Looking for Happiness in All the Wrong Places!

Objects: An Inquiry

Some of us arrived in this fair land with a suitcase or the contents of a shipping container. My family, however, arrived with 90% of the contents of our English cottage in a giant overland truck. It was so embarrassingly large that they had to park on the roadside and stop traffic for two days. Did I mention that our apartment is less than 1000 square feet?

Why did we do such a mad thing? It seemed the easiest and the fastest thing to do: allow the removal guys to wrap EVERYTHING. Hence I found myself unwrapping such useful things as ancient kitchen spices, canned goods well past their sell-by dates, and broken mops. To add to the chaos, I became a bit of a hoarder in the first few years. I honestly started to believe that I couldn’t afford anything on the high street. I would buy things from England or on the Facebook forums rather than faint at the prices of “stuff” in town. My thinking about “lack” in our lives was driving a bizarre attitude to material goods in the home. And our little apartment was becoming more and more stuffed full.

Where does this pesky thought of “lack” come from? Its root cause is the simple misunderstanding that happiness is connected with material stuff. You know the one: “I’ll be happy when I have this…or that…. Then my life will be OK.” Looking at it objectively, in these terms, it seems illogical and obviously not the road to happiness. Yet we do it every single day. Again and again and again. We constantly misunderstand where our happiness comes from, so we surround ourselves with stuff. A lot of stuff.

Recently I was sitting in a coffee shop, trying to mind my own business. Two people were chatting at the next table, and I could not help but overhear their conversation. (I really didn’t mean to eavesdrop, but when anyone speaks English in my small town, my ears automatically tune in to my mother tongue: you have been warned!) One friend was talking about how his family had been convinced that they had to move house because they didn’t have enough room. Then he discovered an amazing book, whose advice they followed to the letter. The work was hard, but now they have so much space they are constantly amazed! The book? Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. I immediately whipped out my iPhone to Google her.

Kondo has a wonderful idea about tidying up that can be boiled down to one single question:

Does it spark joy?

This is not about objects/things making us happy (no object has the power to make us happy!) but whether we find the presence of them in our personal space “pleasing” or not.

Pick up any object in your house and you will find it sets off a “Google search” in your mind about the history and “meaning” that you have placed upon an object. Our minds then deliver a stream of “useful” information. Except it’s actually not useful; it’s noisy and often completely irrelevant. That’s why clutter and hoarding mess with our systems so totally – they are constantly helping our minds be so full of thoughts that the noise is literally mind-blowing.

An object is simply an object. The meaning is all our own. If that meaning is wrapped around guilt, such as, “Aunty Vera gave me this mug,” or “This cost so much I can’t throw it away,” or “I might be that size again, one day,” then get it gone: throw it out. Free yourself. Only keep what Marie Kondo refers to as things which spark joy. Why would you want to be surrounded by anything less?

Spring clean, anyone?

By Tammy Furey

Tammy is a coach, educator, writer and blogger who lives in St. Gallen, Switzerland with her husband and daughter whilst attempting (badly) to speak German and fold her paper recycling in the correct manner. Visit her at www.fureycoaching.com.

Illustration by Laura Munteanu

Laura has studied Journalism and Advertising, and has worked as a journalist and an illustrator. She has illustrated for magazines, websites, charity and various campaigns. Laura lives in Zurich with her husband and daughter.

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