Weekly newspaper of Three Rivers, California, and Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Parks

Too many running shirts? I think not. Okay... maybe.

LIFE WITHOUT: STUFF

By: 
Sarah Elliott

 

WHAT WE OWN COMES TO OWN US...

 

Enough is enough! The more I try to keep life simple, the more complicated it becomes.

I want rest, stillness, contemplation, creativity, time. Instead, I am overwhelmed with decisions, work, appointments, bills, obligations, tasks, gadgets, emails, and social media.

Although our inclination should be to satisfy basic needs rather than amassing material possessions, we are being told from an onslaught of sources on a daily basis that consumption is key to happiness.

The tendency of modern life is to keep adding: more clothes, more books, more furniture, more home décor, more cars, more tools, more accessories, more electronics, more gizmos, doodads, thingamajigs. But continual addition isn’t sustainable and it’s certainly not desirable.

Too many possessions means clutter, debt, maintenance, visual stress, more cleaning. It also means being potentially strapped with payments, mortgages, time-consuming gadgetry, and preposterous playthings. Stuff begets more stuff.

A new dress means new shoes. A new fishing pole means a new reel and tackle. A new couch means new rugs, lamps, and coffee table. 

I run. So I need a rotation of running shoes, shorts and pants, technical shirts, socks, and hats, as well as sunglasses, hydration pack, GPS watch, iPod, earbuds,  headlamp, log book, lip balm, sunscreen, electrolytes. Why do I run? For the freedom it provides, for its simplicity. Hmmm.

Backpacking is another favorite recreational activity. Just hearing the word conjures up notions of austerity, but every time we plan a trip, it requires a list of essential items to purchase and several gear upgrades. Why do I backpack? To escape from the convenience of everyday life, materialism, technology… stuff!

I am actually a terrible shopper. I don’t shop for entertainment purposes. Shopping gives me a headache and makes me cranky.

I enter a store only because I have to be there, because I am assuming that it contains something that is on my list. But, even so, I still am in possession of items I don’t like, don’t need, don’t use, don’t fit. Things to add to the other things.

Constant consumerism ensures we upgrade perfectly good and fully functioning cell phones, TVs, entertainment systems, and other can’t-live-without gadgetry. 

A couple generations ago, houses were smaller than they are today. My grandparents’ house in Three Rivers, where they raised two children just as I did, was half the size of my home. 

I’ve contributed to what has been in the last two decades the skyrocketing growth of self-storage units. I recently read that there is more than 2.5 billion square feet of self-storage space in the United States. Even though the size of the average American home has doubled over the last 50 years, we still have an overflow of stuff.

Things go to the storage unit because I don’t need them anymore but they have some monetary or emotional value so can’t be thrown away or given away. It causes me stress to think of permanently releasing the items because I rationalize that someday I might need them… or maybe my grown kids might… or maybe... That someday has never come and probably never will.

I want peace and freedom from stuff, both financially and emotionally. It isn’t stuff that makes me happy. I want to live lightly and minimally. 

I can come up with three ways to reduce or eliminate stuff in my life, my home, my business, my storage unit:

Awareness. I need to be a more conscious consumer and think through all of the negative consequences of adding more stuff to my life. I abhor the incessant marketing of mainstream products but still fall victim to these tactics.

Exchange. If I do add something, then I will provide balance by subtracting something else. That way I won’t add to the net total of things. In fact, if I buy one new item, I will release two so the cycle of accumulation starts turning in the opposite direction.

Subtraction. I will attempt to exit the consumer superhighway altogether by eliminating the nonessential things that make entering some closets in my home feel like an archaeological excavation. It makes sense that by ridding myself of excess stuff, I will unclog my life and slowly break the habit of wanting more. Subtraction is a skill that will hopefully improve with practice. 

I’m barely scratching the surface of human consumption. To be discussed another time will be society’s usage of groundwater, soils, timber, petroleum, coal, and other natural resources that are finite, especially as populations increase and economies expand. Nature should be a refuge from economic activity, not a resource for it.

Here’s the thing. I am not a hoarder. I’m not addicted to shopping. And I still have too much stuff. So I sympathize with those who are obsessed with accumulation. If we buy less and spend less, it makes sense that we would accumulate fewer debts and have fewer time-consuming obligations, and as a result will need to earn less and work less.

Working less. That’s a habit I could learn to love.

X