Not a very appealing title. I wanted to catch your attention. Reader now that I have it I must tell you that the above is quoted to be William Morris (1834 – 1896). Morris was a designer, poet, novelist, and social activist. He moved with the pre-Raphaelite group of Rossetti and Burne-Jones from which emerged the Victorian arts and crafts movement. The movement emerged from a reaction against a decline in standards, a criticism of the overly ornate, artificial, and ignorant, and a reconnection between design and creation. Thinking ahead of his time, Morris’ quote was guidance against the consumer trend of finding satisfaction in the things we need to have regardless of use, longevity, or beauty.
Have you heard the tune by Arcade Fire called Everything Now? You know it? I am surprised and what great taste you have. It’s a catchy tune, yet somewhat innocuous. A tune that washes over you without much attention paid to it. Except your body will move to it, or you find yourself tapping your fingers on the steering wheel not really paying much attention. At the very least you sung along to the la la la’s towards the end of the tune?
Don’t disappoint me, of course you did!
The tune is not the important bit, but oh those lyrics – they read like poetry to me!
And every room in my house
Is filled with shit I couldn’t live without
(Everything now!) I need it
(Everything now!) I can’t live without
(Everything now!) I can’t live
(Everything now!) Every inch of space in my heart
Is filled with something I’ll never start.
The ashes of everything now
And then you’re black again
Can’t make it back again
From everything now
Stop pretending you have everything now.
This is a song about striving to have everything, yet ending up with nothing, and not finding satisfaction in the things you need to have. The song reminds me that knowing what you want to have results in abandoning some more important relationships and innate values. Whilst all the while pretending that you are having a good life because you have “things.” When you focus on the external, you by consequence, neglect yourself.
We all own a lot of stuff. Belongings, artefacts, memorabilia, memories, collections, things, decorations, ornaments, adornments, embellishments, things to admire, to use, to make life easier, to make life more pleasurable. Things to have to show, and things to show off. Things to make us feel and look good regardless of how we feel inside. When you accumulate, your self-worth starts to be measured by what you have.
At the extreme is a hoarding disorder, that is listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-5) as a distinct mental health problem. Hoarding carries with it a stigma and misconception that help to tidy up is all that is needed. Hoarding results in having strong positive feelings whenever there are more items, anxiety at throwing things away and a struggle to make decisions about what to keep or to get rid of. Having things taken away, or giving them away can increase feelings of anxiety, shame and loneliness and can be counterproductive. Hoarding is hugely misunderstood and judged and needs to be approached empathically and expertly. In such extremes, the hoard is what is keeping the person emotionally safe.
The work by Bowlby and Ainsworth on infant attachment explains that the experience we had as children was powerful in establishing the way we approached the world, in particular other people and relationships. Attachment styles can also be considered in relation to belongings, food, and circumstances. Attachment styles relate to whether or not we feel safe and secure in the world and our surroundings. If you did not experience a “secure base” (Bowlby, 2007) as a child, then the world can feel unsafe in many ways. Have you ever said to yourself “I might need that later” and put the item back into the cupboard alongside everything else that “might come in handy?” This kind of self-narrative boils down to not feeling safe about your capacity to provide what you need when a need comes in the future.
Training to be a counsellor has been an extremely stern discipline. It was not for the faint hearted and gratefully I had had the resilience and reliance to complete it. During my training I likened the exposure of all my shadows, fears, and insecurities as a violent act of scraping my insides and, if that wasn’t enough, cleaning my bones so they too were left unspoiled. I have a strong visual image of this sternly disciplined process, that I liken to my own Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein horror.
I am now a robust counsellor who has the capacity to hold experiences in a confident and safe way.
I am in no way suggesting you should go through the same rigour. The surprising outcome of the horror story, and getting back to the purpose of this essay, was that the unsafe world, began to feel more secure. At the same time of reassembling my cleansed inside, I noticed the tendency that my outside world dismantled. There was a corresponding process to feeling safe and the loss of my attachment to things and materialism. Essentially I started to clear out my external life, and cyclically at this time of year I feel compelled to push out the things that no longer have a use. Now safe to not have what everyone else had or wanted. Safe to not have a busy existence, cluttered by things to do or places to be. Safe to not be surrounded by acquaintances to make me feel liked and loved. Safe to rely upon those few who I know to be as conscious as I.
Come back to your Self as being all that you need. Invest in yourself and your emotional wellbeing first and foremost to give yourself longevity, usefulness, and beauty. The guidance is not to remove the things you love, but to remove those things that distract you from loving the most important thing. Yourself as your only valuable asset.
Consider why you have the things you have, what is their purpose and how do you really feel about having them?
Have you ever noticed how your feelings change from desiring something, to buying it and then to owning it? Where was the most compelling feeling?
By projecting your wants, desires and needs on the external, what might you innately be avoiding?
If you are feeling stressed or overwhelmed have you ever considered how your surroundings may or may not be impacting on those feelings? Could acquiring more things be a way of quelling the overwhelm and thus is counterproductive?
What could be the benefits to you if you were to own less and be more?
Coming in 2022 attachment and eating, an update on my training with Julia Buckroyd.