More Meaningful Relationships.

Photograph by Toa Heftiba

Relationships are an important part of life; they can contribute to making life longer, healthier and happier. By having a social network, it can help to alleviate stress, enhance the enjoyment of good times and provide much-needed support for the tough times. However, relationships can only be as good as our investment, both in time and presence.

Have you ever thought that the person you’re talking to just isn’t listening? Well, I was that person just nodding along while lost in thought, my head clouded by worries and stress. In truth, I hadn’t heard a word you were saying, hands up, I’m sorry. You may very well have been trying to give me the winning lottery numbers, or maybe more importantly, after some much-needed support; but I was absent. The reason, I had too much stuff; too much stuff going on, too much stuff to do, too much stuff to sort.

Less stuff can give us more time, but it’s also true that less stuff will help us mentally declutter, freeing up the headspace to be genuinely present and create more meaningful relationships.

As a young child, my Christmas present list (the result of endless hours of consultation with the Argos catalogue) was a well-curated dossier of categorised toys, along with their associated page numbers and product codes. Luckily I didn’t receive the entire list, as I would never have managed to unwrap them all; let alone enjoy them. I’ve now had more than 30 Christmas’ and birthdays, and in truth, I can only recall a handful of the presents I received. I can, however, remember playing cards after every Christmas dinner with family, and the enjoyment and laughter those times did, and still do, bring. The things that stay with you longest aren’t the physical things; they are experiences. My birthday and Christmas are now a time of slight frustration for my parents and partner as they wish to buy me something knowing there’s never anything I really want, and that’s down to the fact I already have all I need. They say, “it’s something to remember your birthday”, but I know that thing will eventually go out of fashion, get lost at the back of a drawer or end up in a box; so for every occasion now, I ask to spend some time with them, invaluable time. And you can’t buy that from Argos; trust me, I know.

Growing up, my family always ate dinner together – no mobile phones at the table and no TV on in the background – it was a time to talk, catch up on the day and plan for the day ahead, our relationships strengthened by the time we spent together. Having a mobile phone at the dinner table implies the person you’re with can have your attention, but not unreservedly, because when that phone pings, it will, of course, become more important. My evening meals now continue to be phone free, and my partner has my complete attention; I am truly present.

As we drew closer to moving into our new flat, I envisioned myself having lazy Sunday mornings reading the newspaper while sipping on freshly brewed coffee on the sunny balcony. Swept away in the romance of the idea I took to the internet to look for the coffee machine I must have. That was in June, but it’s now November, and it’s pissing down with rain. The good news is though I’m not on that wet balcony but in a local independent coffee shop enjoying the freshly brewed coffee I was so desperate for. The coffee machine I just had to have is still in a warehouse somewhere as I never bought it. I gave it a week, rationalised the potential purchase and realised the coffee machine just wasn’t needed, nor all the stuff that would have come with it, you know, to give myself the full barista experience. The simple fact is if I had have bought it on that impulse it would have eventually lost its novelty, sat there gathering dust, and calling out for me to clean it.

Having less stuff presents you with the chance to strip away the unnecessary and the material things that you think define you as a person and gives you the opportunity to find out what truly matters to you. With less need to confine yourself to your home, you’ll have more possibilities to meet people and be free from distraction, the chance for more meaningful relationships. And it’s not solely your interpersonal relationships that will become more meaningful by having less stuff, your connection to the things you do own will become stronger; as you’ll have more time to use them, look after them and enjoy them.

The rise of artisan businesses shows us that consumers want for the story, for a more significant connection to the product they are buying. These businesses are often part of the fabric of a community and the relationship created often goes beyond the purchase. Meaningful relationships are essential, and it’s crucial not to chase the cheaper, quicker or easier option at the expense of human connection.

The chalkboard outside the coffee shop reads “supporting independents is supporting a dream”, I’m now part of the realisation of this dream, and Ana truly meant the “thank you” she gave me as I left. I felt great, and I can guarantee the coffee machine would never have made me feel that way.