Editor’s note: This is a guest post by Katie Tallo. Katie writes about simple, joyful life change at Momentum Gathering.
My father-in-law is 84. He lived in a three-bedroom bungalow for the last 30 years, filling every nook and cranny with a lifetime’s worth of stuff. When his wife died last year, he found himself alone with no one to cook for or sit beside. All that was left was a house full of memories and stuff.
The memories just reminded him of his loss and the stuff he couldn’t maintain. He decided to move to a small apartment in a retirement home – to simplify life. Someone else would now cook the meals, wash the dishes, clean, shovel the snow, rake the leaves and put out the garbage. He could make new friends. He took a few pieces of furniture, his stamp collection, his favorite pictures, books and a few dishes. He has ended up where he began – a bachelor with just a few essentials. The rest?
Well, the rest was a ton of odds and ends, nicks and nacks bought, made and received over the course of eight decades in the life of two people. It took months to sort, box, trash, give away, sell and disperse. In the end, it was just a mountain of stuff.
I found myself wondering what the point of it all was – all this accumulating. Here was all this stuff that no one really wanted – that had little value in the end. It wasn’t what made his house a home – his marriage was.
Why do most of us amass so much stuff? Stuff that’s often boxed and packed in the basement, stacks in closets, piled in attics and teetering on the rafters of the garage, rarely opened. What is it that makes us surround ourselves, fill our spaces and continue to want more stuff even when there’s no room or need for more? We envision hoarders as crazy people, but most of us are hoarders. We’re just neat about it. We hide it well. We tuck it away where no one can see it, but likely we couldn’t count the number of things we own. Likely we have a mountain of stuff.
So why did we build this heap in the first place and why do we continue to pile more and more stuff on top of it? The answer lies in the word S-T-U-F-F.
S is for SALES
We’ve been sold on the idea that something is missing from our lives. It’s pointed out to us daily in a barrage of ads, billboards, banners, jingles, pop-ups, TV shows, and movies that make us look around and realize we’re not living like everyone else is supposedly living so we better hurry and upsize, go big and buy more – and the mountain grows.
T is for TRADITION
Our traditions have become gift giving extravaganzas. We rack our brains to come up with a Christmas list every year just so Aunt June can buy us something that never gets taken out of the box. We buy gifts for every occasion imaginable from Father’s Day to Valentine’s Day and end up with a drawer full of vases and soaps – and the mountain gets out of control.
U is UNIQUENESS
We believe our stuff defines our uniqueness, our style, our taste, and in some cases, our status. The car we drive, the fashions we wear, the laptop we display at coffee shops, the way we decorate our homes – all of it tells the world something about us – that we’re upwardly mobile, trendy, savvy, hip, cool, classy, or smart. We come to love our stuff because we think it’s who we are. We start to believe that the more we have, the more we are. And the mountain towers over us.
F is for FILLER
Stuff is filler that feeds the emptiness, anxiety, and loneliness that pervades the human condition. Shopping, buying, redecorating and busying ourselves with our stuff is a means to reward, comfort, treat, excite or give ourselves a sense of purpose. Without new stuff we feel dull, without lots of stuff we get bored. We try to fill the void instead of looking at it’s root cause – and the mountain gets higher.
F is for FRUGAL
When we can’t bare to throw out anything or pass up any deal, frugality just leads to more stuff. My father-in-law had over twenty jars of olive oil in his basement. Why? Because it was on sale. Misguided frugality means we’ll end up with enough oil to fry a small nation.
But how do we begin to see past our mountain of stuff to a place called enough? We do it by stepping back and taking a good look at ourselves, our stuff and our triggers. We limit the onslaught of ads, avoid malls and turn down noise so we can hear our inner voice screaming over the din for us to stop buying shit! And the mountain will begin to crumble.
We lead ourselves by the scruff of our Armani shirt towards a life of our own definition. A life we’ve decided makes sense to us, not necessarily to The Desperate Housewives. We recognize how much we already have. We honor our stuff, are grateful for our stuff, but stop worshipping our stuff. We alter our traditions, shift gears, make gifts, repurpose, or skip gift-giving altogether and create new traditions of sharing stories not gifts, hugs not presents, and excursions not excess. And the mountain will get smaller.
We begin to see ourselves apart from our stuff. We connect with each other instead. We free ourselves of our attachment to pretty fabrics and fancy cars and we reclaim our attachment to each other and our planet. We stop eating away at it’s very fabric. We reward, comfort, treat, excite or give ourselves a sense of purpose through soulful, simple actions that have nothing to do with bargain hunting or olive oil. Okay, maybe we can use some of that oil to make a kick ass spaghetti sauce and share it with some good friends.
I don’t have all the answers. I’m still grappling with my own stuff and I’m not suggesting that stuff is evil or bullshit. I’m just saying that awareness can lead to rethinking and change — and change can feel really good.
In my new e-book, The 7-Week Life Cleanse, I try to spark this kind of awareness. I ask questions and offer solutions for creating more space and time in which to examine how you move in the world, what you can let go of and where your soul might like to venture next. If I’ve convinced you not to buy anymore stuff then don’t buy the e-book. Go to my blog and grab the Life Cleanse Starter Kit for free.
Either way, I encourage you to begin to chisel away at your mountain of stuff so that you can see clear across to a place called enough. The view is spectacular!