Elegant Character Elegant Concepts Lifestyle Shopping

OUR relationship with Stuff


No doubt being elegant is about putting careful thought into everything around you, how you spend your time, dress up, decorate and definitely the stuff you buy and own. As I had written about choosing quality, and less is more, I’ll be the first to admit that I still struggle with this from time to time.

Why? The simple reason is because of modern society. Strangely, we live in a world of modern conveniences supposedly trying to help us save time but we often find ourselves strapped for time. With “less” time, I make many purchases on impulse without researching carefully or even giving purposeful thought on whether I could make-do with something else and of course I don’t have time to declutter!

And also, buying things has gotten a lot easier. I shop quite a bit on my phone. It is easy! When I’m doing boring things, I look to my phone for entertainment and shopping is some sort of entertainment. It is so easy to get lured in and get excited about something and click “BUY”! That results in careless, in-elegant purchases.

Also when you have too many things, it is just hard to be elegant. There is so much more to put away, your dresser doesn’t look elegant because it is all cluttered.

It is also easier to get more overwhelmed with stuff if your family members are also sucked into buying more stuff, such as your mother, husband or if you have children.

Maybe I’m bored but I get into phases where I treat shopping like entertainment. I get excited, my mind runs wild with the many ideas and images of myself holding/using this new shiny thing that is sitting in my shopping cart. When I’m tired from work and the whole run-of-the-mill everyday life, I find myself thinking with glee, “What can I buy today?” (because I’m seeking the endorphins from actually accumulating something) – to just add a little spark in my eye and skip in my step.

Let me just say, I’m not against buying stuff. I’m also not Marie Kondo and not against stuff. I’m thankful for the invention of plastic though I had to make changes in my lifestyle habits to be a more responsible consumer. Also my job is reliant on sales, and everyone is reliant on production to keep the economy going. So I’m not here to preach about the environment but I just want to say that it is about being as responsible as possible.

So as I was reflecting the other day, well-aware I have too much stuff lying around and my lack of de-cluttering, I remembered clearly about 3 instances in my life my relationship with stuff changed extraordinarily and that became the inspiration for this post. I want to explore why my approach to stuff changed in those moments and how I can draw lessons to have a healthier and more elegant relationship with stuff.

First Event: Stuck in immigration for 48 hours

I was stuck in the airport (horribly) in US immigration. It was an awful memory but I’ll share it here with you. Somehow there was an error processing my visa (this was years before I became a permanent resident) electronically and I didn’t know until I arrived in San Francisco airport. I was travelling alone and I guess that made it look suspicious. Long story short, I had to go to a special room where they questioned me like I was a terrorist, confiscated my phone and also went through all my stuff. After almost 12-18 hours, they decided they will not let me in the USA and decided on putting me on the next plane home. As a result I had to sleep in a random locked room in the airport on the carpet with officers overseeing me (with big floor to ceiling windows where I can see planes thank GOD), and I was allowed to pick a few of my things to make the rest of the night more comfortable.

When I was waiting for them to “process” my case, I only had my carry-on bag. They already confiscated my phone but luckily I had another one which I used it to secretly text my family about my situation. I couldn’t use it because they might confiscate it again, and also I needed to save batteries so I can use it again later. I was obviously very upset but had to hold it together. As I’ve witnessed other people in the same situation as me… if you cried, the immigration officers got even more agitated and started yelling. Therefore I just sat quietly and tried to be as calm as possible.

I had plenty of time to think, when I took a break from reading. I had no phone, and I only had a small bag of possessions. In such a vulnerable situation, everything I had with me became very precious. It might sound cliche, but I had a new appreciation for my stuff. I believe because it was familiar, and all the memories of my stuff came back. I was going to throw/give away the backpack I had. It wasn’t broken, it simply didn’t spark joy anymore. It was still in perfect form, clean and could be used for a long time. I appreciated the book I had, because now I had so much time to read (since I can’t use my phone). Everything I had, I took out and looked at it, smelt it and memories of all the times I had used those things came back. None of the things I had on me were precious before and now they have become. I found myself treasuring those few possessions.

When they wheeled out my checked-in bag later for me to get more fresh clothes, I was so happy to see my beat-up bag. I was almost delirious as I opened my luggage and saw all my familiar clothes etc. I gathered them preciously and took what I needed for the night. And for the rest of the time during this awful experience, I cherished my possessions like never before.

