So, besides causing me to look askance at the number of magnets currently adorning the outside of our refrigerator, this interview makes the book in question sound quite interesting. I suppose because I find myself well in the middle of that typical American family that the book promises to discuss.
As we are preparing for a move in the near future, Karen and I are entering the phase of preparation that I find the most beneifical: downsizing. We’ve made it a routine in the two moves we’ve made since marriage…and I hope it will continue…that we go through our stuff and start paring down various items that we just no longer need. Clothing is among the first things to go: if we haven’t worn it in a year, off to a clothing bank it goes. Furniture? If we’ve been saying that we could live without it, it’s time to take a photo for Craigslist.
This is partly a practical exercise in the sense that, whether you’re moving up or downsizing, moving is easier with less stuff. It’s also partly a spiritual exercise, because the more stuff we accumulate, the more of a position it can assume to use us instead of being used by us.
This is difficult, though, because Americans love our stuff. We accumulate it to make ourselves feel good (as the interview suggests), we accumulate it to indicate status and success to others, we accumulate it out of a desire to keep up with the proverbial Jonses. We accumulate it because we all seem to partially buy into the notion that “he who dies with the most toys wins.” All of that, and more, results in the fact that we accumulate too much stuff.
As much as we like our toys, I’m convinced that we should at least have a practical use for the items that we purchase. When we discover that we haven’t used something for an extended period of time, we need to part ways with that item. Because, when we hold onto things too tightly, they become a barrier between us and each other, between us and ourselves, between us and the Divine.
A few months ago, Karen spilled a glass of juice on our coffee table. She called for help, and I came running with towels. The first thing I scooped up was the iPad laying on the table. I did this despite the fact that the juice dripping down to the floor was landing on papers that were important to Karen. I justified this by saying that I was logically trying to preserve the most expensive item first, but the reality is that I didn’t act to preserve what I knew was important to her first. I really like my iPad, but it prevented me from seeing the most important thing in the picture.
I think that therein lies the ugly truth: our stuff does make our lives easier and more functional in a lot of ways. They also obscure more important things. They do it by nature, because the material realm is such a small portion of our existence, even though we focus on it almost exclusively.
Here’s to downsizing.
Photo Attribution: Surprise Truck under Creative Commons