Perspective on Possessions

A wise organizer* once said that “Clutter is unmade decisions”.  One of the many reasons that decisions are hard to make is that there is often an inverse relationship between the size of a decision and the difficulty of execution.  In simpler words, big decisions can be easy and little ones extremely tough.  “I want to have an organized home office” is fairly easy.  Deciding how to set up a filing system is harder.  Figuring out what to do with specific pieces of paper can bring the whole enterprise to a standstill.

People also get bogged down when they attach too much importance to their belongings, making it difficult/impossible to let go.  Sometimes these assigned values and meanings are not even fully conscious.  Good organizers can help clients find some wiggle room in their thinking.  A bird’s eye view of belongings is essential and I take reminders wherever I find them.  Al Ghazali, over 1000 years ago, wrote extensively about the dangers of materialism and over-attachment to things of this world.  Here’re a couple of favorites quotes:

The world is like a table spread for successive relays of guests who come and go. There are gold and silver dishes, abundance of food and perfumes. The wise guest eats as much as is sufficient for him, smells the perfumes, thanks his host, and departs. The foolish guest, on the other hand, tries to carry off some of the gold and silver dishes, only to find them wrenched out of his hands and himself thrust forth, disappointed and disgraced.

Shame upon you, O soul, for your overweening love of the world!  If you do not believe in heaven or hell, at any rate you believe in death, which will snatch from you all worldly delights and cause you to feel the pangs of separation from them, which will be intenser just in proportion as you have attached yourself to them.  Why are you mad after the world?  If the whole of it, from East to West, were yours and worshipped you, yet it would all, in a brief space, turn to dust along with yourself, and oblivion would blot out you name, as those of ancient kings before you.  But now, seeing you have only a very small fragment of the world, and that a defiled one, will you be so mad as to barter eternal joy for it, a precious jewel for a broken cup of earthenware, and make yourself the laughing-stock of all around you?


From Claud Field’s 1910 translation of al-Ghazali’s Alchemy of Happiness


*Barbara Hemphill  (I think)





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