Did you know it was international happiness day last week? I didn’t. It completely passed me by. I was trying to remember whether or not I was happy last Wednesday, and the truth is I can’t. But I suspect I might have been.
It got me and Simon talking about what what makes a happy home. For some people it’s family, for some it’s a pet, for some it’s blissful solitude. But one thing connects us all, and that’s the stuff we surround ourselves with.
I’m not talking about minimalism or designer items. Clearly there are people who get as much pleasure from a DFS couch as others do from a B & B Italia one and they all should celebrate their taste. What I’m talking about is surrounding ourselves with things that we love.
About five years ago, I read The Life Changing Magic of Tidying up by Marie Kondo. I bought it after seeing a Facebook post of a friend’s substantial book collection arranged in piles on his living room floor, many set for imminent ejection.
My own ‘tidying up’ resulted in two major expulsions. Our clothing collection went from 13 drawers and a 2-metre wide wardrobe, down to just 6 drawers and a coat rack in the hall. And I finally got round to selling 3000 records and CDs that had sat in a cupboard for five years.
For me it wasn’t what I could see that unsettled me; it was that which I knew was lurking in our home. There was a persistent sense of underlying overwhelm that I knew would erupt the minute I opened a particular cupboard or drawer. It bugged at me at the oddest of times and I was glad to see it go.
Finding a thousand ways to store a million things is not, for me, happiness at home. In fact, I’m not sure it is for anyone. So what is our attachment to hoarding? It certainly isn’t pleasure. I know a few hoarders, but none of them tell me they love it. No-one is smitten by their ever-increasing household detritus, or by their need for clever under-bed storage strays, cartons in the garage and boxes in the loft. No-one I know gets joy from it. Yet we’re all susceptible.
Maybe we have an innate revulsion towards waste. But if you’re hoarding without using, isn’t that just as wasteful? Guilt forms a lot of it (unwanted gifts, unworn clothing, family heirlooms, a child’s first toys), but guilt is rarely the cause of happiness. As soon as I stopped giving myself a hard time for a frivolous purchase or neglectful ownership it was simplicity itself to let things go. And the weight lifting from my shoulders was matched by the look of joy from every item’s new owner.
So perhaps that is happiness at home. Surrounding yourself with only the things you love, and giving yourself permission to be free from everything else.