During lockdown, I found myself drawn back to an article written in 2018 by Joy Lo Dico for the Evening Standard magazine.
Joy’s article gave me hope as I saw my social calendar halt to a complete standstill and life reduced down to the simplest of ways.
In her earlier life, Joy aspired to the things that are familiar to many of us…
“We are told a story about how our lives should unfold: as you grow up, so, too, should your life expand. You acquire more things – some that you need, many that you don’t – you should aspire to owning a house, and then a bigger one in which to put your growing pile of possessions and perhaps family, too, one to match your status and ego. And you get stronger locks on your doors to protect it all.”
When Joy’s marriage ended, the possessions she had accumulated became a ‘hangover’. It was while listening to the recently floated Swedish company, Spotify, that she had a profound realisation that would set her upon the path of minimality.
“We had become digital. Streaming had streamlined our lives.”
Drawers were no longer needed to house the many cassettes and CD’s that had been lovingly collected over time. Joy’s child spent more time on the iPad than watching DVD’s or TV and all of life’s admin (like bank statements) was now online.
Joy embarked on a journey of shedding her possessions, downsizing her home, until she was down to a core of furniture, an electric piano, a few prints she loved, three shelves of books, an almost empty kitchen, and a super laptop.
“With every act of discarding I just became a little lighter in my soul…Friends who hungered for my middle-class existence were astonished. They fell out of my phone book. There’s not much space for entertaining in my new flat.”
Technology allowed us all to stay connected while confined to our homes during the Pandemic – something that wouldn’t have been possible a decade ago.
While confined to my home but still able to connect and interact with the world, I realised how relevant Joy’s words were and how irrelevant our preconceived ideas of possessional security had become.
The technological leap from my parent’s generation (they were both born in the 50’s-60’s) to mine has been huge.
Mind blowing in fact.
A monumental seismic shift which has radically impacted the way we live, work and communicate.
Technology now means that we can increasingly live and work from anywhere, keeping our treasured mind dumps on an invisible ‘cloud’ floating somewhere above us.
On a physical level, I find myself constantly clearing out things; possessions that were once meaningful or useful, but inevitably ended up being a burden and on the “do I really need it” pile.
Once I have minimised an area of the house or of my life, the relief I feel is palpable throughout my body.
Needless to say I have become watchful of everything I buy and keep – applying Kondo’s ‘does it spark joy’ mantra.
“The millennial generation needs and wants homes, but they are all instinctively and obsessively like the opposite: an Instagram life that places high status on travel, on food, on experience…they are committed to the mind, and shared on social media.”
It struck me how ‘in the moment’ this younger generation is. How they are rebuking the idea of stability and going their own way – tech know-how firmly embedded in their armour.
Joy goes on to quote a meditative piece from Bruce Chatwin, a Sotheby’s art expert, on what happens when we civilise:
“Our nomadic forebears had only what they could carry about their person, on their pack animals and in their minds. When nomads stopped walking and began to build villages, towns and cities they acquired possessions as a substitute for the experiences granted by movement that had previously filled the mind.”
Have we all bought into the misconception that filling our lives with “things” can make it, or indeed us, better?
Are we unconsciously substituting our previous freedom of wandering the Earth for accumulating possessions, in order to feel like we are “someone” – even if those very things ultimately cause our suffering?
“It is one of the ironies of the modern age that the capitalist society of California has begun to create a society in which objects lose their value. Once that happens, do we begin to reassess the real world?”
In Buddhism, attachment to things, people, or situations is the cause of much suffering. Embracing the impermanence of life, that is the constant ever-changing flow of it, is one way to find immense peace.
The idea that we could experience freedom in this lifetime simply by letting go and simplifying our lives, is at once liberating and impelling – if a little radical for the baby-boomer generation:
“There is an alternative to the security of closely held possessions and the fortress of a house: it is the security to know you saddle up the mules and change according to your situation.”
If you want to read Joy’s full article you can find it here: