Lately I’ve had a real problem with my stuff. It’s weighing me down. It leads me to fantasize about losing everything in a fire. Which is a total fantasy, I realize…the reality of it would be devastating. But, being a fantasy, it is incredibly freeing, to think of it all just disappearing and starting over. To have nothing suddenly, but the clothes on my back. And having to rebuild from there. I’d like to think I’d do it differently this time, but like losing weight, if you don’t do the inner work/changes, you get the same outcome again eventually. As I did already. Too much stuff, once again.
You see I was almost in the above fantasy situation once. The conflagration was not a physical fire, but leaving my first marriage. I had almost nothing, compared to what I left behind in my old life. And my new life was incredibly scary, but also incredibly freeing. I remember noticing that I wasn’t panicked or grieving about the lack of stuff in my life. What I was feeling was RELIEF. All the stuff I left behind was not my worry anymore. I didn’t have to think about it, clean it, dust it, repair it, maintain it, organize it, or try to remember where I left it last.
I could enumerate all of my current possessions in my head easily. I knew exactly where everything I owned was in my shabby rental townhouse.
Of course, soon I started accumulating again. My mom gave me a microwave oven. I bought some furniture to replace the folding lawn chairs in the living room. I bought a spatula so I wouldn’t have to flip pancakes with the paint scraper in my toolbox any more (OK, that was a totally necessary purchase). I remember at the time considering my purchases carefully – did we really need this? I was conscious of not wanting to be burdened down with too much stuff once more. But I also wanted to give my kids some semblance of a “normal” home again.
Then I bought a house. Now I needed even more stuff. Gardening stuff. Lawn mowing stuff. Snow shoveling stuff. I had plenty of new places to stow stuff. And stow it I did. I made a cozy TV room for the kids to hang out in. I haunted HomeSense and Value Village for cute little inexpensive items to decorate walls, floors and every available surface with. I forgot about the freedom of owning less, in my joy of having my first ever home-all-to-myself to express my personality in.
And I bought books. Lotsa books. Mostly second-hand or sale-bin books. And music. Lotsa CDs. On sale, second-hand, or 2 for $20 (damn you HMV!).
When you buy these things one or two at a time, you don’t quite realize what is going on. Even when you bring them home and try to find space for them, it’s easy to tune out the niggling little voice that says – Whoa, gettin’ a bit of stuff here girly! Time to get things in check, doncha think? It was easy to justify these one- or two-at-a-time purchases.
Till it comes time to organize/purge them. Which I did this weekend. When I looked at my entire collection of (hundreds of) books and CDs and was struck by the years of mindless consumption it represented. And looking at specific types of books and CDs en masse I recalled what drove the impulse(s) to buy them.
All of the career/change your life/find your focus/find your purpose books? Yeah, I wasn’t happy where I was working then and was looking for guidance on how to get out/make changes. Someday, someday…
All the dinner/party music CDs? My wish to entertain more than I was capable of, in my tiny abode (with the even tinier budget). Someday, someday…
All the gardening books? My wish for beautiful perennial/kitchen gardens. Quite unrealistic, as I had neither the money, time or energy (anemic at the time) to create one. Someday, someday…
All the psychology/self-help books? My wish to become a stronger person/better mother/better girlfriend/less afraid of conflict/figure out who the hell I am/why am I the way I am, anyways? Someday, someday…
All the fiction hardcovers I accumulated? Partly a wish to escape into another world, to take a break from my own…partially a wish to someday develop a large library of beautiful books to gaze upon, to dive into when I took a notion. Someday, someday…
All those books on writing/the writing process/creativity/art? Easy. Instead of doing the hard/scary work of trying to write/create something, I could just read about it instead. Someday, someday…
In short, when I felt I couldn’t do what I wanted/needed to do in my life when I wanted/needed to do it, I assuaged those frustrated feelings by buying a book or CD that represented what I wanted, instead. For temporary relief.
This is the crux of all impulse purchases, if not most consumerism, in my opinion. We buy a thing to obtain something other than the thing itself, we buy what it represents to us instead.
(As well, I’ve realized for some time now, that when I need to take action on some part of my life, my first instinct is to find -buy, usually- the “right” book and read up on what it is I need to do first. Sometimes this is useful – like reading up on how to repair a leaky toilet before actually repairing it. But for me, often it is just a means of delaying taking action, of hiding behind a book instead of JUST DOING WHAT NEEDS TO BE DONE.)
So this weekend, I tore apart my book shelves and revealed not only a lot of dust and piles of books and CDs I had totally forgotten I owned, but recollected the reasons and frustrated dreams behind them as well. I’ve consigned about 85% of them to the “To Be Donated” pile I’ve got started in my living room and it feels oh so good, oh so right.
I doubt I will ever be a true minimalist and have a spare, bare and tidy home, and be able to itemize my possessions in less than triple digits. JD and I struggle a bit with emotional attachment to inanimate objects (him more than me, but I definitely have those leanings too). And I love my pretty things and gadgets, especially in the kitchen.
But I can be a lot more mindful about my purchases and my possessions, and that is my goal, going forward towards our new home, our new life. Books can be borrowed from the library. Music can be also, and is found free on internet and regular radio. Both can be stored digitally, freeing up literal and psychic space for other things. Or nothing. Which brings about peace of mind. The most treasured possession of all.