikar in Malay), blan­kets, toi­letries, shoes and a bun for break­fast. “Meet­ing – and talk­ing – to the home­less has made me acutely aware of how lit­tle we ac­tu­ally re­ally need, and how much we waste. We all have way too many ma­te­rial pos­ses­sions, and are un­der the il­lu­sion that they bring us joy,” Shashi says. “Few things re­ally bring true joy into our lives like help­ing a per­son in need. It opened my eyes to the many peo­ple around us who are strug­gling to get by on so lit­tle.”

Shashi be­lieves we hang onto our pos­ses­sions for “inane, and some­times purely emo­tional” rea­sons.

True. Some­times we hardly like the stuff, but hold onto it for sen- ti­men­tal­ity’s sake, or be­cause we think we might need it one day, or sim­ply be­cause we spent good money on it.

Yet clut­ter is no good for us, not just be­cause it col­lects dust. Phys­i­cal clut­ter is akin to dig­i­tal clut­ter. Con­sider the re­lent­less beeps of con­tin­u­ous no­ti­fi­ca­tions from Face­book and Twit­ter. In this age of over­load, we need to set lim­its. Clut­ter clouds our think­ing and drains us.

I have been bat­tling clut­ter for a while now. I have long tried to fol­low the ethos of Wil­liam Mor­ris, the Vic­to­rian artist, writer and so­cial­ist, who a cen­tury ear­lier than Kondo ad­vo­cated that we should only keep things which are beau­ti­ful or use­ful in our homes. In­ci­den­tally, he also said that, “No work which can­not be done with plea­sure in the do­ing is worth do­ing”.

Kondo’s aus­ter­ity pro­gramme can feel ex­treme some­times. She be­lieves in barely keep­ing any pho­tos, let­ters or me­men­tos. But then, she’s 30, she might have a change of heart later.

She also has just 30 books. I still have hun­dreds of books, and I can’t pare that down to dou­ble dig­its. In my ideal life, I am read­ing a book a week, like Face­book owner Mark Zucker­burg, and I catch up on all those clas­sics. Never mind that in my real life I have lit­tle time to read. But I’m at­tached to the knowl­edge and lyri­cal in­spi­ra­tion that lies be­tween the pages of my books.

Ul­ti­mately, though, Kondo’s mes­sage is un­err­ingly rel­e­vant. We need to take stock of what is truly im­por­tant and lib­er­ate our­selves from ram­pant con­sumerism.

Con­sider one young home­less man who Pro­ject Tikar helped. He was earn­ing RM280 ev­ery two weeks at a car wash cen­tre, of which RM200 was sent home to Ter­meloh, Pa­hang, to sup­port his baby daugh­ter. To save money, he slept on the streets. Surely the stark dis­par­ity of how some of us live in such ex­cess while oth­ers have so lit­tle should serve as an in­cen­tive for change.

Clut­ter clouds our think­ing and drains us

hu­man writes Man­gal Balasegaram

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