Slave to My Stuff
I’ve been moved to tears seeing the devastation Hurricanes Harvey and Irma have caused in this country these last couple weeks, as I know so many of us have been. The sheer numbers of people affected, homes lost, possessions destroyed and hearts shattered are staggering. It’s impossible to look at the destruction without feeling compassion for those who have lost so much.
Meanwhile, I’ve been spending my days cleaning, organizing, shopping, sorting, and yes — donating a little bit, too — but in short, I’ve been spending a good portion of my time lately touching and messing with my stuff when hundreds of thousands of people in America have lost almost all of their stuff.
I’m disgusted with myself. I’m disgusted with my stuff. There has to be a better way.
My frustration has reached a higher level than ever before, because I’ve really felt like I was on a good path with decluttering and simplifying. I did the KonMari thing. We cleaned out our entire house, safely disposed of 18 cans of paint and untold numbers of batteries, donated six bags of linens and nine boxes of books, shredded 12 banker’s boxes full of paper, unearthed and used over $500 worth of forgotten gift cards, broken down and recycled at least three dozen cardboard boxes, sold a couch set and three coffee tables, held a garage sale to sell half the contents of our basement and donated $750 of the proceeds to a local charity. We have downsized. We have purged. I thought we were doing well!
Yet, in the last two weeks, I have spent a ridiculous amount of my time focused on our possessions. The kids went back to school, and suddenly faced with some free time, I decided to tackle some projects around the house. I cleaned three dozen baseball hats in a magical OxyClean formula. I washed our dresser drawers and then laundered and folded every item in them. I soaked our stovetop grates in ammonia overnight and scrubbed every square inch of our kitchen appliances. I went through my sons’ bedrooms, tossing old stuffed animals and color-coordinating their closets. I bought and built two new shoe racks and donated six bags full of outdated shoes, purses, scarves, fleeces and jeans. And I shopped. I visited some consignment stores to buy some new yoga pants (sidenote: I already have yoga pants), I bought a year’s worth of toiletry items and some eye shadow that I will most likely never use, and I had a freaking field day on Amazon. Conservatively speaking, I’d estimate that I’ve spent at least 50% of the time my kids have been in school doing stuff to my stuff.
What a ridiculous waste of time and energy. Do I have a cleaner home? Sure! Do we have prettier closets? Yes, we do! Have I made a significant impact on the world around me, or helped alleviate suffering, or extended grace to our neighbors? No! I have not.
Cleaning (even deep cleaning) and caring for our possessions is important to keep the household safe and healthy, but there’s a limit. Spending too much time on things takes away time from people and activities that really matter.
As if on cue, a blog post from minimalist Joshua Becker popped into my newsfeed this week. It caught my eye because it mentioned KonMari, and as I mentioned above, I implemented the KonMari technique and held every item in my home and asked myself if it sparked joy. Becker’s essay took aim at KonMari’s approach a bit, contending that the “spark joy” standard falls a bit short because it doesn’t address the root of the possession problem. His essay also includes startling statistics about consumerism in America. For example, he mentions that 25% of two-car garages don’t even have enough room to park one car in them. While shocking, I feel the truth of this statement when I look around my own neighborhood. On walks around my neighborhood I often see garages full to the brim with boxes and metal and woodworking projects while three or four cars are parked in the driveway. I should mention we often get pretty wicked hailstorms around here. But hey, if the cars are damaged by hail, at least the boxes in the garage are protected, right?
On my way home from carpool this morning, I drove by a massive construction project that is now beginning work on the fourth (or possibly fifth) level. It is being erected right next to my children’s dentist’s office. What used to be a small open field of prairie dog burrows and sagebrush with a view of the Colorado sky and bike paths will soon be the home to — you guessed it — a massive storage facility. It’s a monstrous eyesore and it’s a little bit sad to look at. It’s a reminder of all our excess and all our waste.
If I’m pointing fingers, don’t think for a second that I’m not pointing one right at myself. We rent a storage space for our RV. We may not have a pod, but we have a slab of concrete that we pay a premium price for to store one of our toys. We are absolutely complicit in the storage game.
Close to 10% of Americans rent space in a storage facility. It’s a $22 billion dollar industry. $22 billion — with a “B!” When used to store stuff temporarily for things like a move, storage facility can certainly be a blessing. Yet, I know many people who use storage facility just as overflow from their own homes. They can’t bear to part with the leather couch that they might use someday when they refinish their home so they pay $129 a month for 150 square feet of storage. Will they ever use the couch? Maybe. Or maybe it will be outdated and moth-eaten by then. And what about the other 14 boxes full of stuff in that storage unit? Will they ever be opened, or will they be like the neglected box of “home décor” items I have saved in my basement in case I ever need a silk ivory calla lily to adorn a mantel?
I want to live a life of abundance, and I consider myself extremely grateful for the blessings in my life. I write in my gratitude journal every night, after all! I feel like I’m an appreciative and grateful human being. I value relationships and time spent with loved ones much more than I value money and possessions.
So why do I spend so much darn time on my stuff?
Joshua Becker’s essay drove home one point that really cut to the heart of the matter to me. He describes a charity he and his wife created and writes
“We would never have pursued this interest of ours if minimalism hadn’t freed up the time and money to do it. I’d still be spending my Saturdays cleaning and organizing.”
-Joshua Becker, Becoming Minimalist
What would I have had time to do last week if I hadn’t scrubbed my dresser drawers?
What can I do with my time today, instead of worshipping my possessions?
How can I stop being a slave to my stuff, and instead free up my life to make a real difference in the world?
I’m much better than I used to be, but I have a significant amount of letting go left to do. Letting go not only of the items themselves, but also of the emotional investment and time commitment I devote to them.
I owe it to those who have lost so much in recent hurricanes, earthquakes, and traumatic personal life events. I’ve given some money and donated some clothes to hurricane victims. Now it’s time to honor their material losses by changing my entitled behavior and putting life before things for once and for all.