Dubai Diaries: Can you be a minimalist?

Dubai - The glitzy malls of Dubai are remarkable at luring us in out of the heat, and deft at separating us from our wallets.


Anjana Sankar

Published: Sat 4 Sep 2021, 9:29 AM

Although September has arrived in Dubai, and with it the promise of lower temperatures and the ability to be outside again, we have all spent most of this summer dashing from air-conditioned home to air-conditioned car to air-conditioned mall. The glitzy malls of Dubai are remarkable at luring us in out of the heat, and deft at separating us from our wallets.


Every time I decide I want to get out and just take a walk in a mall, I assure myself that it’s just to stretch my legs a bit and do some people-watching, and that this time (this time! Really! I promise myself) I will not buy anything.

I certainly don’t need anything more. But I want more. I want more! And the shops tempt me with their fashion trends. As I exit the mall, I sometimes look down at the bags in my hands and wonder how I picked up so many things when my mission was explicitly not to buy anything.

Oh well, I tell myself: next time will be different. Really! And often when my wardrobe gets stuffy, I think of carefully weeding out the misfits, the out-of-style clothes that I bought once and never wore, tags intact. Or, I could go shopping for new, larger wardrobes. I think we both know which route I will choose, don’t we?

The amount of clothes (and bags and shoes and accessories) that we all own is top-of-mind this week because I had the opportunity to interview several families of Afghan evacuees as they waited in Abu Dhabi to travel onward to their new homes. They told me stories of fleeing in the middle of the night, of boarding aircrafts with nothing but the clothes they wore, and of starting lives over again. What would I take if I were in their position? Would my bags and shoes make the cut? When I travel for just four or five days, I arrive at the departure terminal with two full suitcases, brimming with multiples and extras and “just in case” items that I will never unfold from my luggage.

It’s hard to hold these two extremes of the human existence in our heads at the same time: the luxury and overflowing abundance of a Dubai mall, and the stripped-down, enforced minimalism of someone leaving their home forever. How do we both enjoy the life we are privileged enough to lead, and yet not believe the delusion that we are immune to the life of the evacuee?

All I know is that I am yet to find that balance. Driving away from interviewing the Afghan evacuees, I sat in silent contemplation of their lives and what they would need to do to rebuild. I told myself that I would reassess my own materialistic urges. Then my phone rang with my friend asking whether I want to go shopping, and my first thought was that I needed a new jacket for my Switzerland trip this week.

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