Why decluttering life sets us free from the clutches of consumerism

2015-07-09 18:30:01

We are all living the modern dream – we pay for conveniences, we eat out, we travel and we entertain. And, yes, we use plastic quite a bit to pay for all of this. Ask the average executive whether male or female and he or she is likely to have a sizeable credit card debt at any given time. When you are in line at the supermarket checkout, you cannot help but notice that almost everyone pays with plastic; that’s the way the world does business these days.

There used to be a time when we mended broken things and kept them instead of giving them away or throwing them. That habit is long gone for most. If a garment came apart at the seams, we would have it mended. If a TV broke, we would call in the repairman. That hardly happens now because consumerism is targeting us with more bait than we can count. If your old TV is broken you can easily exchange it for a buy back offer and buy a bigger, more technologically superior TV for which you will be paying for a while.

There also used to be a time when we actually saved money by living on less than what we earned. Everyone paid with cash – you didn’t use money you did not have. While some do still save, most live on a month-to-month basis because when the credit cards are paid for (the offers are simply irresistible, I know), there is very little left over to do anything else.

We also collect a whole lot more than we need. Consumerism is no longer a western disease – we in Asia suffer from it too. The bigger the better, the more clutter the better. Our pantries are full of electronic gadgets we seldom use. I know of many people who have exercise equipment that is rarely used. One set of crockery will not do. We need to fill the expensive kitchen cabinets with more and more glasses to make it look good.

Shopping ban on yourself
A Canadian woman who realized she was living a life enslaved to consumerism and cluttering, imposed a shopping ban on herself and started decluttering over the year. In her blog, Blonde on a Budget, Cait Flanders detailed her journey from buying take out coffee and books so frequently that it was eating into her earnings, to imposing a shopping ban on herself and setting herself free in the process. Flanders says she decluttered, gave away the stuff she had accumulated over the years, things she didn’t even use and found a unique sense of freedom that she didn’t know she had. In the process, she learnt to live on 55 percent of her income and also learnt to save. 

As Flanders tells the story, it wasn’t easy at first; choosing to cook or eat a shared meal at a friend’s place was tougher than going out for a meal. But she found cooking was a better option – she even started growing her own vegetable garden and has discovered the pleasure of watching plants grow. 

She found she had a lot of clothes and shoes she never wore and gave it all away. She decluttered her kitchen and her cupboards and realized managing a simpler pantry was liberating. To the extent that when she had to visit a mall to buy a gift, she says she found the experience overwhelming, to be in the presence of so much of consumerism, inducing people to buy more.

It doesn’t always have to be the path she chose but most of us would definitely benefit from decluttering our lives and our spaces and committing ourselves to take a break from all that consumerism. With plastic in hand, this is not so easy. As a psychologist recently said, it was easier to convince ourselves we needed to savour the moment without sacrificing it for the future. So, eating the third piece of cake becomes as easy as one simple gulp. Splurging on the new collection is easy when you convince yourself you look good in almost every one of them. Instant self-gratification has brought us to the brink of consumerism and the fall can be dangerous.

Flanders knew what she was doing – having banned herself from shopping and spending on unnecessary treats like take out coffee and restaurant meals, she says she was able to manage on her income and get out of debt – she even managed to save a considerable amount. Now maybe it doesn’t apply in the same way to us here in Sri Lanka but the principles are sound enough. 

Maybe we too need to take a good look at the stuff crammed in our cupboards and lives and declutter – maybe we need to impose a shopping ban on ourselves and say no to the next credit card offer even though it may sound too good to be true. Learning to say no is a good thing when what is at stake is more debt, more money spent on stuff you didn’t need.

As Flanders learnt, maybe it can be a journey of self-discovery when we start to do the things that were once what people did everyday – cook a meal with family, clean out storage spaces, give away things we don’t use, learn to sew or mend – the rule of thumb says if you haven’t used it/worn it in a year, chances are you never will - and keep only what you need. 

The trouble is we have confused needs with wants and don’t really know where to begin. 

(Nayomini Weerasooriya, a senior journalist, writer and a PR professional, can be contacted at

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