Minimalism Ki Maa Ki ***! Why It’s Impossible for Middle-Class Indians to Declutter

Modern Family

Minimalism Ki Maa Ki ***! Why It’s Impossible for Middle-Class Indians to Declutter

Illustration: Shruti Yatam

M

arie Kondo will be pleased to know that I haven’t seen her latest show Tidying Up, because deactivating Netflix was my 2019 resolution to declutter. But even though I’ve skipped the show that’s “sparking joy” in the lives of millions of people, I understand the life credo it comes from. Minimalism. In other words, cutting out the bullshit.  

The idea of a decluttering first appealed to me when I read Fumio Sasaki. In his book, Goodbye Things, on Minimalist Living, Sasaki talks about minimalism as a way of enhancing the quality of life, which he thought has severely deteriorated because of the importance that material objects hold in our lives. Armed with his new idea and ever ready to adopt a new fad, I decided to approach my mother with it.

Mom, we collect too much stuff, I broach the topic one afternoon, just while she was eating a mango, usually her happiest moment in the day. To strengthen my case, I throw in a line from Fight Club, “Things you own end up owning you.” Pat comes her reply: “Neelam Aunty preserves even restaurant bills of her sushi dinner in Los Angeles from two years ago.”

My mother has convinced herself that we are way ahead on the minimalism curve and gone back to her mangoes. I try another tack that doesn’t involve getting into a Neelam Aunty comparison. “Are you really passionate about that 20-year-old Air India Calendar which has a photograph of a Ravi Varma painting for each month of the year?”

“That’s part of my art collection,” she tells me, shocked at my casual dismissal of her heirloom. “I can frame them into paintings and hang them on the wall behind the dining table,” she continues.

“But doesn’t that wall already have the lovely Tanjore that you made to order? And if you haven’t framed them for 20 years, do you really think you will do it now?”

“Let go of the idea of ‘someday’, discard now,” I tell her, quoting Sasaki.

“Let go of Sasaki,” she shoots back, before tearing off six pages of the calendar which are now going to be framed into paintings.

In one of his key principles, the author reminds us that our house is not a museum.

I realise I’ve made the wrong move. I should’ve started smaller. My eyes go to the mugs in our house. Now, between impulse shopping on the streets, to deliberate purchases of souvenir mugs with pictures of Sri Lankan baby elephants and Ladakhi yaks, to receiving elaborate tea sets as housewarming presents, we have about 50 tea and coffee mugs for the three of us. I talked my mother through donating 30 of them using my most soothing Sasaki San voice. At the 31st, she threatened to throw me out, so we let the mugs live on but I had made some progress. I convinced her to throw away our entire collection of Shivsagar plastic containers and cloth bags. She drew the line at torn T-shirts, Surf Excel containers, and Absolut Vodka bottles insisting that they deserve a second life as dusters, storage boxes, and money plant holders.

I had no comeback, so I turn to Sasaki San.

In one of his key principles, the author reminds us that our house is not a museum. As I read it out to mom, we both look at the monstrous hand-like figurine made of Burma teak which we bought in Mauritius 10 years ago. “It’s not a museum piece,” my mom immediately comes to its defence. “It’s a tissue holder.” She then rushes to dump a bunch of tissues on “the hand”; I’m impressed by the con job.

“And the Buddha,” I ask her. “Is that a towel holder?” The Buddha, a delicately carved wooden artefact that hangs next to our television has “mush” value. It was gifted to us by my father’s loyal taxi driver Ahmed in Oman, who taught him how to say “Walaikum assalam” and “Mabrook”, and almost convinced him into fasting during Ramzan. Since the “mush value” is not really hers, she brutally packs it up and and tells dad to remember Ahmed whenever he eats Omani dates. I stifle a giggle.

I tell her she can also do the same, if she really needs an Absolut Vodka bottle for the money plant, she can ask the neighbour for a spare one. Be social, be a borrower, says Sasaki after all. But she is incensed. “Hamare itne bhi bure din nahi aaye hain,” she tells me with eyes blazing. The idea of going to Neelam Aunty to borrow her oven everytime she is overcome by an impulse to bake Oreo brownies, seems like the ultimate tragedy.

We comfortably come to the conclusion that this as unacceptable to Indian sanskar as beef, Arundhati Roy, and momos.

Imagine if our relatives get to know that the mattress in the guest bedroom has been borrowed? Imagine them sniggering about what we did with all the tax-free Gulf money. “Do you want to rent a lehenga for Sonu Bua’s daughter’s wedding,” she asks me cannily. We comfortably come to the conclusion that this as unacceptable to Indian sanskar as beef, Arundhati Roy, and momos. So we reject this one for the sake of our Indianness.

Days after this failed de-cluttering attempt, I get a call at work from mom. “By the way I finally read Sasaki’s book,” she says. Principle No 46 says, “One in, one out.” So if I get rid of the matka in our kitchen, can I buy a nice new ceramic painted one as a replacement? And all those non-stick pans? I’m replacing them with cast iron. “Good idea, mom,” I’m going to follow that principle for my shoes,” I tell her.

Patience Sasaki San, we will get there… first we’ll dump the dabbas and then I’ll dare to get rid of my shoes.

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