How to live more simply
When I was a teenager, my family would spend every summer holiday camping at Wilson Promontory’s Tidal River campgrounds. Somehow we’d manage to fit a family-sized tent, two tall children and two taller adults into a pea-green Renault TX, and trundle down for a fortnight of sun and sand.
This of course meant leaving most of our Christmas swag at home, and packing a carefully curated selection of clothes and books, in order to maximise car space and minimise tent crowding.
Without fail, every year I would get a monastic thrill from the sheer lack of “stuff”, and vow to clean out my room upon return, only to come straight back from the Prom and into my bedroom so packed full of ephemera that sentences like “Puss crawled under the bed and vomited in my Barbra Streisand scrapbook” were scientific certainties.
As I got older and trips away meant carry-on suitcases the size of my head, I’d have the same reaction to travel - “isn’t it nice not to be dragging around all these things” - followed by the same lack of action when I got back home.
At the start of the year, however, I moved to L.A., and this past month (after a fun sojourn home to remove troublesome wisdom teeth), I made it as permanent as a five-year press visa will allow: I signed a lease on a flat.
Having returned from the meeting with the property manager to my temporary sublet at my friends’ house, I sat down to write a “to buy” list. After half a page of dense scribbles, I realised that the list amounted to “everything but the flat itself”.
Despite the horrors of hemorrhaging money in that way only moving house can allow, I’ve been struck by how - after over a decade of Governmentally-recognised adulthood - I’ve finally made good on my promise to myself to start afresh with drastically reduced amounts of stuff.
With each house-move there’d be a show of “getting rid of things”, a sort of half-hearted garage sale cum Vinnies run that would inevitably get rid of all of two and a half green bags full of stuff, and yet leave me buoyed with a glowing sense of virtuousness. “It feels so good to start fresh,” I’d tell friends, leaning back in my office chair against a groaning mountain of packing boxes stuffed to the gills with 28 years’ worth of detritus, “yeah, I really recommend it.”
But we drag more than objects with us when we gather moss: feelings accumulate in piles of clothes and trinkets. That jumper that you wore while sobbing in the outer suburbs; the terrible cookbook an ex’s aunt gave you for Christmas; the cheap pink plastic kitchenwares that remind you of the traffic roaring by at 3am in your first ever flat that you were too excited to notice was actually on the side of a freeway. You might not have any skeletons in your closet, but how many ghosts are in there, and the cutlery drawer, and the back shed?
As I’ve put together my flat this past week, I’ve been struck by two things: how nice it is to be able to put together a household (even if it’s a tiny one) according to my adult tastes in a slow and considered manner, rather than in a frenzy according to what is on sale at Freedom that week, but more importantly how freeing it is not to be followed everywhere by a black dog constructed from pilled Supre leggings with the bums worn transparent and shoeboxes full of old mix-CDs and memories.
Obviously moving countries has afforded me extra opportunity to wipe the slate clean (you can only fit so much in two pieces of checked luggage), but there’s no reason why you can’t do it even without a house-move as an excuse: have a “shouty ad”-style garage sale, give Vinnies a bumper donation, tell your friends to come pick over your wardrobe.
It’s nice to be able to stand in the middle of an empty flat and muse “I think a mid-century vibe for the flatwear” (even if it comes from Goodwill), but it’s even nicer not to be carrying around all those bad vibes and ghosts after all this time.