The Stuff We Own

It seems silly to write that I love my stuff – but I do. I don’t have much stuff anymore (it’s taken years of dedicated culling to get to this point), but the stuff I have is useful and brings me joy or makes my life easier.  There was a time however, when I was much more impulsive about buying things.

My Story

I used to collect beanie babies; though I have the good sense to be embarrassed by it now, I was crazy about those little bean bag stuffed animals.  In retrospect, though they were cute, I really enjoyed the rush of locating obscure toy shops and finding beanies I did not yet have – especially if I got a “good deal”.  Soon, I had added Barbies and Star Wars action figures to the things I collected and spent a great deal of money.  I lived in a tiny apartment in San Francisco back then and had no room to display the fruits of my ceaseless searching and purchasing.  Every one of my beanie babies were carefully packed away in hard-sided plastic boxes after gently placing a plastic protector over the heart-shaped Ty tag.  Barbies and action figures were, in collectors-speak “mint in box” and stored similarly in large plastic bins.  All of these bins were stacked neatly in the closet, from floor to ceiling.

One day, it was like a bolt of lightning struck me.  Suddenly, it felt like the walls were closing in and I felt suffocated by the amount of stuff I had.  The sheer amount of plastic I had was appalling enough!  I put an ad on Craigslist and had a “garage sale” in the lobby of my old-fashioned apartment building.  I sold all the barbies and action figures and several of the beanies too.  I unloaded books, kitchen items, clothing – all kinds of things.  At the end of the day, I ended up taking the remaining beanies and walking up the four flights of stairs to give them to a neighbor whose daughter loved them.  Although I made a few bucks from my sale that day, in reality, I had lost hundreds of dollars. Maybe even thousands…

I know from experience how traumatic it can feel to even consider selling or donating stuff that one has accumulated over the years.  We feel guilty donating or selling gifts received, we feel ashamed and perhaps cheated if we get rid of collections or impulse purchases, we worry that we will waste money if we relinquish tools, household items or decorations – even if we haven’t used them in years.  We ask ourselves, “What if we need them again?”  Some of us even may feel as though we will lose status if we shed items that might be useful to others, especially if we take pride in being the person with all the stuff.

Attachments to Our Things

Humans form emotional attachments; it is part of the human condition.  The Buddhists claim that these attachments are the cause of all suffering.  We form attachments to other people, ideas about ourselves, outcomes and expectations and even inanimate objects.  While I agree with the Buddhists that we should cultivate more consciousness around our attachments, we part ways when it comes to a solution.  It is in our best interest as humans to develop discernment as to which attachments will best serve us and to discard the rest.

Have you ever lost a precious object?  Broken a favorite item?  Had a cherished belonging stolen?  The anguish we experience when we are deprived of our things is a result of our attachment to them.  Yet, when the things we love are whole, we treasure them and take great pains to care for them.  We keep them clean and in good repair; we carefully store them, even purchasing special cases or boxes for beloved items; we insure them and guard them protectively.

Have you ever stopped to consider how much emotional and mental energy is spent on tracking the things you own and love?  How much money, time and effort do you spend to maintain treasured belongings?  It probably doesn’t occur to you to calculate those costs of ownership, because it is a labor of love.  We seem to automatically care for the things we love. But what about the things you don’t care about so much?  An old, chipped coffee mug, a pair of pants that no longer fit, a never-been-used waffle maker?  These are objects that you have in your home, but seldom use and have no sentimental value.

Then there is the clutter; the electrical cord to who-knows-what, dried out pens, junk mail, and rubber bands from produce eaten long ago.  It is stuff you put in the “junk drawer” or in a pile on a table or in a closet.  You tell yourself you might need it someday, or someone else might need it someday.

Sometimes, we cling to outdated or outmoded objects because they remind us of a time in our lives we deem to be happier or more vibrant.  I suspect some people keep things that are no longer useful, but may be useful to others in conjunction with an attachment to an identity or story about themselves they wish to retain.  They want to be the person with all the great stuff that no one else has, as if they will be called upon to be the props warehouse for community ritual drama.

You have a relationship with all the things you own, whether or not you love them, use them, or even remembering having them.  All of these relationships require mental and emotional energy – even the clutter.  Some things are useful, some give us joy, but others still require the mental energy to ignore them and then later hide them when company comes over.

Are You Suffering From Affluenza?

