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Joy: The Prescription for Materialism

Joy The Prescription for Materialism

Are you dating your purse?

That was the catchy subject line in a marketing email I received from a very successful and highly popular fashion designer. Of course I had to open it. Of course it contained photos of a quilted leather, oh-so-luxe bag that many women, myself included, would love to sling over a proud shoulder. And underneath the photo of this treasure of a tiny handbag was this definition of the female/accessory relationship: “We call it #datingmypurse and it isn’t just a love story. It’s the ultimate love story.”

Get out of here! All this time I thought the ultimate love story involved a man! Who knew?

Underneath the photo it encouraged me to “Find your new love” so I just had to click through. And, of course, it was perfect – all $348 dollars of its 6×9-inch gorgeousness. And, absolutely, I wanted it. I’m not going to buy it, but I would certainly walk a little taller with that beauty dangling from its smart gold chain against my hip.

And so, materialism once again has me in its nasty little grasp. It’s like two strong hands that clasp my cheeks and turn my face away from the real world to the fantasy world of pretty things that promise … something. Prestige? Class? Well-earned self-indulgence? The oohs and aahs of friends? Affirmation that I’m special enough to wear and own fine things?

Every time I go down that fantasy road that my real life (i.e. my values and budget) makes no allowance for, I end up slogging through a puddle of “poor me” followed by a mud pit of “my friend’s 18-year old daughter has two of those and I can’t even afford one!”

Yet, I have closets full of stuff. Cabinets full. More than a dozen pair of shoes, more than one handbag. Enough dishes to feed 40 people at once. And yet, I still long for that elusive piece that promises to complete my wardrobe or my décor … or my heart.

What is it with our tortured relationships with stuff? America is a nation of storage units filled with things people can’t fit in their homes. Our closets are overflowing. We momentarily get ahold of ourselves and clean out a closet or two, donating to a worthy charity, then turn around and buy twice as much as we gave away. Some of us have such a tight grip on literally everything we bring into our homes that we are classified as hoarders, unable to part with even a piece of junk mail.

In a world where little girls are trafficked for sex by the tens of thousands and babies still die every day from a lack of clean water and mosquito bites, why does a designer think a handbag offers the ultimate love story? Why don’t some of us care?

In her worldwide best-selling book “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up,” Marie Kondo tackles the mystery of our addiction to materialism with out-of-the-box thinking and radical downsizing. The core of what she preaches has resonated with me and I’ve noticed that I think about it when I step into my too-packed closet (which I now routinely purge) and when I’m out shopping and start eyeing pretty things on hangers or that might demand residence on my coffee table:

Own only what brings you joy.

It’s that simple. And that complex. Yes, each of us may define what brings us joy differently. But we know deep down what it is: a resting place in our souls that is filled by something or someone that we greatly value. It’s not fleeting, nor temporary.

In a world where little girls are trafficked for sex by the tens of thousands and babies still die every day from a lack of clean water and mosquito bites, why does a designer think a handbag offers the ultimate love story?

And that, to me, is the ideal test for our addiction to stuff: is it greatly valued? Does it bring you joy?

Using that litmus test, I’ve suddenly been able to rid myself of items in my house that I’ve kept “just in case.” I’ve become more discriminating as a shopper. Asking, “Does this bring me joy?” helps me discard most of what I would normally toss in my shopping cart. It redefines what I really want, what I really love. It helps me recognize that just because I find something pretty doesn’t mean it actually deserves residence at my joy table. If that were the case, I too would be a hoarder, because I find many things appealing. I could easily fill 10 closets and decorate three homes.

Instead, I want to seek joy in less, not more. In what I have, not what I think I want.

Try taking the joy test. Look around your home, look through your closet. Look at teach item with gratitude for its usefulness and memories, then ask, “Does this bring me joy?” Try it the next time you go shopping. See what happens. At the very least, you’ll gain a better appreciation for the things that truly do bring you joy, and perhaps have more fun finding those things that really do deserve a place in your shopping cart. Your “joy” cart.

Speaking of closets, check out 5 Steps to Remake Your Wardrobe and 5 Business Attire Must Haves.

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Clare loves painting furniture, drinking too much coffee, and traveling to Haiti to see her lovely daughter.

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