How did we get all this stuff?
As we age, there seems to be less attachment to possessions or the need for possessions. In the first half of my life, I was consumed by being a consumer. I had to have the latest “stuff”. Even when I turned fifty, the entry point to the afternoon of life, and we moved into a smaller condo during a relocation, the deal I made with my wife is that I could buy any electronics items that I wanted. And I did. We had gadgets everywhere.
When we moved to Pittsburgh ten years ago, we bought a four-bedroom home for the two of us mostly to hold all of the stuff that we had bought in. The sizable condo that we were moving out of was filled with books, electronics, photography gear, and the matting tables and printers to support my professional fine art photography experiment. But then we added, even more, to fill the deck with outdoor furniture and build out my home office as I launched my coaching practice. I was attracted to the idea of seeing clients in my office on the lower level of the house, which I have done for the last two years. So we had filled up our space with stuff.
Downsizing and the opportunity to declutter life
We are now downsizing. And like many things in life it came when we hit a tipping point. Last week in this series I wrote about the knee injury that brought my awareness to the present moment back into focus and the need for mindfulness. That silence and reflection finally got me in touch with the absurd lifestyle that we are currently living.
So we have decided to downsize, and in order to do that, we are in the process of decluttering the house as many people do prior to listing it. But we are going further than that.
In my research on how to declutter, I found a common theme of advice. Look at every item you own and ask yourself” is it something that I need?”, If not, “is it something that brings me pleasure?”. Be honest. If the answer is yes to both – then – “where am I going to put it in my home”?
Horcruxes in the Muggle World
In the Harry Potter series, J.K Rowling invented the term Horcrux as an object that “he who must be not be named” placed a part of his soul in. I the series Tom Riddle – aka – Voldermort had placed his soul in six objects and in two other persons and he would live on until all of the objects were destroyed.
I have a similar take on the same concept. We place our energy, our soul in objects that we buy, and those objects either enhance our lives or detract from it. If our soul is partially placed in another person as it is in most marriages – it can be a positive placement or it can be a negative one. In the case of objects, we become burdened by all of the objects that we have sacrificed our soul for over the years. It is easy to look around and ask myself, “What was I thinking?”. It turns out – I was not thinking. Just consuming.
If you now look at these objects and ask yourself if it is making your life better, really better. Then keep it. But if it is making it worse, get rid of it. What part of your soul have you given up buying it and will releasing it heal your soul? Can you be grateful for it and then pass it on to someone who might be able to use it?
As I sit in this office, I am looking across the room at two clocks, a fountain that does not work, a Papago Indian basket with coasters in it, a cute sign that says “It wasn’t raining when Noah built the ark” three glass candle pyramids containing oil, A Samsung flat-screen TV (that already is not working well), soundbar, blue ray player, Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, three candles and a “peace” plaque – and these are just the items out on the credenza across from my office – the office that will be downsized.
None of them are needed. One of the clocks was given to me in Utah by an admin that I relied on. The Peace plaque is a gift from my daughter, the Arc sign was bought at an art fair in North Carolina at the outer banks, the TV equipment is an asset owned by my company because I used it for clients and educational material. In a simple world, all of these objects could be given away. For most people, if they move they will keep them and cram them somewhere.
What do you need to do to simplify?
I think that the answer to how to deal with these objects is simple. The clock from my admin – I can write Regina a note and thank her for her service to me twenty years ago and give the clock away. The Peace plaque can be moved. The TV and other electronics gear will probably fit in the office that we will share when we move as it is depreciated now anyway – or move to the office that my business will open next year. The other stuff is of no real value and is not needed and holds no semimetal value. We will keep the TV (if it can be fixed) because the TV in my wife’s working office is from the Clinton Administration and weighs three hundred pounds is one of the first HD TVs in 2000 – but it still works.
How do you simplify?
I do not think that we need to declutter it as a political statement. Or forced minimalism. I am a capitalist and I believe that people should be allowed to buy and consume whatever they want and I do not think we are going to save the planet by not being consumers. We have bigger problems than “American style consumption” with the planet, and frankly, I think we might be too far along the path to mass extinction for this planet in this isolated spot in one of many universes. I am more concerned with our individual and collective spiritual journeys of our timeless existence.
What are we supposed to be learning right now, right here? How are we, as “conscious components of the universe” expanding our awareness? The baby boomers era of conspicuous consumption is ending just as the Millennials who supposedly shunned it are beginning to embrace it in their own unique ways.
The survival of the planet is a much bigger question. As boomers in the afternoon and early evening of life, we need to declutter so we can experience life in such a way that we are expanding our consciousness and awareness and not escaping from being in contact with the people around us. I think that is what Thoreau meant when he penned, “simplify, simplify, simplify”. Perhaps then we can give some of our wisdom back to the planet and help others grow and solve our many problems.
What do you do first?
So what do you need to do? The best advice I encountered is to take all of the objects from a room and put them out so they are visible and go through them. What can we give away? What can we sell? What do we want to keep and where are we going to put it?
Then deal with it – right here, right now. Photograph the objects you are going to sell and list them on Craig’s list, eBay or somewhere else you like. Put the items for donation together list them out for tax purposes and take them to your favorite charity. Put the things you are keeping away with a newfound respect and gratitude for the items that made the cut. Some items that are moving to another room might need to be moved temporarily to that room until you do this for every room in the house.
We will start the process this week for the room in our house that is going away – our utility room. Over the next eight weeks, until we list the house in January, we will do the same until we have the first pass of the entire house done. As we pack for the move into the new home, I am sure that we will encounter additional opportunities.
Of course, if you are not moving yet, you can still enter the new year clutter-free in your existing home and it will refocus your whole approach to the holidays from what am I going to get to what can I give away and free myself of the responsibility of ownership.
What about you, what do you have to simplify? I plan on coming back to this theme as we live through this “simplify” process and experience the gratitude and holiday seasons that we are entering. Hopefully, we can simplify that as well.