Wednesday 17 January 2018

What Katie Did Next: In which I contemplate the notion that less really is more

Katie Byrne
Katie Byrne

I fantasise about owning a capsule wardrobe containing just 8-10 well-chosen pieces in a neutral colour palette by various Japanese fashion designers, just as I fantasise about owning a bedside table on which there is nothing more than a lamp, and a bathroom cabinet that has been relieved of the lotions and potions I no longer use.

Ease and simplicity would be the watchwords and I'd never misplace my passport again.

Only, then I end up in yet another concept store where I spot an off-the-shoulder jumper with a rhinestone unicorn embellished on the front of it! And an ankle bracelet made of South Sea pearls! And peppermint and liquorice tea!

Savings plans are abandoned and vows to live an austere lifestyle are forgotten when I cross the threshold of a concept store. I want everything - wrapped in crepe paper and secured with silk ribbon - right now.

I would buy into the minimalist lifestyle wholesale if I could just learn to resist temptation… and crystal candlestick holders, obscure coffee-table books and pestle and mortars (a word to the wise - you don't need more than one). Or perhaps I just need to learn how to validate my existence without using my Visa card.

Every so often, I perform stock audits and it's perfectly clear that I am in possession of everything I need. This leads me to conclude that what I want is simply novelty and newness. As Voltaire wrote: "It is fancy rather than taste which produces so many new fashions."

Shopping is an addiction, of course - yet another way to fill the hole in the soul - but its grip is especially sinister as it satisfies both our needs and our wants. We associate it with achievement and progress. A shiny new iPhone is a symbol of success (even if you have to scrimp and save until payday in order to acquire it).

Shopping activates the brain's reward centre in the same way that food, alcohol and illegal drugs do. Ergo, you're guaranteed a quick high followed by a lengthier hangover.

The buzz of a new purchase is particularly short-lived. The little black dress you thought you couldn't live without soon becomes just another item in a wardrobe teeming with little black dresses that you've forgotten about. Maybe this is why we feel compelled to showcase our new purchases to anyone who'll look - we need to justify the frippery to ourselves.

I spent a lot of time thinking about my 'stuff' on a recent trip to Germany. The long-distance lover and I helped a friend move all of his worldly possessions from London to Berlin in a silver Vauxhall removal van.

His furniture, bike and treasured record collection was stowed in the back as we drove from London to Dover and then Calais to Berlin.

Our pal has been living in Berlin for many months now, but he said his decision to move there permanently only hit home when he packed everything into the back of that van.

I noticed his face as he surveyed his stuff. It was etched with despondence. Not, I hasten to add, because it reminded him that he was leaving home, rather because at that moment, he realised that he had acquired an almost unwieldy amount of shite.

I've seen this expression before - it spreads across people's faces when they've been told that their luggage is eight kilos over at the airport check-in desk, or when they pull the ladder down to get into their attic. It's the look of encumbrance.

Stuff weighs us down. Moving house becomes an ordeal. Moving country becomes an odyssey. I wonder if moribund romantic relationships would end earlier if the couple hadn't acquired so much stuff to redistribute. It reminds me of the George Carlin quote: "A house is just a place to keep your stuff while you go out and get more stuff."

The more we accumulate, the less freedom we have. We have too little money to live spontaneously and too much stuff to live freely.

This is what I try to tell myself when I'm in TK Maxx buying a potato ricer and a cheese knife. I'm not just spending my money, I'm spending my freedom.


Our friend's stuff is now sitting in a storage unit. These containers are often left abandoned. I wonder if the owners missed the payments or just realised that they didn't particularly miss their stuff.

Storage units are very popular in the US, where people pay exorbitant monthly fees to house items that they'll probably never use again. As a wise man once said: "The things you own end up owning you."

Lately, I've been curtailing my spending by asking if I could realistically pass the item on to my goddaughter in 20 years' time. The answer is invariably no. At the very least, I'd like to live by the William Morris dictum: "Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful."

All I really need is less - and I have a sneaking suspicion that the more extraneous clutter I can remove from my life, the more room I'll make for the stuff I really need.

Although I really do need that ankle bracelet...

I need to learn how to validate my existence without using my Visa card

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