Many Pagan households are cluttered with stacks of papers, books and knickknacks.  In his clever book, Lose 200 Lbs. This Weekend!, Don Astlet lists the costs of clutter.  He states that clutter “makes us run in circles.”  To elaborate:

The strongest and most stable of us end up here – the circle of getting in and getting out…we eat and drink in a way that causes health problems and then spend a fortune to cure them. We risk thirty years of health to get wealth, then in the next thirty years use the wealth to get our health back. We build big houses, loaded with comforts and conveniences, and then spend all our time on the road and in the shops. We pay dearly to possess things and haul them home, and then pay to get rid of them. We junk and clutter ourselves into debt and then take desperate measures to get out.

Additionally, Astlet writes that:

  • Clutter makes us feel depressed
  • Clutter makes us “fight” all the time
  • Clutter steals our freedom
  • Clutter wastes time
  • Clutter causes stress
  • Clutter takes our space
  • Clutter makes us inefficient
  • Clutter costs us money
  • Clutter causes us embarrassment
  • Clutter causes safety hazards

If you are unsure as to whether your home and lifestyle are cluttered, here are some questions to consider:

  1. Do you find yourself spending a lot of time looking for things?
  2. Do you sometimes find things in your home that you forgot you owned?
  3. Do you feel tired, lethargic or otherwise run-down and have no other medical reason for feeling this way?  You might be suffering from too much stuff.
  4. Do you argue or fight with the people with whom you live?  Do you have a contentious relationship with your neighbors?  If you find that you have a lot of conflict in your life, it is probably caused by excess.
  5. Would you be able to save money on your housing costs if you could move?  Have you been stuck in your present home because you can’t bring yourself to consider packing all your stuff to move house?
  6. Are you frequently late to appointments because you can’t find your keys, your gloves, your bag, etc.?
  7. How much money could you save if you had less things and could live in a smaller home?  How much money do you spend each month on storage?
  8. When is the last time you entertained in your home?  If you haven’t had friends over to visit recently, you may find that you’re too embarrassed by your clutter to invite friends and family to your home.
  9. How often do you find that you trip over your stuff?  If you had a house fire, how quickly could you get your pets, your family members and yourself out?

Taking Stock

In a previous entry Calculating Net Worth, I explore creating a complete list of assets – the stuff we own.  The more “stuff” we own, the more tedious it is to take an inventory.  If you are like most people, you rediscovered some things you forgot you had.  Some stuff might have been buried deep in a cupboard, the garage or the attic.  Some stuff might no longer be useful – out of style, broken or otherwise outdated.  Did you find 8-track tapes?  Betamax tapes?  Baby furniture or clothes – but your kids are in college?

When you review your inventory, open up a dialogue with the people you live with.  If you live alone, you should still consider each item you have.  Some useful questions include:

  • If your home was on fire, what three things would you save?  Could you easily get to them?  Could your family members, including pets easily escape?
  • When is the last time you used this item?
  • How much does it cost you to store this item?  Repair or maintain it?  Insure it?  How much time do you spend cleaning it or maintaining it?  When reviewed in light of your Life Energy hours/salary – are you getting Fulfillment from the costs and time associated with owning this item?
  • Is this something that could be rented or borrowed if it is seldom used?
  • How is your lifestyle limited by the things you own?  For instance, if you own a great many tools, do you need a garage to store them in?  How many more bedrooms do you require because you have so much stuff?
  • How many things does your lifestyle require you to own?  For example, if you live in a home with a yard, you probably need a mower and other tools associated with yard work.  If you lived in a condo, or hired a landscaping service – would you require less “stuff”?
  • How much could you save each month if you didn’t require so much space to store your stuff?
  • How much time would you save – or be able to spend on other activities – if you didn’t have so much stuff?
  • How many choices have been unavailable to you because you can’t bear to part with your stuff?
  • How much more efficient would you be if you knew where everything you owned was stored?
  • How many less hours would be spent “tidying” up – hiding clutter – before your covenmates or guests come over?
  • How much of your mental energy is taken up with worrying about your stuff?
  • Many Pagans find that they need to escape to the desert or other similarly uncluttered landscape for a retreat – how peaceful would your lifestyle be if your home was similarly uncluttered?
  • If you suffer from allergies – how much less would spend on antihistamines if you decluttered? An uncluttered home usually means less dust and less accidents and injuries.
  • It all boils down to…are you living to have or are you living to become?



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