Tough Love on “Stuff” Love

Palm Bark MaskWhen the plaster came crashing down from my ceiling a few weeks ago, I’m lucky I was putting on PJ’s instead of sleeping in my bed, where huge chunks landed in a loud mess.

But even more overwhelming than the explosive scare or the insurance adjustor’s “accidental-collapses-aren’t-covered-by-your-policy,” was having to clear everything out of the room before repairs. 

Funny how you can live in a space, see it every day, and not realize just how much stuff  you really have –– until you have to pack it all up. Anyone who’s ever moved or cleaned out a loved one’s home knows what I mean. But who would’ve thought I could cram so many things into a small Victorian-size bedroom with one tiny closet?

Even worse? It all piled up while I’ve been embracing “simplicity.”  No kidding.

Long before I saw the 1990’s documentary, AffluenzaI was anti-overconsumption. I told anyone who listened (or read my eco-column at the time) about the toll products, packaging and production were taking on our poor Earth. I championed experiences over expenses, and  I compiled lists of places for people to recycle things they didn’t need. For years, I wouldn’t even take my kids to the mall.

Yet I walked around my bedroom this weekend and saw collections of clutter everywhere.
I can’t remember the last time I looked at most of the old tapes, DVD’s, books, or half-finished projects on top of my radiator and floor. Maybe there weren’t a lot of new clothes in the closet, but it harbored crowds of sweaters, skirts, shoes, belts and pocketbooks that I’ll never wear again. I even unearthed a mix of mystery items squeezed into a corner between two dressers.

And as I schlepped it all out and found places for temporarily storage, I suddenly started to smile. Just the weekend before, I spoke to an audience of environmental educators about Peace Pilgrim’s life of simplicity. I could almost hear her words:

“Unnecessary possessions are unnecessary burdens. If you have them, you have to take care of them! There is great freedom in simplicity of living.”

What an aha moment! Like health gurus who are too busy to eat right so they run in for burgers and fries, I was happily still preaching simplicity while surrounding myself with dust-collectors.

It’s not that I don’t love some of my stuff. I have souvenirs that bring me back to South America, gifts that fill my heart, skirts that make me young and projects that I will complete. I doubt Peace Pilgrim expected others to live just with the clothes on their back, like she did. Instead, her real message is to make conscious choices.

I realize I’ve latched onto excuses that added to my ownership:
→ I hate contributing to the overburdened waste stream, but it takes time to recycle different goods the right way. (So, I’ll just hang onto it for now.)
→ I can’t throw anything out if there is a chance it can be used in the future. (You never know when you might need molded cardboard for an easel, or a ratty feather boa for a Halloween costume.)

But I’m onto my charade now. It’s the gift in my plaster disaster. And after the repairs are done, one thing I know for sure –– everything will have to pass the two-question test:

Plaster hole

1.  Do I still need or love this?

2.  Could someone else use it more than me?

This way, the only stuff coming back into my room are the things that add value to my life. And that will mend a lot more than the hole in my ceiling!


4 thoughts on “Tough Love on “Stuff” Love

  1. I learned this message the hard way after Hurricane Irene wrecked havoc on my home. I tried not to look as I told my friends, “It’s just stuff. Get rid of it.” It was very hard to let it all go. Then again, it was very hard to keep myself from hoarding more to replace it all. As a person that prides herself on being able to whip up a great costume for the party or throw together a project for a science program with things I have in my closets, I find myself unable to give away something that may come in handy someday. I’m going to try your two questions method. Thank you Merry.

    • I can’t even imagine how it is to live through that, Anne. I helped friends haul out ruined possessions after Superstorm Sandy and it was heart-wrenching. I think it’s even harder to get rid of stuff when We have young kids and want to always be ready with creative “supplies” for any need. It makes it easier that my renewed vow to clear clutter comes when my youngest is turning 18.

  2. Thank you for putting into words your thoughts. I spent the day cleaning my daughters room and being annoyed with the way she treated the things that she just had to have. Now I will be a better example of simplifying my life.

    • I know — those “have to have” items seem so cool at the time and it’s especially hard for kids when they’re around friends who have so much! When my oldest was in 7th grade we went on a mission trip to Guatemala, and after he saw families living under tarps, his “stuff” demands dropped dramatically. But that wore off too. It’s very hard in our culture to remember that “Things don’t make us happy!”

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