the tyranny of existing things

My husband calls it the ‘tyranny of existing things’. It can apply to almost anything, but it’s specific in its ability to subtly annoy you to distraction and ill health. It’s the cookbooks that you still want to ‘go through’ and move to the kitchen. It’s the hanging kitchen cabinet door, still not worth calling the handyman to come and repair.

It’s even the weekly coffee date with a group of friends, the date and (friends?) you were over three years ago. It’s like one of those Confederate statues in the United States, or a moss-covered statue of Stalin still around in post Soviet Eastern Europe.

The tyranny of existing things is anything or any situation you no longer need, but can’t seem to shake off. 

The tyranny paralyzes and plagues you. And the more of these kinds of things and situations you have in your life, the more disgruntled you’ll be. Why wouldn’t you be, it’s tyranny! So what to do?

Rearrange your stuff, Part II, on your way to cultivating minimalism.

When people hear the word minimalism, or downsizing, they immediately think of getting rid of things. And while that’s correct – if you want to become a minimalist you’ll eventually have to get rid of stuff – it’s not the first thing to plunge into.

I’ve learned over the years, that most people get a deer in the headlights look when they’re told they have to sort through their possessions and just ‘toss’ what they don’t want, need, or haven’t recently worn. They get the deer in the headlights look and then they do nothing, because just the thought of approaching an existing pile or stash of things, paralyzes them. Not to mention what happens when people like me sometimes casually say, just ‘toss’ it.

And which room to start in, which closet, what stash? It’s all too much, especially of course, if one tends to gather, collect, or hoard. The answer is: rearrange first.

Once you’ve counted your shoes and defined (and perhaps redefined) your needs, you can begin to rearrange your stuff. It is in rearranging things that you’ll be able to see clearly what it is you can and absolutely can’t throw away!

Rearranging is a far more pleasant activity than cleaning out or ‘going through’ and mindlessly tossing. Think of flower arranging as you start in with those cookbooks. Don’t even move them to the kitchen yet; rearrange them by color rather than cuisine, or vice versa. Do that first and you’ll have taken a step closer to actually moving them.

Even the simplest rearranging can lead to wonderful revelations and enlightening results. Rearrange four paintings on the wall and realize that three really is better than four. Or that it’s been a long time since you cared for two of them and you really can toss them. You’re moving towards minimalism. You’re a curator, darling!

Rearranging your stuff is about rearranging your life. It’s using things as leverage to make positive change. It’s a way of kickstarting yourself into feeling like you’re already organized and efficient. And you will be, but…

It can also be scary, because once things are rearranged and tossed and settled, at the end of the day, it’s still you in your space.

Our things become about who we are, so when you dare to get rid of things it can be like throwing pieces of yourself away. Remember though, they’re pieces of you that you truly may no longer need or want. Don’t let the tyranny rule.

Minimalism is a way to live in your environment more organically, engaging with what remains in a healthy manner. It’s not just dusting and pushing around things, things that you couldn’t care less about. That’s tyranny. I’d rather be tyrannized by this William Morris quote:

‘Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.’   

After some initial mourning, you’ll feel lighter and ready to move on. Sure, change is often difficult, but relatively small changes can greatly improve your quality of life (not to mention help to reduce waste and shift the world towards sustainability). Once you rearrange things, you’ll see more acutely what it is that matters to you and what it is that you value.

While I never got into the whole Marie Kondo craze, I recently read and really appreciated this, where she talks about a breakthrough realization on the path to her system:

‘I was obsessed with what I could throw away. One day, I had a kind of nervous breakdown and fainted. I was unconscious for two hours. When I came to, I heard a mysterious voice, like some god of tidying telling me to look at my things more closely. And I realized my mistake: I was only looking for things to throw out. What I should be doing is finding the things I want to keep.’

I love that. Rearranging will help you to uncover the things you want to keep.

The goal of course is to eventually get to a place where you’re buying less and buying better and are generally more satisfied with what you have.

Change will always be thrust upon us from the outside. I can’t help thinking about how all of us were forced to rearrange our lives when Covid came and locked us down. Those times will come. For now, just go ahead and rearrange your stuff.  

Next time: what’s going on? One disappointment and two cool women.



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