How much stuff do you really need?

19:05, Nov 19 2013
war on clutter
WAR ON CLUTTER: Purging and recycling regularly is one way to stay one step ahead of clutter.

Thousands of Christchurch people have had to pack up their belongings and shift out of their houses while earthquake repairs are completed.

The process makes you think how much stuff you really need. What size house do you need?

You probably don't need thousands of books, magazines, or old school projects. In the internet age, documents and writing end up stored on a hard drive. So do photographs, although I still have my slide collection. I have kept some magazines.

Miscellaneous clutter seems to accumulate in the garage. We managed to get rid of one whole cupboard. No doubt more stuff could go, and I could be more ruthless.

Helping my mother shift from a large place in Wellington years ago into a small unit, it was clear she had kept far too much stuff. Possibly it was a result of going through World War II in England.

Sorting through stuff can be therapeutic. According to Karen Kingston, author of Clear Your Clutter With Feng Shui, getting rid of stuff cleanses negative energy and frees you up to new, positive experiences.


Now, technology and social change are bringing profound shifts in the way we live and work.

Computers save space. No longer do we need huge shelves or files packed with paperwork. Questions remain, however, over the security and permanence of data.

Our society is predicated on buying and accumulating stuff, but how much of it is worthwhile? Visit any large retail store or mall and watch the eager shoppers.

Visit the metro refuse centre and watch the trailer loads of rubbish being tossed on to the landfill. How much is pure waste of resources, energy, and labour?

In Rethink the Way you Live, British author and former glitzy magazine writer Amanda Talbot, warns "there is a sense of urgency to make a change in the way we live".

There are "no guiding principles other than that there are no guiding principles", she says.

It seems, though, that fads and fashion are giving way to items with lasting value, produced with concern for the environment.

Nothing lasts forever, but we do not want to get rid of everything. We have a responsibility to preserve important items for future generations.

Christchurch-based co-founder of the Redcurrent homeware stores, Rebecca Kain, reckons the answer is to hang on to items that have profound personal value.

Her book, Faded Glamour - Nostalgia Revisited, was inspired by the lives of her grandmothers, Kit, Lady Acland, and Betty Coltart, whose homes were "built on the confidence of knowing exactly what they liked, not what someone had tried to sell them, or the 'current look' ".

In his fascinating book, On The Trail of Genghis Khan - An Epic Journey Through the Land of the Nomads, young Australian explorer Tim Cope travels on horseback across the Eurasian steppes. Although under threat in places, the nomadic lifestyle persists.

For nomadic people, Cope discovers, the most valuable possessions are the most practical, well-made, and long lasting. Perhaps we can learn from that.

Today, more than ever, western populations are itinerant. We are the new nomads. For younger people, especially but not exclusively, wider career opportunities open up if you are prepared to travel. This applies more than ever in small countries and towns like New Zealand and Christchurch.

If you are willing to move, then you will find it much easier if you have fewer possessions. Travel light but travel well.

Destinations and accommodation must be appealing and affordable. It helps to build flexible houses that adapt to suit changing needs, for all ages and abilities. The Lifemark standard for new houses ensures they are designed to be future-proof and accessible.

One area where many existing houses are lacking is in the provision of good storage. A place for everything, and everything in its place really helps in the quest for minimalist perfection.

We are also seeing a big move towards smaller homes. Some architects are adept at maximising living space on a small footprint. Versatility and flexibility are the keywords. Not everybody needs or even wants a MacMansion.

Big, gaudy, glitzy homes for only a couple of people now seem excessive, out of touch, and in poor taste.

For some people, however, trying to build a new smaller home can be tricky. One couple wanted a smaller house with a big garden, but the new subdivision rules insisted they build a big house. They bought an old house instead.

Changing entrenched attitudes can be hard, but the mid-20th century pattern of consumption is already giving way.

Exponential growth - bigger houses, more cars, boats, big- screen TVs, and businesses seeking ever more profit - in the long term is unsustainable.

The Press