So this afternoon at a friend's enjoying Barbecue on an Autumn day that was a bit hotter than is should be for the middle of October, one of the attendees shared her story of earlier that day, when she was cleaning out her Mother's things after she had recently passed on.
"Fabric" she said. "She had lots of fabric. And I cannot remember her sewing more than one or two things."
And on her father's side of the closet, hats. Trucker hats. When she asked her dad if she could get rid of them, his response was "Well, I collect them."
"Dad" she responded, "You have not opened these up in 15 years. The hats are falling apart because the material is old. How about just keeping three or four?"
We all laughed of course - we all know ourselves too well to not know that we have precisely the same proclivities in collecting or saving things that we have ultimately seem to have no intent to ever use. But it did start me thinking about things in my own life.
Truth be told, I am a collector of things. Most of us are. We like to play it down by calling it a "hobby" or "I buy them because they make me happy" but in fact, we accumulate things. Perhaps because we instinctively feel like when we start something, we need to complete the set. Perhaps it is because purchasing something is a form of personal power, an exercise in doing something that we want to do rather than all the things we have to do, such as paying bills and mortgages (even if we have to do it with money we do not actually have).
I would like to say that for myself, I have become less and less focused on acquiring things. In some ways I believe that to be true: I seldom buy books as much as I used and really do not acquire anything else. Part of it is expense I suppose: the things I want have simply gone up in price. But there is also a realization, I think, that things do not (in and of themselves) make me better or solve problems. They may bring a brief sort of joy, but not the sort of life changing joy our mind tries to tell else they will bring. I am coming to measure things not just on whether I want them, but rather of what use they will be to me (and the nature of "use" is getting pushed out farther and farther: if I will not get 5 or more years of use out of something I am likely to not buy it).
But the second thing I am now confronting is releasing what I have.
Some hard numbers: in 6.5 years we will effectively be child free. We have already discussed - I would say agreed to at this point - moving somewhere else at that time (assuming my job holds out that long). More than likely moving would entail some form of downsizing.
It is easy enough to point at things and say "We should get rid of that" when the things are not mine. When they are mine, it is harder. I attempt to justify by saying "But what if I need it?" or "I will never get back what I paid for it". Really, I guess, it is because I do not want to let go: at best it invokes memories, but at worst it is simply my own greed.
How am I trying to combat this? Two things, one for each problem.
For the acquisition of things, I have started making a list. If I want it, it goes on the list with a price (effectively Amazon's shopping cart does the same thing). I can look at it, think about it, and prioritize it. Now, except for the occasional find at the used book store where buying right then means I get it, I very seldom buy things on the fly.
For the simplifying of things, I am starting to root out things on shelves, in drawers, and in the garage - places were things are not commonly seen and if not seen, then not used (Truth be told, I hate drawers. Just places to hide stuff to avoid getting rid of it). It is not an easy task, I can tell you. Once you get past the "I just do not want to get rid of things" you are left with the sentimental "Oh, I cannot get rid of this - remember the time.....".
But I am working on both. Financially it makes sense (what I do not buy I keep in money, what I am able to sell I keep in cash). Space-wise it makes sense. And, hopefully, in terms of my children it makes sense - I do not wish to leave them with the task of weeding through things because I was unwilling to.
And it makes for a constant reminder that not, you really cannot take it all with you.