Sunday, 6 November 2011

Obligatory anti-materialism post

So here it is, my rant against consumerism (conveniently posted before I reveal just how much this trip will cost us...). Brace yourself, this might get ugly...

I assume that anyone who willingly restricts their belongings to what will fit into a backpack for a year goes through some realization during their trip that they normally live with much more than they actually need. I expected to go through that well into the trip, during that freeing moment when my pathetically limited choice of clothing stops being a restriction and starts being a form of liberation. I certainly didn't expect to feel this way before we even left.

We are currently preparing ourselves for the move out of our apartment and part of that process has been going through everything we own and trying to get rid of what we can. Now, I will give us a little credit here: both V and I are really good about minimizing clutter. Neither of us are packrats by any means and for the most part, we don't let ourselves get emotionally attached to material things. If you look around our apartment, we don't have a lot of random objects that just sit on shelves or in drawers in that purgatory of being kept "just in case." You know what I'm talking about- that drawer everyone has full of pens that no longer work, batteries that may or may not be dead, broken jewelry or dishes that you plan to repair one day, little trinkets that people have brought you back from vacation... Generally, we are pretty good about getting rid of that kind of stuff.

That said, going through all of my belongings this past weekend made me realize that I have SO much stuff, and that I don't need or even want the vast majority of it. That realization and the ensuing purging of said stuff was both freeing and depressing.

The act of giving away a bunch of my clothes, shoes and beauty products- all of the random things I've accumulated over the years- felt so liberating. I feel lighter, more streamlined, and feel like I can see what I have more clearly and actually appreciate my belongings. I gave away or donated (or, in the case of old t-shirts and undies, simply threw out) five huge bags of stuff that I don't need, use or want. Don't believe me? These are just the "give away" bags:

And these are all of the beauty products that I've barely used and jewelry that I never wear.

All of those bottles, boxes and tubes are completely FULL.

Why it took me this long to get rid of all of this crap and why I even had it in the first place is beyond me.

Which brings me to the depressing side of my epiphany.

As I went through my stuff-- shoes that were too uncomfortable to wear, jeans that had been too big for four years (thank you, active Swiss lifestyle) but that I had kept just in case the chunk came back, perfume and make-up that I had bought just because I was bored-- I was forced to acknowledge that I had made some pretty terrible choices as both a consumer and an owner of goods. I had several items of clothing that I had worn maybe once but that I had never been able to bring myself to get rid of  just in case I wanted to wear them again. I had half-empty bottles of lotion, perfume and make-up that I was always saving for a special occasion and that had since gone bad. I had, and this is where it really got difficult, tons of clothes, accessories and jewelry that people had given me as gifts and that I didn't actually like or use but felt bad about giving away.

I realized that all of it- the clothes, the products, the gifts- weighed on me. They distracted me and took space, time and energy away from the things I had that I actually liked. Every morning when I got ready for the day, I would open my closet and have to mentally separate the wearable from the unwearable. Then I'd sort through the jewelry that I never used to find the pieces that I actually liked. Then I'd have to push aside mostly empty bottles of old lotion to get to the one that had something in it. I never realized just how much energy that took until I didn't have to do it anymore. It feels incredible.

Decidedly less incredible was the process of actually sorting through it all- note my dejection as I realized just how much crap we had:

Going through the contents of our bathroom cabinet and hating life.
During the course of my purging, I also separated the clothes that I will need in the coming weeks before the trip from those that can go directly into storage until we get back. I grabbed around 25 of my favorite pieces from which I will choose to clothe myself for the next two months. It will take some creativity to mix things up and not wear the same five outfits every week, however I'd rather be challenged to get the most out of what I have rather than keep more than I need. Just opening my closet and only seeing the things that I love to wear has turned me into a born-again minimalist.

The point of all of this is that I want to learn from this experience and remember how this feels so that when we come back from the trip, I will change my consuming habits. Granted, I still love clothes and make-up and don't plan to become a hunter gatherer or anything, but I can make small changes to become a more discerning buyer so that everything I acquire actually goes to use.

I promise I'm wrapping this up, but at the risk of sounding even more like a sanctimonious a-hole, I want to end this with a quick round-up of the needless waste that made me feel the worst, the goal being that I can read this later and not make the same mistakes.

Of all of the things I got rid of, the following made me hate myself the most:
  • A massive amount of half-empty bottles of beauty products, make-up compacts, boxes of medicine, etc. I was horrified to actually have to look at the pile of stuff that was going to waste just because I didn't finish a product before buying a replacement or because I had been saving a product for special occasions and then forgotten about it completely. And I want to share my horror with you:
It looks innocent enough, but let me assure you, that pile was taking over my bathroom floor.
  • A trash bag full of cheap clothes. While I put aside a few bags of nicer things to give to friends, I still had a full bag of clothes that were of such poor quality that I was embarrassed to offer them to people I knew because they looked like hell after one or two wears. It's too easy to go into one of those cheap stores (I'm looking at you, H&M) and buy a bunch of crap I don't need simply because it doesn't cost much. In the end, I can't get much use out of what I bought because it falls apart easily or fits poorly, making it much worse of a deal in the long run than a more expensive, quality item that I wear all the time. Ditto for sale items that I would never buy at full price but that I just can't pass up because it's such a good deal! Cost per use and quality over quantity are my new mottoes.
  • Travel products taken from business hotels. Now, I love an adorable miniature shoe shine sponge as much as the next gal, but seriously, do I really need four (FOUR!) gallon-sized ziploc bags of hotel shampoos, shower gels, and the like? Of course not. I'm lucky enough to be able to afford shampoo, and chances are, so are you, so believe me when I say that it is not worth it. Not only is it a waste when you don't use them, but even if you do, the amount of plastic that goes towards producing those cute little bottles is heartbreaking.
  • Gifts. This one really makes me feel like an a-hole, but if I want to be honest about what I've learned, I need to address it. If you are someone who may need to give me a gift in the future, please don't. I'm serious. From now on, please, if you absolutely must give me something, make it consumable, i.e. edible, drinkable or able to fit in an envelope. No more things, I'm begging you. I am picky to the point that I can hardly buy for myself, so it is an exercise in futility for others to try to pick something out for me. Of course, I appreciate the thought and generosity, but 9 times out of 10, the gifts I receive sit in the back of my closet, jewelry box or drawer of batteries until I give it away. I realize just how awful that sounded, but if it saves even one person I care about from wasting money on a gift I will never use, it will be worth it.
So there they are, my life lessons learned from one weekend of clearing out our apartment. Since that post wasn't at all funny, uplifting or even travel-related (some travel blog this is...), I will try to make it up to you with my version of an olive branch:
Yes, that is a picture of V with a bowl on his head, pretending to be Asian. 

Hopefully our next lesson will be cultural sensitivity...

1 comment:

  1. We are all victims of marketing. I mean, look at all the campers on Wall street......all protesting against capitalism with their iPhones in their hands. But that's OK, we're all just human but it is a liberating experience though, to know that you CAN actually live without all this STUFF and leave it all behind if you wanted.....I posted this comment from my iPad by the way, so yeah, I love to know I can live without it but I also love to be seduced by marketing :-) Frankie