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Blog // Thoughts
September 26, 2012

On Buying Promises To Ourselves

I’ve thrown & given away a lot of stuff in the past year. In fact, since last April, life has felt like one long, recurring trip to the dumpster. On more than a few occasions I’ve wondered; where the hell did all this junk come from? The Year Of Living Discriminatingly It all started in […]

I’ve thrown & given away a lot of stuff in the past year. In fact, since last April, life has felt like one long, recurring trip to the dumpster. On more than a few occasions I’ve wondered; where the hell did all this junk come from?

The Year Of Living Discriminatingly

It all started in 2011 when, after five years in Hong Kong, the time came to pack up and move to a new country. Actually that wasn’t the really big problem. I had lived almost all that time in the same apartment, but apart from my studio, things were fairly uncluttered. No, it was the stuff in storage that would come to haunt me.

I had lived in a much bigger place in Delhi – which is not hard, as the average apartment in Hong Kong is tiny. So, a lot of my belongings, including most of my music gear had been in long term storage since 2006. That included stuff my parents had sent over when they relocated, stuff I had left in Australia when I moved to London in 1998.

Once I got everything out of boxes in Singapore, there were choices to be made. Some gear didn’t work, some things were no longer relevant to me and even though I was in a much bigger home, I simply didn’t have space for it all. It was time to be a little discriminating.

Making Promises

As I sorted through books, tools, kitchenware and so on, I thought about the decisions that had gone into each purchase. Obviously my tastes had changed over the years and I was as prone as anyone to impulse buys. But, there was also another dynamic at play. Some purchases were like promises I had made to myself.

A book, because I really wanted to improve my typography, or knowledge of photoshop, a tool, because I really wanted to repair a guitar neck, a kitchen gadet, because I hoped to make crinkle cut fries (even though I never did). These were all unfullifilled promises to my former self that now carried a physical weight in my present world.

Where Do Dead Promises Go?

It’s a fascinating dynamic; we buy a thing because we want to do something. Lately, I’ve been wandering around bookstores, looking at the shelves of cookbooks and photography books wondering how big the market is for these kinds of purchases as promises to act. I’m guessing it’s huge.

But, as time passes, what happens to these unfilled promises we make to ourselves? They pile up on our bookshelves and in our cupboards. And, I suspect, they clutter our minds as well.

Permission To Be Present

Buying as a way to make promises to ourselves can be an attempt to put an anchor into reality, a wish to commit ourselves to something we haven’t really made time for. Or, it can be a reflection of our uncertainty or fear – I need this magazine because it will help me, at last, to understand whatever random thing I’m struggling to feel confident in.

But, all of that takes up a lot of mental real estate, a lot of emotional energy. And, before too long, it ties us to the past. While buying stuff might be a way to make promises to ourselves, letting go of stuff is a way to free ourselves to attend to our present reality.

And when we keep things, in an intentional and discriminating way, the reminders and associations become more powerful. I keep my first mixer on display in my studio. It’s a simple four track device my father built. It reminds that I wasn’t born into money, but I was born into a home full of love and ingenuity. But, to make room for the mixer to go on display, I had to dig it out of a load of other stuff that was no longer useful.

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