It’s already happening.
I’ve been settled into my new home base in central Washington for not quite three months, and the accumulation of stuff is already well under way.
Three months ago, I had very little to my name in the way of possessions. I’d been moving around enough to warrant discarding anything that wasn’t immediately useful to me or lightweight enough to tote around in a suitcase.
I’d become accustomed to living this way. It was free and uncumbersome.
I’d never liked the idea of renting a storage unit either, especially since I wasn’t sure I’d ever move back to Washington at all, and then what?
I’d have to travel here only to retrieve all the stuff I’d been paying to keep but not using, only to pay more money to move it somewhere else? Or waste all that time just to sell my stuff for peanuts? Or simply give it all away after going to all that trouble to keep it?
Nope, that never appealed to me.
And so I did just fine with very little, always letting things go once they’d passed their peak level of usefulness, only buying new things when it felt necessary and not just for the sake of it.
I always figured I’d maintain this minimalist approach even once I’d settled in somewhere since large quantities of stuff still have a tendency to send me into a mild state of panic.
Being surrounded by stuff still produces a suffocating feeling of overwhelm–even when the stuff isn’t mine.
The Problem With More
Yes, just sitting around in a house full of stuff is enough to cause my skin to crawl a little bit.
It’s kind of like that song, Mo Money Mo Problems, but replace ‘money’ with ‘stuff.’ That’s how I feel about excessive possessions–the more of them I have, the more problems I face.
But even the term ‘problems’ is a bit too harsh here. Maybe ‘worries’ is a better fit. Mo Stuff, Mo Worries.
I worry about where to store my stuff. I worry about how to clean and take care of my stuff. I worry about how much money I spent to acquire my stuff and whether it was worth it. I worry about what might happen to my stuff and if someone is just waiting to steal it.
I feel guilty if I don’t use my stuff enough–guilty that someone else could be making much better use of it. I worry about what it took to produce my stuff in the first place–was it produced under fair and ethical conditions? As I learn more and more about where most stuff in this world comes from, I know the answer to that question is probably “no.”
But in spite of all this, I’m now the proud owner of all kinds of stuff–a beautiful couch and love seat set, a dining table, a 10-foot by 8-foot tapestry that hangs on the wall above my bed. A desk, several blankets, a wall calendar. House plants, and a full bookshelf. A potato peeler.
If you’re wondering how this kind of stuff could possibly cause me to worry so much, keep in mind the fact that for the last five or so years, I’ve been responsible for no one and nothing but myself. I have had no responsibilities to anyone, let alone something I had to work to keep alive (RIP, the first two succulents I ever bought).
Make no mistake, though–this stuff also brings me unspeakable joy.
The Privilege of Stuff
Not even one year ago, I found myself pining for this very life. Pining for the chance to nest, to accumulate stuff, to build a life beyond my suitcase. I wanted mugs of my own, and now I have them. I wanted a chance to put my stamp on something, and now I have that chance.
I’ve always felt this dichotomous pull of wanting and worrying about stuff.
I have so very much to be grateful for and, at the end of the day, that includes all the stuff in my life that I wanted but didn’t think I’d have at this point. We’re very blessed–VERY blessed–to have received much of our stuff at no cost.
Thanks to family, friends, acquaintances and local yard sales, we’ve accumulated a veritable treasure trove of stuff while paying very little. That’s a true miracle, one that it would be wholly ungracious of me to take for granted.
It might make me uncomfortable at times, but I’m certainly not blind to the fact that owning stuff in the first place is a privilege.
The Role of Mindfulness
But there’s a tipping point, I believe, where having too much stuff transforms from blessing to burden. My aim now is to avoid that tipping point at all costs by making use of the same mindfulness I employed while traveling with little more than a backpack to make sure everything I collect serves a purpose.
Not only that, but I must also ensure that I remain unattached–after all, it’s our attachment to stuff that’s the real burden, the real reason for worrying.
I’m grateful for my small living space because it does much of the hard work for me. Having a smaller space to fill means that even if the stuff accumulation gets out of hand, there will always be a limit, a max capacity for stuff.
Some stuff will automatically be ruled out for the simple fact that there is no room for it, anywhere.
It will mean choosing new stuff carefully because this space is precious and we only want it filled with things that bring us value and fill our lives with joy. It will mean accurately discerning between stuff I want, and stuff I need.
It will mean recognizing when stuff has passed its prime and learning to let go with grace, expressing gratitude for the happiness it brought me, if even for a short time.
It will mean taking excellent care of the stuff I already have and treating each item with the respect it deserves. It will mean being responsible for more than just myself.
The fact that I still want to travel will also play a significant role. Being mindful of travel as a priority means my spending will be curtailed by the desire to save money for flights and other travel-related expenses. In the battle between new stuff and new experiences, experiences win every time.
And should I ever get to a point where I resent the stuff I’ve accumulated or I begin to value my stuff over my freedom, I’ll downsize without hesitation.
Accepting What Is
So, here I am, with more material possessions than I ever imagined 30-year-old me would have. And it’s not good or bad, it just is.
Just as I learned lessons about myself by traveling the world with no stuff, I will learn many lessons from staying in one place and accumulating lots of stuff.
Every opportunity, whether unexpected or planned, presents a lesson if we just take the initiative to seek it out. My opportunity to nest has been a most educational experience, and we’re just getting started.
For example, I now know that I quite like being frugal, because it means I’m being mindful. I now know that I can cook just about anything as long as I have two pots. I now know that taking care of plants is harder than I thought, and also more rewarding.
This settled life is my present and my foreseeable future. I’m thankful for what it has already taught me, and for the gifts it has yet to bestow.
How do you feel about accumulating stuff? Do you have a love-hate relationship with it like I do?