Considering our Stuff – from Minimalism to Clutter….

Consider for a moment your “stuff.”  All the things you own, from clothes, books and furniture, to mementoes, electronics…and whatever is sitting in those boxes in your garage or attic!  Are you prone to collect, or accumulate a lot, or are you quick to discard?  And how much time do you spend cleaning, organizing, or otherwise dealing with, your possessions?  This month, I’ll meet with Women Explore, a wonderful group here in Cambridge, MA, to  consider the  “Inner and Outer Forces Driving Consumption.” (http://www.womenexplore.org/lectures.html), so this topic is top of mind for me lately.


Our culture is full of descriptive terms about how we relate with our possessions:  pat rack, neatnik, collector, minimalist, bargain hunter or hoarder, for instance. Isn’t it fascinating that, in an abundant culture, our possessions can become a major focus of attention, and often, a real drain on our energy?  

We can imagine the full range of styles when it comes to having “stuff,” from minimalism to hoarding, and all the levels in between.  I encourage you to think for a moment, if you haven’t already, about where you fall on this line.  People who land at extreme ends of this continuum may have a problem that merits clinical attention, which is, of course, different than merely needing to organize one’s office or home. But no matter where you fall along the line, you are probably making regular decisions about what the right amount of stuff is for you.  In being more deliberate about how we relate with our possessions, there a few important questions we can ask ourselves :

 

  • “How do my possessions add to, or detract from, my life?”

    Having great tools for cooking, or creating art, or fixing cars is amazing, but spending hours cleaning and organizing our things may be a real detractor from happiness.

 

  •  “When did I last use (or wear) this? When am I likely to use it again?”

     For those “someday” sort of answers, you may consider how much that item is taking up space, versus really being useful.

 

Marie Kondo’s book, “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” (http://tidyingup.com/books/the-life-changing-magic-of-tidying-up-hc) is an international bestseller that speaks to our desires to be organized, or free of the burden of our possessions. People have varying reactions to Ms. Kondo’s methods, but I think her idea that we can let go of those items that no longer actively bring us pleasure is really intriguing.

 

It’s important to consider how we can sort and de-clutter our current spaces, but it’s probably at least as valuable to consider how we manage the accumulation of new stuff. After all, everything we are currently faced with sorting or clearing in our closets, garages, or basements had to get in there somehow. If we control the way things are admitted into our life, we reduce the need to clear them out later. And, the usual go-to of donating our used items to someone less fortunate, while really noble, may not have the outcome you expect.  I say this because there is now a massive industry in charitable donations, where literally tons of discarded clothes, shoes, and books, are processed every week.  The world market for donations is glutted with the cast-offs of a disposable culture. See Elizabeth Cline’s remarkable research on this topic for full details (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/10/books/review/overdressed-by-elizabeth-l-cline.html)   If you are doing some clearing of usable items, finding a very local source that gives directly to those in need, including recent immigrants or refugees, or selling to others directly on-line, may be your best bet.

I’m writing this post as spring is upon us, and the spirit of cleaning out the old and welcoming in the new is all around. What a great time to consider how we personally do that, and especially how to do it in a way that adds value to our lives.

 

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