Simplicity Isn’t Simple… Even When (Or Especially When) It’s Voluntary

I’ve been fretting about my overwhelmingly large collection of physical “stuff” again lately. I do this several times a year. It used to be only in the fall. Then it was in the spring and the fall. Now, it seems to be nearly constant.

I think about my belief that we, in America, have too much. We have so much that we appreciate nothing. I look at what the typical family owns, how disposable everything is, how overwhelming in volume. It makes me ill. I think about the conversations I’ve overheard about how “it doesn’t cost as much to live in other countries, so ‘those people’ don’t need to earn as much as we do…” and my stomach turns. I actually heard someone say that to one of my children the other day, and I had a fit. I described (to my child) the differences I noticed between America and China and why we are lazy and greedy in comparison.

Then I look at myself… under a magnifying glass.

I try to balance my Zen tendencies. I think about how to create a sustainable, socially and ecologically aware lifestyle. I don’t want a mansion. I like lots of outdoor space and a fairly tiny indoor space. I want to better appreciate the things I have, I want for very little. I need my personal space to be uncrowded and uncluttered. Currently, these needs aren’t being met.

I’ve asked all my family and friends to refrain from buying me things. I’m beginning to really believe that the belongings in this life aren’t something we drag along behind us, but they are what we must push before us, everywhere we go. I know that’s a quote from someone (loosely translated) but I don’t remember who said it.

I do know they were wise…

The problem is, my space is terribly crowded and cluttered at the moment and it’s making me crazy. Not just a little irritated… I’m going out of my mind. So, I’ve been working all weekend to try to remedy this situation, while supporting my youngest son’s latest eBay project.

My diet is going well, so most of my current clothes don’t fit. Happy problem, but it’s causing me to have to review my closet once every week or two. And the stuff is seeming to find dark corners in the cabin where it multiplies… and multiplies… and so on.

So, I’m looking through my zen and feng shui books, I’m reading my simplicity books, I’m learning about the guy on the Internet who sold everything that didn’t fit in the trunk of his car [], and I’m looking at my own life more carefully.

What I see is a life full of stuff that I spend weeks every year sorting and analysing and trying to determine if it’s really essential. What I do is spend alot of my time (or money) maintaining, heating, cooling, insuring and repairing stuff. I find that I’m dodging things or tucking them away for “later” — and I wonder why.

Fact is, if I’m not using and enjoying an item now… do I really need it for later? Does it really matter how cool it is, or who gave it to me, or what memories it holds if I keep it packed away in a box every day of the year and never even see it?

Moving around lately has made me less tolerant of having stuff packed. We have stuff scattered everywhere. Yes, it’s getting a bit better, but it’s still horrid. I’m married to a pack rat. My kids have pack-rat tendencies (from the paternal side, obviously). And, we are living in a small cabin. All that adds up to cramped frustration.

Hubby did clear out the storage unit he rented to hold the stuff that he had stored at his sister’s house when we got married. Of course, he didn’t go through it, or get rid of anything… he simply boxed it all up and moved it into the cabin that we are building. So, there’s not room to even move around to paint the walls now.

My eldest son is headed to the military, so he’s going to need a place to store some of his ‘stuff’ while he’s gone. My younger son is a clothes horse and shoe fanatic (he threw out five pairs of shoes yesterday, and has many more remaining) and he’s a collector. My husband, aside from being a packrat, is also an artist… so he keeps dibs and dabs of weird little things for use in his art projects. Don’t believe me? He takes apart the filters from my water jug and saves the little rocks for use as “terrain” on his miniatures…. I kid you not… and that is only one of several of those types of habits. My daughter saves scraps of papers… and all school work… forever. She cries if I act like it should be thrown away, although she’s finally getting a bit better about that… finally.

I’m looking around and I’m overwhelmed. I want to take off a couple weeks and just clean and purge. What would be heaven for me? To be able to fit my “special things” into a single set of sheves with a door on the front. I even have the shelves… I’ve had that piece of furniture for years. But, what I don’t have is all my stuff concentrated down and weeded out so that it would all fit in there.

What else do I want? A small wardrobe of only a few items that all mix and match and that look good, fit perfectly and make me feel confident when I wear them. This one is happening because I’m shrinking out of most of my stuff and I’m having to donate items every time I do laundry. (Not complaining on this particular point). I want low quantity, high quality in my life. I’m tired of dealing with stuff that I don’t want, don’t need and don’t enjoy.

I’d like to be able to live comfortably and in an organized fashion in that 25-foot Airstream. That, for me, would be ideal. The problem is, when we do give that a run, I’ll be doing it with my packrat husband and his rat-twin (my daughter). I’m not really looking forward to that. I don’t deal well with a crowding and cluttering due to my own “stuff” — and I certainly will not be a happy traveler if I’ve purged and cleared out mine and then have to deal with everyone else’s. Just the thought of it depresses me.

I want to “go paperless” in my office. I want to build a redundant backup system for my multi-drive data storage design (currently underway) and I want to remove all things that are not essential from my collection of physical stuff. I’ve weeded quite a bit this weekend, but this is only the first pass of this “depth” and I’d expect it’s going to be pretty thin by the time I’m finished.

Heck, I’m even having my son sell some of my jewelry — something I never thought I’d do. But, the fact is, I have a few pieces I really enjoy and wear all the time, and the rest just sit there in my box and gather dust. It’s crazy. Yeah, I know most women (at least in this country) have scads of jewelry and makeup and clothes and shoes… and I’ve always had a weakness for jewelry… but the time has come to select the cream and dispose of the rest.

I don’t do “knick-knacks” as a rule, and I’m even culling out the few of those that I do have. I’m having visions of a clean, clear uncluttered existence. I’m seeing Asian-influence decorative techniques where everything is bare and one or three items are added to create contrast and the rest is left bare and clean and restful and peaceful. I dream of a place that welcomes me, and doesn’t attack my senses. I want understated luxury, soft clarity.

Yes, I still enjoy and appreciate baroque stylings and Victorian influences — but I’d like to have mostly clean lines, minimal decorating and one really special piece in any given area or room that stands out not only because it’s beautifully worked, even a bit “overdone” but because it’s in such sharp contrast from the rest of the area.

I want my environment to be welcoming and touchable, comfortable and NOT busy. I want my mind, my eyes, and my body to find rest there. I want to create my own haven. I want to know where every single item I own is located and I want to never search to “lay my hands” on what I’m seeking — be it a measuring cup, a silk blouse or a legal paper. And I want it NOW.

Later, on another kick, I’ll work on the virtue of patience… but that’s not gonna happen today. Today, and for the next several weeks, I’m all about the simplicity.