All you really need

published 29 November 2015
In the West, Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, is much awaited by shoppers. It is usually marked by outrageous discounts in retail stores. People take advantage of Black Friday to get great deals ahead of their Christmas shopping, just before the stores replenish their stocks for the holidays. On Black Friday, it is common for people to get things they do not need, just because they are ridiculously cheap. 
Black Friday has been described as an anarchy, which favors big stores that can afford to have competitive prices for one day. It creates “a brand of shoppers who will trample and fight each other...”
This year, however, there was a campaign called “Buy Nothing” which challenges people to “switch off from shopping and tune into life.” 
It was a 24-hour moratorium on consuming, and could be seen as either “a personal experiment or a public statement.” The global campaign, the website claims, was in 60 countries. The site offered simple advice to those who are tempted to go shopping: Just. Do. Nothing. 
#Shoplesslivemore was the campaign’s hashtag. Another website, Quartz (, added that the only clothes people need this season are the only ones already in their closets. 
I have no idea how the campaign fared in the just-concluded Black Friday in the West. To us here, the idea behind the challenge to conspicuous consumption is timely now that December is just two days away. Beginning this week, most people will shed all pretenses of restraint to get on full holiday mode. 
Christmas season in the Philippines is associated with acquiring things. Malls going on sale are a testament to this. We get for ourselves and our family members new clothes, shoes, accessories, things for the house, gadgets or anything we hold dear. After all, this is also the time we get a boost to our monthly income because of the 13th month pay and, for the fortunate ones, Christmas bonus to the tune of x number of months. 
We buy Christmas gifts for family, friends and acquaintances, and we receive them as well. Of course, we don’t give presents on the basis of need. What we usually receive—clothes, planners, accessories and others—are not something we would buy for ourselves. We acquire these, too, and they add to the pile of Christmas presents we probably store somewhere. We intend to use them sometime, but we can still do without them now. In the meantime, the objective of gift giving —telling that person you thought of them enough to get them something, anything—has been accomplished. Thank yous have been exchanged. The thought, indeed, counts. 
New Year won’t be far behind.  Again, many traditions and common practices define how we celebrate this occasion. For example, some households buy 12 kinds of round fruits supposedly to invite prosperity.  Often, however, fruits are not consumed by family members. Some are given away after the festivities, but most remain on the tabletop, or shoved into the refrigerator, rotting away with time. 
When the New Year comes, we may be tempted to take the newness literally. We promise to junk old habits and old things and acquire new ones. Unfortunately, we are better at acquiring than letting go. As a result, the old and the rotting pile up, and as new things are acquired, more stuff is accumulated. Homes are occupied, not so much by people but by their possessions. There is less space for air to freely flow in and out. 
One of this year’s bestsellers is Marie Kondo’s “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing.” Kondo is a professional organizer, and her consultancy flourishes from the number of people who want to declutter their homes but do not know how to do it. The book is pricey and is frowned upon by perhaps as many people as those who live by it. 
Kondo’s method is based on the thinking that tidying up is a process that transforms the person doing it as much as it does the place that is being organized.  Tidying up forces a person to evaluate what is truly important to him, and eliminate what is not.  By evaluating each and every item and asking himself one and only one question—Does this spark joy?—the person looks into the deepest recesses of himself and discovers what make him happy, and what does not. 
Do you really need a book to tell you the best way to tidy up? Perhaps, perhaps not. You can choose to focus on logical ways to keep your personal space in order, or you can focus on what your belongings, and your attachment to them, tell you about yourself. You can figure out how best to declutter so that there is more room in your life for the things that matter, preferably intangible ones.  
You can call it housekeeping. Or you can say it’s introspection.