i know this is a topic i revisit periodically, but since it is on my mind, i am going to trot it out again. i’m not sure if this is a seasonal thing or what, but right now i seem to be in de-clutter overdrive. perhaps it goes along with the approaching winter desire to hunker down and nest, but i really want my space to be clear and organized.
to that end, a lot of my mental real estate is taken up with planning what i will get rid of and what i can consolidate to make better use of space. i find myself constantly wondering what i could truly do without, and what other people in similar life circumstance to mine don’t own, even though i feel like i “need” it.
a long time ago i realized that it is easier to never to have owned something in the first place than to have owned it and then to get rid of it (especially if some of the people who use it happen to be your spouse and/or children, who seem to form attachments to things in direct proportion to how much you want to get rid of them 🙂 ). there is a principle in negotiations that takes this into account, called, “losses loom larger than gains”, which means that people will work harder to avoid losing something they already have than to get something they don’t have yet. you probably recognize this as, “people get attached to their stuff”.
in any case, in my house it plays out even for me. here’s a great example (something i am struggling with now): i own a dehydrator. it’s a fairly cheapy model. i didn’t pay a lot for it, and that’s reflected in the quality of it. i have used it several times, but not a ton. i haven’t used it at all since we moved to seattle, mainly because the price of produce doesn’t allow for me to get huge bulk amounts of it (which i would need in order to make it worthwhile to dehydrate it), and this is a situation i don’t see changing- probably ever. AND, when we replaced our oven, we got one with convection, so in theory if i ever did want to dehydrate anything i could do it in my oven.
but i can’t bring myself to get rid of the dehydrator. i know someone else could really use it. but the place it lives in the laundry room is a spot that really isn’t needed for anything else (this is what we tell ourselves, right?). i even see people periodically on freecycle who ask for dehydrators, and i will usually save the email for a few days, wondering if i should give them mine, but then i always guiltily delete the email, and feel selfish for a few days for hoarding a disproportionate amount of the world’s resources… sometimes when i do laundry i will stare at the dehydrator, wondering if it would prefer to be somewhere that it got more use, and kind of knowing that if it was used more it would break sooner (it’s cheap plastic)- but really that’s just one of many excuses to hang onto it. so, there it continues to sit.
i did sort through clothes the other day, and that was much easier. but then i had to deal with the “what if”s. and i think this is what stops a lot of people dead in their tracks when they try to de-clutter. here’s how this goes: as i sort through t-shirts that i sleep in, i choose 2 of the 5 to keep. but then i wonder, what if we have a really hot summer? what if i am really sweaty and i don’t have a chance to do laundry? what if i get both of these t-shirts really sweaty and i don’t have anything clean to wear on the third night? never mind that i also have a summer nightgown. never mind that i have two teenage daughters, one teenage son, and one adult husband- all of whom have clothing that if i was truly desperate i could probably borrow. but as i put the 3 t-shirts into the giveaway box, i was literally breathing faster and i had to calm myself down and talk to myself and be reassuring. then i sorted sweaters. so i took 2 sweaters that i brought with me from detroit, both of which are about 4 sizes too big, and both of which i never wear. i hung onto them for similar reasons to hanging onto the dehydrator- because i have them. but i figure now is a good time to break out of that. these are about the last two that have survived various rounds of purging in the past. but as these were going into the giveaway box, i thought, what if it gets really cold and our power is out? what if it is out for a long time and i wear out my other sweaters? now, realistically, do you have any idea how long it takes for a sweater to WEAR OUT? i don’t think i’ve ever truly worn out a sweater, but i’m guessing it doesn’t happen in a short amount of time. i’m guessing you would have to wear a sweater for a pretty long time before you wear clear through it. and while i am not exactly a fashionista, i do have more than one sweater. so, even in a grid-down type of situation, i would be okay for at least a little while, and i would probably have bigger problems on my hands than which sweater to wear. so then i was thinking that i should save the sweaters to use for just extra insulating layers… and i didn’t get very specific with that concept, so i don’t know if i was thinking for dogs or chickens or wires or pots of soup or what. because luckily i rescued myself from that downward mental spiral and just put the sweaters in the box.
because if we play the “what if” game we can justify keeping every shred of every piece of detritus that ever crosses our paths. and we are doomed to a life of eternal clutter. if we are creative enough (or delude ourselves enough) we can find a potential use for anything.
a friend once told me that holding onto stuff is about not trusting the universe to meet our needs. i think there is a degree of wisdom in that. if we think the world is too frightening without walls of stuff, then we hoard against eventual famine and poverty. which, of course, just gives the illusion of security because that can all be swept away in an instant. if we feel like we will never get our needs met, then we can never have enough. if our inner selves are constantly empty, then trying to fill them up with external stuff is like trying to fill a sieve with sand.
so, i am trying to work on the opposite mindset.
what choices would i make if i knew i had enough? what would i keep if i felt totally satisfied and at peace with what i had right this minute? what would my life look like if i felt content?
and what could i give away if i felt like my cup was running over?
because, in reality, it is. every minute of every single day.