I come from a securely rooted muslim household from both ends of the family. As a result, the importance of being clean is something I have constantly heard growing up, with religious vigour. In fact the muslim prayers, five times a day, involves the thorough cleansing of your exposed body parts as a prerequisite (as a means to provide a clean slate to your mind). However, if we look around at the majority of muslim population around the world, they are barely representative of this sentiment expressed in the religion – among other things. 

So let me begin by embracing this rather stinky part of my identity. Most households in India, Pakistan or Bangladesh reeks of food. I speak from my own experiences, whilst pretty sure Middle Eastern and African homes are no better, give or take the fragrance of the different condiments and spices. It is a reputation we have earned along with the nickname of the “curry” population, which technically is not entirely undeserved. Forget the household. As soon as you enter a suburb densely populated with any number of the said ethnicity, you are first and foremost welcomed by the smell of their food. 

This can actually be an amazing sensation, which I verily indulge into myself, frequently visiting countries and places that serve the delicacies. It only becomes a problem when the smell and their attributes leave their place in our kitchens and enter the rest of our lives – namely our clothes, hair, skin and bed sheet. And just like our culture of moving everywhere in huge numbers, often the smell pulls along its brothers and sisters of clutter and extravagance. 

It was an interesting learning curve for myself when I moved out of home for the first time. I left the quiet recesses of oblivion that my family home provided (and my mum’s round-the-clock feeding and cleaning service that I took for granted), and entered a shared-unit environment with housemates who all came from different backgrounds, and did not necessarily share similar food habits. There I quickly adopted cleaning habits that I simply did not care about before. Like cleaning the sink or the microwave cover, where bits of my food goes splattering, and caring enough for the next person who would come up to warm up their food, and not having to put up with my mess. It’s an outsider’s respect we tend to only pay to people outside of our comfort zone. Something we strangely ignore when nobody’s watching. 

I realised that we spend very little time in discovering and realising the connection between the excesses (in material things) in our lives leading to clutter, a lack of hygiene and ultimately demotivation in our lives. When the insides of our households remain in a clean and orderly fashion, it almost accounts to taking in stock of exactly what we have and own. That mental note in itself can lead to a sense of gratitude for what we have in our lives. In labour intensive Asia, this becomes more challenging to accomplish with cleaners and chefs assigned to look after our possessions, rather than ourselves, with “buas” and “bais” often caring more about our homes, clothes and, ahem, children, more than us. When clothes or things we posses are unclean and strewn about, they do not appeal to us anymore, and ultimately leads to dissatisfaction that is not entirely there or justified. It’s a fake construction of need that gets stoked further by the numerous shopping centres we frequent. All ultimately leading to a mind and world, full of things and relationships that need to be constantly replaced and updated. 

Basically a sad state of affairs. 

It was only in the past couple of years spent in Singapore, ironically living in a country that almost feels like a giant shopping mall itself, that I came to realise what brews that hollow dissatisfaction of never having it all. Because the definition of “all” gets strategically updated by the giant billboards that makes a living out of what we don’t have. Whilst we cannot go out there and change the world overnight (or rip those billboards down) what we can do is invest into a lifestyle that doesn’t salivate after excesses. We can start by cleaning our homes, putting those Hilfigers and Diors back on the hangers, where we can see them daily, donating what we don’t need instead of letting them hog our space, and really looking after what we have. 

Let’s shine the dishes this holiday season, take a good hard look around us, and enjoy our haves first. We can worry about the not-haves in the new year!