Second Event: Camping

This was way earlier, in my teen years. I had to camp out on an island SURVIVOR style as part of my leadership training. As for a citygirl like me, who doesn’t like sweaty summers or the tropical climate and “roughing” it out, any suffering for me would be a ski trip (please don’t judge). I hated spiders, ants and especially mosquitos, actually all kinds of bugs. So I wasn’t looking forward to this camp. Nevertheless, during the camp, I changed somewhat. And it also gave me a new sense of confidence that I could survive. Sure there were huge bugs, and a spider even shot a venomous liquid at my friend, but wow we built our own toilet, camp site, cooked our own food and washed with some seawater. We survived the heat of the day and chill of the night. I would say my camping experience was somewhat life-changing. It made me realize that I actually do not need most of the stuff I own. When I returned from my camping trip, I became less fashionable and would go out in simple clothes and my own family was shocked (haha). But alas, as I returned to city life and my city ways came back too.

Third Event: Hospitalization

In 2019, I was hospitalised for almost 2 months. I was allocated to the high-risk ward and doctors discouraged visitors in case of being exposed to infection. I won’t go into details – I’m fine and healthy now (no, the corona virus didn’t exist then). It felt like I was in some sort of prison. I had no interest in watching TV and mostly I kept to myself. My mind ran wild with insecurity, stress and emotion. After I spent the first week organizing my work/job situation, I realized I could do some work from the hospital. Even though I had no mood to work, I had to keep things going.

That made me realize again what few things I need. I simply had a laptop, some toiletries, kindle and snacks. Food and clothing was provided for the hospital. I worked in the mornings, took the afternoons off to just reflect, read, play games on my phone. And I remember this clearly – I had no desire to SHOP AT ALL. I didn’t even bother to surf my favorite shopping websites. I wasn’t interested in their new collections, I had no desire to see what others were wearing. I didn’t need any new clothes, make up, bags, shoes and all the trinkets. Even my work which had been so important to me prior to my hospitalization – didn’t seem to matter as much anymore.

Just to illustrate the context in the situation I was in, I was hospitalized indefinitely. I didn’t know when I would be discharged. Of course I was allowed to roam around the hospital, and I could take home leave to go home for a few hours, but the hospital discouraged it as it just increases risks for complications.

I remembered thinking – is this what is it like to be at the tail end of life? When you have lived your life and are old and grey, possibly in bed most of the time (sorry for the morbid thought but these were the thoughts that ran through my mind at that time) … is this what it feels like?

So to conclude on stuff, elegance and our relationship with stuff, this is what I have realized.

  1. Stuff is important

You need your stuff. Sure, declutter but be grateful that you own them because they serve you and actually make a difference in your life! Be thankful that you are rich enough to afford what you have. When my “freedom” was taken away like in the airport and in hospital, my stuff mattered to me more than ever before.

2. We buy stuff sometimes out of entertainment and sometimes because of exciting advertising lures. Our environment also greatly influences our need for stuff

We get inspired by exciting marketing campaigns that convinces us that we need a new phone. We also shop because it is entertainment. Our environment which includes the company we keep also influences our need for stuff more than we realize. Many times these things do bring us happiness so let’s not discount that. I think just to be aware of this when you buy stuff and simply remind yourself to be a conscious consumer. Also, don’t forget that the more stuff you have, the more you have to clean and organize and eventually declutter. It is also harder to be more elegant if you have alot of stuff.

3. Sparking joy in your stuff also depends on context/situation

As cliche as it sounds, it is true that we only appreciate what we have when we don’t have it anymore. How can we apply this principle to our life? In the same situation when suddenly I don’t have unlimited access to my stuff, everything around me sparked joy again. Is there a situation where you can regulate excess and access so that your relationship with stuff is healthier? I haven’t figured it out but I find that by rotating toys, my daughter has definitely renewed her interest in them. Maybe I should rotate my possessions. Trying to delay my buying has worked, as well as not browsing shopping sites when I’m bored (to a limited extent) and trying to find other sources of entertainment (like reading into current Meghan Markle fiasco – haha!). Also, I enjoy the re-usable life! I enjoy using and making things that I can reuse again and again, and find that I get the same endorphins when I wash a resuable item again, as when I purchased something new

4. Stuff will matter less eventually

As we experience life, certain events will make us realize that all our stuff, doesn’t matter as much as it used to. So no matter what is happening now, enjoy your stuff! Don’t save the best stuff for later. I remind myself to use all my best stuff regularly (I’m one of those saving types). I don’t feel we should aspire to the ultimate zen life where things don’t matter at all, but I think we should just enjoy and appreciate the things we have and acknowledge how much they have served us.

5. Use what you need, use the best and simplify as much as you can

Use what you need, take what you need and try to have less or just restrict having “a little excess” to your favorite things/hobby. If you need something, try to make-do first, instead of responding by running to the store to solve that problem by buying something. Spend time outside, with your loved ones when you’re bored and enjoy some craft using existing materials. Also try to creative and repurpose things – that does feel satisfying. It will also help you realize you don’t need most of your things.

Alright, that’s all for now! Thank you for reading my reflections about stuff! 🙂 Let me know what you think by commenting below.

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