There’s an eye-opening article being passed around online that struck a chord with me. The piece is about the rise of things and Americans’ copious consumerism. Madeleine Somerville wrote an excellent account of the amount of stuff we have been collecting: Buying begets buying: how stuff has consumed the average American’s life.
I wrote about carrying all the stuff I needed on my back during my recent trek to Mount Whitney. I’ve done a fair amount of travel over the past few months, from heading across country to staying in a mountain resort with friends. During these trips, I’ve brought more stuff (clothes, games, creature comforts) than necessary. I probably over packed because it’s habitual. What if I need extra things? My suitcase is big enough and I have plenty of clothes, shoes, and accessories to fill it, so why not?! I take my time unpacking because I have drawers full of other clothes that can be worn.
Ms. Somerville states that “in 1950 the average size of a home in the US was 983 square feet. Compare that to 2011, when American houses ballooned to an average size of 2,480 square feet – almost triple the size.” I have fallen prey to this logic with my suitcases: I needed bigger suitcases to house more clothes for a weekend away. I brought outfits for lots of different scenarios: going out, hiking, hanging around the house, walking around town, warm weather, cool weather, and, of course, for sitting in the car. What was I thinking? I only wore half of the stuff (the hiking and hanging out gear) and had to lug the rest of the clothes around in a big case.
I notice that I’m not happier with more things. In fact, I tend to get stressed when I have more laundry to fold, more items to put away, or more to store. Living in Southern California, I fortunately don’t need much in the way of “winter” fashion, but still keep sweaters stored under my bed. I could probably give away half of them and would still own plenty.
So why do we constantly buy new stuff? According to Ms. Somerville,
“We shop because we’re bored, anxious, depressed or angry, and we make the mistake of buying material goods and thinking they are treats which will fill the hole, soothe the wound, make us feel better. The problem is, they’re not treats, they’re responsibilities and what we own very quickly begins to own us.”
Shopping is fun and it’s great to think about that new, hand crafted leather purse or take a visit to HomeGoods and plan out the furniture and organization bins to store our belongings. We love fresh, exciting, different things. We want our homes to be warm and cozy, and we typically believe that stuff will fix our problems. If stuff does not fix the problem, it certainly distracts us from the worries at hand. Those shiny objects divert our attention to feel momentary lapses of comfort and decency.
I don’t want to lecture you about why you should pare down and give away the unwanted things, or find friends with whom you can have a yard sale and make some money from your used treasures. Instead, all of the stuff leads to hoarding and unclear thoughts and feelings. To simplify, it’s important to develop a plan for cleaning up. This is my plan:
Well, first of all, I can actually go through my own closet and place more items in the never-ending giveaway box in the corner of my room. This project is one I’ve partially undertaken for months. I can also drive to a donation center and give away the shoes and dresses that no longer serve me. I’ve done this for friends, but not for myself. I can easily survive on less. Looking around my house, I see what I like and use the most: all of the art and artifacts I’ve acquired from travel. The things I like least are the basic things from big box stores that look generic and dull. It’s time to get rid of them. My over worn shirts and dresses are no longer suitable and I’m certainly going to be able to part with some of my clothes. It’s not necessary to clutter my closets and mind with all of this stuff.
As part of my new philosophy on living a simpler life, having less stuff is necessary. Marie Kondo, popular author of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, offers helpful tips for how to de-clutter. She offers amazing techniques for having a cleaner home. However, for me, it’s not only removing things from the closet or the house, but organizing my mind and accumulating less. Having a bird’s nest of concepts, to-do lists, worry, stress, and panic on the mind only wreaks havoc to myself.
With all sorts of stuff in our lives, we’re distracted and distanced from personal relationships and connecting with loved ones and friends. We get so tied up about the new thing that we forget to share our time or worse, our hearts, with important people in our lives. We tend to hoard trinkets and paperwork in the same ways we hoard emotions: we want everything to be accessible without reaching. We tend to clutter our memories, our dreams, our desires, our futures and tie them into a yarn ball. We create messes out of our emotions. These sloppy emotions look just like our desks and closets. If we shelved some of these important aspects in our lives and took them out of the dresser drawers at appropriate times, we’d be much clearer. We could have organized, clear minds to truly evaluate what serves us rather than jumbles. Wouldn’t it be nice to have time, space, and clarity with our emotional lives if we took a few minutes each day to tidy up?
Clean spaces, open hearts, clear minds.