I had expected moving house to leave me feeling disoriented. What I hadn’t counted on was the self-loathing. Why have I kept a broken fly-swatter, a metal bird with one leg and shelves of books I’ve never read? Why do I have four boxes full of clothes when I wear the same thing nearly every day?
Moving puts us in a confrontational relationship with our possessions. All of the things we hide in cupboards and cram in drawers must suddenly be addressed and reckoned with. The job of unpacking usually involves shoving these objects as quickly as possible into the built-in closets typical of most American homes. But owing to its age, the house I have just moved into has none. This hardly seemed like a deal-breaker when we first saw the place, given its spacious rooms, hard-wood floors and big windows. And there’s always IKEA. But in the short term I am forced to see my things for what they are: unmade decisions, unfulfilled promises and unlikely ambitions.
It has never been easier to accumulate things, which means we have never felt more burdened by them. Sales of home-organisation products in America reached $16bn in 2016, and are expected to rise to $19.5bn in 2021. A recent survey of American women aged 18 to 55 found that the average respondent had over 100 items in her closet, at least a fifth of which she never wore. Many see their closets as sources of stress.
Ernest Dichter, an acolyte of Sigmund Freud and a marketing legend, understood that our relationship with our things is hardly rational. In his book “The Strategy of Desire” (1960), he describes closets as “the time capsules of the family life”. They let us hang onto our past, and insure against the uncertainty of the future. I may wear black jeans every day, but my tastes were once more catholic and they may soon be so again, so I keep my unworn trousers to ward off feelings of regret. When we expect our closets to contain our past and future selves, it is only natural that we never seem to have enough storage space. A full closet represents our hope that we will live long enough to read every book and wear every dress. In a house without closets, I find I need to be a little more realistic about my needs, and a little more honest about my time.
acolyte /’ækəlaɪt/ n. someone who assists a priest or minister in a liturgical service; a cleric ordained in the highest of the minor orders in the Roman Catholic Church but not in the Anglican Church or the Eastern Orthodox Churches 追随者; 侍僧；助手（指教士的）
I trace my own affinity for collecting unused objects and unworn clothing to my mother. She raised me to recognise that everything old becomes new again. A coin belt from the 1960s makes for a stylish accessory in the 1990s; a black floral dress from the 1970s is a perfect summery shift in the 2000s. “You never know,” she would say. I learned from her that our belongings deserve our loyalty. If they were good to us, then we must be good to them, even when they seem useless. If they never fulfilled their promise – if they hang there, sulking, with the price-tags still on – then we must keep them until they can exonerate themselves, or save them as cautionary reminders of our misguided judgment and base impulses. Our things tell us stories about ourselves.
affinity /ə’fɪnɪtɪ/ n. a close connection marked by community of interests or similarity in nature or character 吸引力；姻亲关系；密切关系；类同
The fact that these stories can become cacophonous – that our many things sometimes spin unflattering yarns about who we are and what we prioritise – has inspired a boomlet of books and businesses that aim to help us declutter our homes and our lives. Marie Kondo, the Japanese author of “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up”, now enjoys a cult following for promising that we can change our lives by getting rid of possessions that don’t “spark joy”. My instinctive response to this phenomenon – which has spawned an app (KonMari), a verb (“to Kondo”) and a publishing franchise selling over 7m books worldwide – was condescension. Isn’t “joy” a rather high bar for a cowl-neck sweater or a lemon squeezer? But now, surrounded by things that spark something like the opposite of joy, I understand her logic.
cacophonous /kəˈkɔfənəs/ adj. having an unpleasant sound 发音不和谐的,粗腔横调的
declutter / diːˈklʌtə / v. to simplify or get rid of mess, disorder, complications, etc 简化或处理掉(杂乱无章或复杂的状态)
Where Kondo offers the promise of a more orderly, less encumbered life, Fumio Sasaki, the latest decluttering guru (also from Japan), promotes something more ambitious. “There’s happiness in having less,” he declares in his new book on minimalism, “Goodbye, Things”. For Sasaki, tidiness is not enough. Indeed, surrounding ourselves with things – even those which spark joy – is a recipe for torment. “I was always comparing myself with other people who had more or better things, which often made me miserable,” he writes. So, like countless minimalists before him, he threw almost everything away, and felt better immediately.
guru /’gʊruː/ n. a recognized leader in some field or of some movement (个人的)宗教老师(或指导),(受下属崇敬的)领袖,头头
Sasaki writes with the zealotry of the newly converted. His observations are simple and unsophisticated – “Our worth is not the sum of our belongings”; “Possessions can make us happy only for brief periods” – in keeping with the “I was lost, now I’m found” self-help template. I’m not sure it would have been translated if publishers weren’t so eager to find another preacher spouting the decluttering gospel. This is not to say that Sasaki’s views are without merit. Most of us are indeed happier when we spend our time and money enjoying new experiences and cultivating deeper relationships rather than buying shinier things. But few need Sasaki to spell this out. His self-righteous asceticism – which included selling all his books, getting rid of all his music and tossing away everything from his antiques collection to his camera equipment – is a little too joyless for me.
佐佐木文雄以新皈依的狂热分子身份执笔，他的观点很简单且与 “我曾迷失，但现在我找回自己” 这类励志格言相似——“我们的价值不是由我们的财产决定的”，“财产只能给我们带来短暂的快乐” 。要不是出版商迫切地需要再找一位信奉整理之道的传教者，这些文字或许不会被世人知道。不是说佐佐木文雄的观点毫无价值。多数人在享受全新体验，培养深厚友谊时会得到比购物更多的乐趣，但鲜有人认同佐佐木文雄的做法。他自以为是的禁欲主义包括了卖光书，远离音乐，抛弃一切，这对我来说有点太无趣了。
zealotry / ˈzɛlətrɪ / n. extreme or excessive zeal or devotion 狂热行为
asceticism /ə’setɪsɪz(ə)m/ n. a simple, strict way of life with no luxuries or physical pleasures 禁欲主义
For all my anxiety about my possessions, I can’t say I’m hankering for a big purge. Perhaps I am bristling against the idea that there is something inherently virtuous in decluttering, as if we become purer, deeper people when we don’t have stacks of magazines collecting dust beneath our coffee tables. But I think a larger part of me takes delight in the way our objects say something about our time. A thoroughly decluttered life requires us to inhabit an extended present tense, where objects either serve the moment or serve no purpose at all. As I embark on a new life in a new home, I naturally remain a little greedy for mementos of the person I once was. The stuff of life can offer some soothing continuity, even if it all feels distressingly disordered right now.
hanker/ ˈhæŋkə / v. desire strongly or persistently 渴望