By Jean Kinane


When asked about her worldly possessions, the late Mother Teresa who was once described as ‘The Humble Sophisticate’ said, “I carry around all my worldly possessions with me in this little bag. My personal needs are very simple.”

How refreshing and liberating it must be to carry such little baggage throughout one’s life. No valuables or increasing inventories to worry about. Sounds like a good way to reduce angry bank balances too! It certainly gives a profound ring of truth to the expression ‘Less is more’.

Perhaps Epicurus the ancient Greek philosopher was correct when he said, “The most pleasant life is one where we abstain from unnecessary desires, thus allowing one to achieve inner tranquillity by being content with simple things” and yet, our acquisitiveness (excessive interest in accumulating money and material things) is insatiable, and never-ending.
Our interpretation of that which we perceive ‘To need’ as opposed to that which ‘We Want’ can be quite overwhelming, particularly when bombarded with the continual presence of the Social Media ‘Must Haves’ not to mention the ‘Can’t do without’ items.

Coupled with this, we have the ever-changing trends, all of which send our accumulative minds and ‘wish lists’ in to overdrive. Add sentimental value in to the equation, and the hoarding sky rockets.
There is no doubt, being surrounded by a certain amount of material pleasures definitely helps to attribute to one’s overall happiness, but it is only with the passage of time that we become cognisant of the enormous amount of material things which we have accumulated, be it by default or otherwise, and with that comes the realisation that a lot of what we have amassed, no longer has the same appeal, as we see it as nothing more than clutter.

Perhaps the Buddhism philosophy ‘Desires are inexhaustible’ applies here. Their teachings say, “The satisfaction of one desire just creates new desires, like a cell multiplying”.
Apart from all our niceties, many of our boxes marked ‘Can’t throw- won’t throw’ account for a huge amount of our accumulated clutter, be it grandmother’s best china or old artefacts, none of which we necessarily want but feel compelled to keep, when all the while some keepsake photos of these referred to items, would evoke more interesting conversations and recollections, as opposed to keeping such items hidden away, to gather not just memories, but a mountain of dust.

When faced with the same dilemma, and determined to either ‘use’ or ‘let go’, I personally, and very cheekily painted my late mother’s treasured mahogany chairs pink! It makes for some amusing conversations about her, which possibly would never happen if they were tucked away.

When it comes to clutter, a 2019 article by Dr Lilly Sander from the Australian Bond University said, “Clutter can affect our anxiety levels, sleep and ability to focus. The visual distraction of clutter increases cognitive overload and can reduce our working memory.”
It is a strange phenomenon, as the more we have the more we seem to want.
Perhaps those with less are happier, as they are not constantly on a mission to add to what they already have; the enormity of which merely zaps one’s energy and puts the philosophy of Feng Shu “To Harness and establish equilibrium and peace between you and your physical environment” in to disarray.

And so, it appears that the more material possessions we have, the less value we put on them. Although we can all relate to the freedom of reducing an overwhelming build-up of belongings, it can still be a difficult process, as possessions often fill a void and tell a story which no one wants to erase.

Perhaps, our lives could be a lot less chaotic, if all of these memorable fragments /particles of our past could be encompassed with the presence of fewer but more meaningful and thought provoking possessions.
The most valuable item in my home is a worthless (in monetary terms) porcelain pig that has been passed down through five generations.
This one item which takes up just a fraction of space, depicts the childhood memories of five women covering a multitude of episodic memories.

Gathering bountiful tales and memories to laugh about is more meaningful than oodles of hidden boxes of clutter. Interestingly, after four extensive studies on materialism Professor Thomas Gilovich Psychologist from Cornell University came to the conclusion that “Happiness is derived from experiences, not things.”

In essence, it seems the minimalist way of living can be very beneficial, and has a positive effect on our mental health. Marie Kondo from the Japanese art of decluttering and organising says, “you are not choosing what to discard but rather choosing to keep only the items that speak to your heart. You can then reset your life and spend the rest of your life surrounded by the people and things that you love most.”
At the end of the day, we come in to this world with nothing, and equally go out of it with nothing.

Interestingly, the historical significance of giving a new-born child a silver porringer (otherwise known as a dish) and spoon as a gift, was seen as a token of monetary wealth and investment in the child’s future. Hence the origin of the phrase “Born with a silver spoon in their mouth’.
Not surprising then that we are conditioned from birth to be obsessed with materialism.

Another tradition, is where one gives a Tzedahah box, which is just a small wooden box similar to a small charity box. This is an old Jewish tradition. The idea being to remind the child to always look after those in need or less privileged. It then becomes a lifelong keepsake box. Not sure it lends to one being less materialistic! (but a nice idea).

Finally, when discussing the impact of materialism in the world, the great American Philosopher and Psychologist William James once said, “A man’s self is the sum total of all that he can call his”. Wise words from a wise man. ÷