The UK Channel 4 programme ‘Life Stripped Bare’ which was broadcast in July created some debate as to whether the nakedness of the participants was necessary or gratuitous.
The premise was “… What happens when three young households have all their belongings taken away?…”. It’s still on All 4 at the moment, and various clips from the programme can also be found on YouTube (see links below).
Absolutely everything was taken from the participants – including all their clothes – hence the nakedness. It was all put into storage containers situated a little distance away from each of their homes and they were allowed to retrieve one item per day per person, for 21 days, in order to find out what they really needed to be happy.
At the end they got everything back.
I watched it recently – yet another example of me catching up on my backlog of recordings – and, yes folks, given the subject matter here, there’s a certain irony that isn’t lost on me! Coincidentally, I was also in the midst of a ‘blitz’ on my paperwork and other work paraphernalia at the time. I work from home and over the years I’ve collected all sorts of stuff that, at the time, I’ve thought I needed.
The three households were housemates Tom, Andrew and Georgia; flatmates Laura and John; and Heidi who lived on her own. They were left, in their homes, naked. They had no clothes, no furniture, no other possessions. Just basic rations of food and drink – but no crockery, cutlery or pots and pans.
They had electricity and light bulbs – but no curtains or blinds. They had to start the ‘dash’ to their containers naked – with speedy and creative use of bin lids and cardboard boxes snatched on the way to cover themselves – necessity, as they say, being the mother of invention.
The themes of ingenuity and multi-functionality continued with Heidi using icing sugar on the floor to write a list of what she thought she needed from her container and then, as her first item, choosing a large roll of cloth that she could use not only to wrap herself in to sleep, but also to make an outfit – including shoes. The adult onesie performed a similar multi-purpose function for some of the others.
Connecting with other people was also important. Heidi retrieved her phone so she could call her Mum and asked passers-by for help to move her mattress. The housemates and flatmates shared some of their choices as they went along and Tom, Andrew and Georgia pooled theirs so they could throw a party.
The phone was a popular choice once people had something to wear and to sleep on and when they started missing other people in their lives. And they could do other things with it, too, such as watching TV. John got his back on day 9: “… Aah! Connected!…” .
It’s worth noting that we even have a term now for “a state of stress caused by having no access to or being unable to use one’s mobile phone”: nomophobia.
Tom chose not to get his back until the end of the exercise, however: “… hopefully my time can be occupied with things other than television and social media…”.
Having picked up over 400 messages when she got hers back on day 7, Heidi wondered if she was being “…sucked back into my phone world…” and, at the very end, she deleted all her social media apps: “I’m just wasting my time… people I want to call, I call … I just don’t need it…”
The narrator observed that at the start people chose very similar things but later choices were more varied. This reminded me of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs . Once basic needs were met, things became more fun for some but, for others, the choices became harder to make.
Some things we have are useful physically, and others fulfil an emotional need – helping us feel safe, attractive, respected, envied or good about ourselves in other ways. One of the emotionally driven choices here was Andrew getting back his family photo which reminded him of his Dad who died when Andrew was 16.
Going back to basics brought up different things at different times:
“At no point has it been I wish I could check my emails or I wish I could see what’s on Instagram – it’s all been about running from one side of the flat to the other without being seen by a double-decker bus.”
“When you don’t have anything, what you do have is everything.”
“… when you have nothing people actually make the whole world of difference…”
“I’m comfortable and warm… That’s one of the best days of my life.”
Heidi, who was self-employed, was concerned about the impression she might make on other people in a business context with her limited access to clothes, toiletries and makeup. This reminded me of what it can often be like for anyone unemployed or homeless.
John had become “more aware of the homeless than at any time before…”. “We were whingeing about being cold but at least we had a nice warm flat to come back to…”.
And most participants gave away a lot of stuff at the end – things they decided they no longer needed or which “… belong in someone else’s life…”.