Thursday, October 19, 2006

The Stuff of Life

I read about a passionate imperfectionist who advocated living better with the things we already own and paused for thought. Dan Ho pared down his personal possessions further than I ever envisioned possible by someone in midlife. (55 personal possessions, 47 of them clothing!)

I have always revered people who choose to live with so few possessions. Who hasn’t admired the beauty of Shaker interiors? However, I know myself too well to ever believe that I would have the discipline for that. That only heightens my appreciation of others that can.

When I showed up for college, I filled up my mother’s subcompact car to the gills. The girl who showed up with just two suitcases and two boxes was legendary. My friend took me to her room to introduce us and the legend graciously allowed me to look inside her closet. Her shirts hung amid all this empty space. I vowed to be more like her.

Nevertheless, I continued to accumulate. When I showed up for grad school, I filled my own subcompact to the gills. I also shipped 6 boxes of fabric and sewing supplies with a friend heading for the same school with a trailer in tow. I also mailed my growing collection of books by USPS’s bargain book rate to my new department.

Then I got married and playing house was so much fun. We accumulated more stuff. There were the wedding presents, the dumpster diving triumphs, the estate sales, finds from our travels… It was a good thing that our employer paid for our next move.

When we bought our townhouse, it seemed so vast. I thought that it would take a lifetime for us to fill the place. We even took in a roommate for a while because we really didn’t need all the space.

Then we had a baby. How can such little people require so much stuff? Have you walked the aisles of Babies R Us, the baby superstore lately?

Our baby is a little girl now who has very definite ideas of what she needs. Her taste does not run to ascetic minimalism. It is a constant battle against those plastic tschochkes that seem to blow in the door with her. Goodie bags, happy meals, and carnivals—each activity seems to be an opportunity for adding more stuff that we don’t need to our house. How much of a child’s art and school work should a good mom save?

For the past few years, I have been preoccupied with my health problems and I fell behind in the battle against clutter. It is a disaster and a source of stress. My doctors say that my condition is worsened by stress so I must reduce my sources of stress. No wonder that a UCLA doctor who studies longevity says that clutter shortens lives.

So much stuff and it all requires attention. It just grows unless I constantly whittle down the mountain. (You betcha that I don’t get any decluttering help from the other inhabitants of this house.)

I should say that I am not blameless. I bring stuff home, too. Do fabric, yarn, and patterns and art supplies count as stuff? Well, yes and no. They are raw potential, just waiting for my hands and imagination to release them. What about those old sewing magazines and fabrics that someone left outside the guild meeting with a sign, “take me”. Those magazines are full of good ideas and useful information. I gave them a new home. Now the workspaces in my sewing room are so covered in ideas and potential that I no longer have space to work.

As an exercise, after a closet purge a year ago, I catalogued all the black bottoms that I still own. (Bottoms mean shorts, pants, skirts and overalls.) I stopped the exercise when I reached 50. How many do I need? I don’t work in a PIB (people in black) environment; I work in a PWB (people with badges) industry. Yet, I didn’t let any of the 50+ go.

Sure it sounds easy to get rid of any clothing items you haven’t worn in a year. But what if you made them with your own hands, blood, sweat, tears and ingenuity? How can you part with them? They are a part of your portfolio.

Yet there is a man who owns fewer personal possessions than my collection of black bottoms. Wow.

1 comment:

  1. Wow indeed! I know what you mean about the potential of raw materials and then having so much raw material and potential that there is no space to create. Oddly, I've been able to rip out or donate knitted garments that don't fit the bill for me. I figure I can reuse the yarn, or someone will make use of my discarded handiwork in some way. Onward with the battle. Let me suggest reading Karen Kingston's Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui. It's not overly "new age Feng Shui" at all. There's a good deal of psychological information about clutter and the mentality of saving. It's helped me tremendously. Even though I'm still not the gal with 2 suitcases and 2 boxes!

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