Sometimes, when I’m having a bout of anxiety (or a full blown panic attack), I close my eyes and imagine myself in an almost empty room.
Nowadays, this is the calmest situation I can think of, other than being by the sea or halfway up a mountain. A space without clutter, without objects.
I wasn’t always like this. But more and more, I’m mindful that ‘stuff’ (and shopping, AKA the act of acquiring it) does very little to make me happy. If anything, it actively makes me feel worse.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m not a minimalist or a committed experientialist. I’m not even particularly tidy. (I can imagine my Mum and boyfriend reading this and huffing, ‘HA! Sounds like news to me!’).
And I’m not judging anyone for buying things. I like things! I like objects that are beautiful and functional. I do a little wriggle with delight every time I sit on my balcony furniture, and my coffee table is a source of endless pleasure. I feel immediately becalmed by turning on my bedside lamps, which scatter light across the room like stars on a night sky. My friend Polly has a kitchen table made out of her childhood bed that genuinely makes my stomach contract slightly with lust.
But these are things that serve a purpose; they make a home a comfortable place to live in. I feel the same about clothes, shoes and bags: I’m still furiously in love with my four-year-old Barbour jacket and the multitude of pockets it offers. But nearly every dress I’ve ever bought has at some point made me feel shit about myself. Hmm.
As a result, I’ve started to read a hell of a lot about how I can make myself happier and less anxious by whittling down the amount of unnecessary crap I either keep in my flat or lust after online. This is important for your mental health on two fronts. One, clutter is stressful. The more clutter, the more mess.
Two, our need to keep buying things… well, it usually means something, doesn’t it? When we buy things, the sad reality is that we’re often trying to be somebody, or impress somebody, or plug a gap. But in reality, we’d probably get a lot more joy out of life if we stopped spending £200 a month in Topshop and spent the money enjoying activities with our loved ones, seeing new places, and building memories.
So what am I doing about it? I’ve started to unsubscribe from newsletters and direct mailers from brands I once loved. (Sorry, did anyone else think GDPR was going to do that for us?!). I’ve started to donate or throw things away if they’re sat in a cupboard or ‘tidied away’ somewhere.
Finally, I’m forcing myself to research before I buy, and only buy on a needs basis, like the rucksack I replaced recently. Most importantly, I’ve begun to question and interrogate my purchase. If you’re interested, here are the questions I’ve been asking myself to discover if an object is really going to bring me happiness, or if my money could be better spent elsewhere (e.g. weekend breaks to Europe).
Does having it cause you stress?
‘Things’ should be beautiful, or useful, or both. But the things you own shouldn’t cause you stress. If all you’re ever doing with something is finding new ways to store it out of site, get rid of it. Likewise, if you own something that makes you feel bad about yourself (like, half of my wardrobe), get it down a charity shop pronto.
Even if you like it, do you actually need it?
I picked up some beautiful coasters yesterday, tootling home down Blackstock Road. And when I say ‘picked up’, I mean ‘picked out the four I wanted to buy’. But then I realised that we already have beautiful coasters. Like, more coasters than we could actually use, unless we both decided to drink three brews simultaneously. Or had four guests around. Sometimes, just because you like something, doesn’t mean you need it – especially if it’s just adding to an existing pile of clutter.
Do you need to pay that much money for it?
Will the expensive version of something really make you happy? This isn’t a snide question – I prefer slightly more expensive bedding, for example, because it generally feels nicer on my skin. T-shirts, however: no. I do not need to pay £100 for something I’m going to spill ketchup on. Get out of Selfridges and put it down.
Jeans are another good example of this. You can buy high quality, stylish, fashionable jeans for £50-100. (My thighs rub through anything cheaper). Is a £300 pair genuinely going to make you any happier?
Basically, before you buy something, ask if you’re really getting a level of value that’s proportionate to the extra spend. Because all of that ‘extra spend’, over the course of a year, could pay for an amazing holiday or the adult learning course you’ve always fancied to build your dream career. Just saying.
Are you buying this for the person you are or the person you want to be?
I can’t tell you how many pair of high-heeled shoes I bought as a teenager/young adult. I don’t like heels. I don’t like walking in heels. I don’t feel happy in heels. They’re deeply uncomfortable, and you can’t dance properly in them. And I definitely wouldn’t want to have sex with anybody who doesn’t fancy me in trainers, so I can’t even argue I wanted my legs to look thinner.
So why did I keep buying pairs of heels? I have no idea. I think I want to be the sort of woman that can and does walk in heels. Baffling. In short: you can’t buy your way into being a different sort of person. And you won’t find happiness by trying.
Do you love actually love it, or do you think it says something about you?
Very like the above. This is a hard and uncomfortable question to ask yourself. I have been guilty of it on so many occasions. And have, over the years, probably wasted £1403493024932 in Urban Outfitters as a result.
It’s not easy, and it’s a work in process – I’ve been trying to get up the energy to tackle my wardrobe with all of this in mind. But it is worth it – because every draw I clear and every penny I save from not buying crap needlessly is helping me on my way to a slightly saner, happier life. Which sounds like a good direction of travel to me.
(This plant, this copper pot, and this Bowie print all make me happy every time I look at them. As does the chap in lurking behind).