Monday, July 19, 2010

Stuff…Part One

We ALL have more than we need and, in most cases, that excess is a source of anxiety, not pleasure for us.

(Picture credit:

It is no secret that I'm in the midst of simplifying my life and redefining my priorities. Here I wrote about our now-almost-three year journey of unloading stuff from our lives and here I shared with you the difficulty making the decision to let go of something can be.

The past few weeks have been tremendously helpful to me as they've helped me focus in my feelings on the topic of STUFF. I've talked with friends who've confessed to the inability to get rid of stuff because of the emotions they've attached to the stuff. I talked with friends who feel their anxiety levels rise as soon as they think of dealing with their stuff. I talked with friends who've put blinders on so they no longer see all their stuff. In every case, this stuff that they've brought into their lives has become a source of stress and instead of pleasure.

 Let me be very clear here. It doesn't matter if the stuff came from Nordstrom or Wal-Mart or Target or a garage sale or Craigslist or a friend. It doesn't matter if the stuff is worth a lot of money or is virtually worthless. It doesn't matter if it is clothing, farm equipment, scrap-booking stuff, or furniture. The stories I was hearing (and my own experiences) were all the same. Our stuff is creating stress in our daily lives.

So, what gives? What is going on here? My friends are representative of various socio-economic and political positions and with kids of all different ages, yet they all share the same story: I'm over-whelmed when I think of dealing with my stuff. I'm stressed when I try to tackle it. I just can't deal with it.

This is serious stuff. There have been tears, drugs, and guilt.

So, I've been thinking about it. I've been letting it bounce around in my head. I've thought about all I've learned in the past six years, as I've worked so hard to simplify our family's life and I've come to a few conclusions.

First, our parents couldn't have prepared us to deal with this stuff because there wasn't this MUCH stuff when they were raising us. The television your parents had when you were six was probably the same television your parents had when you graduated high school. The princess phone you got when you were 16 still worked well when you were 26. Cell phones, DVDs, CDs, Sony Walkman, personal computers, video game systems, laptops, didn't exist in our parent's era. (CDs were introduced to the public in 1982the year AFTER I graduated high school.) They had no way to prepare us for the onslaught to come.

What about clothing? It wasn't until the late 70s that real branding of clothing hit the mainstream. Remember Polo shirts, Calvin Klein, etc. Before that, clothes had to last the entire school year, so we changed into play clothes after school. Suddenly, clothes weren't enoughthey had to be the right clothes and what was right changed every 3 months.

When I was growing up, "cheap Chinese imports" were a bad thing. Not only were people aware we were destroying our manufacturing base and putting people in our own country out of work, but the quality of the products was, well, terrible. People weren't willing to buy junk just to save a little cash. Whatever they bought, they bought to last. Now, our belongings are disposable and our parents couldn't prepare us for this.

Second, shopping became an end in and of itself. When I was a little girl, shopping was something we did in August for Back-to-School. Other than that, we spun dreams via the Sears Christmas catalog. The rise of the mall gave us "shopping" as a thing to go do for entertainment, rather than something we do when we have a specific need to fill. By the time I was 11 or 12, we were "heading to the mall" to go "shopping". My friends and I were looking for stuff to buy, even if we didn't need anything. 20 years of that has had our society redefining "needs" faster than you can swipe a charge card through a reader.

And thirdthe rise of easy credit was the final straw. Suddenly, we didn't have to wait for anything. If we wanted it, we could buy it. No cooling off period, no saving until you could buy it. Nope. We just signed our names and that wonderful widget was oursright then and there. We felt powerful, we felt grown-up, and we felt we had arrived. We liked that feeling, so we kept heading to the mall, buying things we didn't need to keep us feeling cool and powerfulat least until the next widget caught our eyes and before we knew it, we felt like we were falling behind if we weren't joining in.

(to be continued)


DarcyLee said...

Oh, I loved this post. For one thing, it took me right down memory lane :) For another thing, I'm in the process of getting rid of lots of "widgets" right now. It's no wonder that trying to make a living is so hard these days-and expensive-we have to update our technology so often,plus the monthly bills to keep that technology going. And, of course, there's the credit card bills. Great post, Erin! I look forward to Part 2.

Clark said...

Awesome post Erin! I am looking forward to Part 2.

Crafty Intrigue said...

I can relate. I am also looking to streamline my possessions.