Quietening the Material Noise…

There is no question in my mind that this year will be a very big year, it seems to be rushing by ever so quickly and is already almost one quarter gone. In looking forward to my busy future I’ve also been reflecting on my past and thinking that the cycles of life are rather curious things.

Don’t look at me, I’m the same as everyone else‘ … Our early years can be spent aiming for sameness; we want to look the same, act the same, and talk the same to ‘fit in’. However once we’ve blended in, we eventually discover the downside to being just like everyone else is that we can lose our own sense of self. It becomes frustrating rather than satisfying to be counted as one amongst many.

I’m so different you probably shouldn’t look at me‘ … From there we often set out to dramatically re-define ourselves and show the world we are clearly different from everyone else. These actions are often something obviously transformative like changing hairstyles or drastically changing our clothing style. However we demonstrate it, we clearly seek to demarcate ourselves as ‘our own persons’.

Look at me and all that I have‘ … Sometime later the radicalness of this self-expression generally tones itself down and we start to expand our material domain – perhaps by accumulating clothes, moving into a house, buying furniture, CDs, DVDs, books etc. Life can feel more secure, but it can also feel heavy, sometimes too heavy. Once more we can feel a little lost amongst all the ‘stuff’ of our lives.

Look or don’t look, either way is fine with me‘ … Pretty soon we come to realise that these efforts to define ourselves through such external means are rather pointless. What becomes important is less to do with the image we reflect to the world through our possessions, but instead has everything to do with the richness of our experiences and who we are as people.

I’ve been wanting to streamline and simplify my life for a long while now, but for the first time I feel like I’m actually making true progress in that direction. The wardrobe is shrinking, the bookshelves are emptying, and many hours have been spent listing items on ebay and waiting in line at the post office. While sometimes it can be sad to wave goodbye to some of the things I’ve owned for many years, all in all this has proved to be a re-energising process. I’m enjoying the feeling of setting things free into the world again and figure if I really do need to have them, they will find a way to come back into my life again at a later date.

Rather than seeing the space created by down-sizing my possessions as an opportunity to fill with more things, I now take great pleasure in the nothingness – the chatter and noise created by all those extraneous material possessions is gradually being quietened. Of course the desire for ‘things’ is ever present, but I now find it easier to separate a need from a want. I am better able to convince myself that many of my previously identified ‘needs’ are not life necessities at all.

This time of material purging fortuitously coincided with an article I read about Sam Worthington. In the article he spoke about his early film success and subsequent struggles with the ‘falseness’ of Hollywood. Eventually he reached a point where he needed to make a change. The solution? He decided to sell everything he owned – well, everything save for two bags: one for clothes and one for books. In his own words:

‘I sold everything I owned before Avatar. I had a house, a car, a microwave, but I had a bit of a brain-turn on reaching 30. I sold everything at an auction, so when I met Jim I just had a bag of books and a bag of clothes. Four years later I’ve still got a bag of books and a bag of clothes. I haven’t had time to settle down and buy a house, and I don’t think those things make up who you are. What makes me who I am is the person I’m discovering doing these films…’

While such a drastic distillation of my material life is currently unattainable for a whole host of practical reasons, I will use the sentiment as an aspirational goal to work towards. Little by little the background material noise will fall away, until nothing but a whisper remains.

Life will be lighter, quieter and so much richer.

6 Comments

  1. Gabrielle Bryden

    That’s fantastic. I’m been trying to simplify for the past few years but it is hard to to. I have definitely stopped shopping as much since I moved away from the city (mainly because it takes 50 minutes to drive to a place with lots of shops). I think I used to shop to make me feel better but now I realise that I feel just as good when I get rid of something and have a cleaner, less cluttered house as a result. I just wish the kids would let go of some of their stuff (they get so attached to things).

    1. tracey (Post author)

      Hi Gabrielle – Thanks so much for your kind words. I totally agree that trying to simplify is a REALLY hard thing to do. At least in moving away from the city you’ve removed yourself from some of the immediate temptations – my mine trouble is the ever present lure of online shopping!! Still I’m trying my best to stop buying as much as I used to, I figure in reality I really need very little to live on (possession wise).

      If your kids are anything like I was as a child, I can appreciate (and commiserate) with the difficulties in having them ‘let go’ of things. I was always a hoarder and had to keep EVERYTHING. I guess it’s an ongoing challenge (and battle) – best of luck with it!

      Apart from that, I hope you’re very well indeed! 🙂

  2. jason

    an excellent post, and gave me a great deal to chew on, especially the way you demarcate the life cycle in terms of the observer –

    1. tracey (Post author)

      Hi Jason – Thanks so much for stopping by and reading my words. I think I just wanted to give voice to some of my frustrations at letting things go, and also to share the little wins I’ve been having in simplifying my list of possessions.

      I hope you and your wonderful words have been keeping well! 🙂

  3. Greg Lexiphanic

    Before I travelled to the UK, I did much the same as Sam Worthington. I sold or gave away almost everything. Just prior to leaving I had two bags, but instead of books, the second had a laptop. I’ve never really wanted to add to that ever since and I don’t really feel like I have.

    Yet, I think so many people have trouble making it to that 4th stage. They get stuck on acquiring and showing off their possessions and don’t make it to the next stage until they’re shipped off to a nursing home with a bag of clothes and some books. Their children stay behind to pick through what’s left and then throw away the rest.

    1. tracey (Post author)

      Hi Greg – That ability to travel light and perhaps more importantly, ‘live’ light is a fantastic thing to hold onto. You’ll just need an extra bag for all the PS3 games! Haha … 😉

      Your second point is so very true – I mean what’s the point in accumulating all this stuff if it just takes up space and often distracts us from the ‘real’ experiences of life?

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