There’s a line in the movie Fight Club where Brad Pitt’s character Tyler Dundon states “ The things you own end up owning you.” Now I’ve always known on an intellectual level that this is true, but it’s not until recently that I’ve felt on an emotional level just how true it is. You can see it all the time – possessions getting in the way of living. Parents chastising their kids for gettting mucky, not allowing them creative play in case they dirty themselves or, even worse, the house up. “Your good clothes! Your good shoes! The good carpet!” Just who are we trying to impress and what are we trying to prove?
Obviously there’s nothing inherently wrong with possessions, after all they are just things. But all too often we allow them power to determine just how how we live. We can feel that what we own is a projection of who we are. But of course, I’m not my car, or my house, or my outfit. Possessions are just matter: manifestations derived from the real cogs we allow to govern us and strip away our freedom: our ideologies, our beliefs about ourselves and of course the big dude behind it all -the media, foisting images of lifestyles and crap upon us that keep us locked in an unending cycle of consumersm and untenable desires. And what does a mass of matter in the shape of things, do for us anyway? Complicates our lives – that’s what. Do we really need a wardrobe full of twenty dresses and as many shirts? Does it really matter if the windows aren’t gleaming?
I’ve recently been reading about a project being undertaken by two thirty something American guys who call themselves The Minimalists. In the name of experiencing real freedom these guys took the decision to declutter their lives in twentyone days. Packing away all of their wordly possessions (including toothbrushes!) into boxes, they proceeded to only take out only what they needed each day. Apparently by day eleven they had unpacked everything they needed to live by. And as they pointed out “Its amazing the things you think you need that you don’t really need.”
But how can minimalising your life assist you in finding freedom? What does it bring you freedom from? According to The Minimalists it brings freedom from fear, freedom from worry, freedom from overwhelm, freedom from guilt and freedom from depression. Freedom from the trappings of the consumer culture we’ve built our lives around. Real freedom. Minimalism is a tool used to rid yourself of life’s excess in favor of focusing on what’s important so you can find happiness, fulfillment, and freedom.
I readily admit that I’m an accumulator of “things”. I regularly use my possessions, clothes, fashion etc to express who I am. But I can appreciate the value of such insight. I don’t know if I’d have the balls to take it as far as The Minimalists – I haven’t reached a stage where I could happily shed the egotistical habits and compulsions that go hand with ownership, but I definitely get where they’re coming from. Then again, as they quite rightly stress, you can’t half do it, you either are a minimalist or you aren’t.
Nonetheless, it’s true that the control our belongings exert over us varies from person to person. I’d say that on a first world spectrum from zero to ten, I’m about a five. However if my life circumstances were different I could have been much nearer the top end of that scale. The short audio doc attached tells such a story. This is the story of ‘Marge’ from Dublin’s inner city. Marge, having been brought up in an impoverished tenement became totally neurotic about keeping her own family home as spotless as possible. That is until a terrible thing happened….
The Curious Ear is produced by Ronan Kelly email@example.com
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