Monday, October 17, 2016

On The Removal of Things

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.


  1. You could have a huge hole dug, and have all your things buried with you...

    But I can see where you are coming from. I have thrown things away that I have not used in three years, only to actually need it a few days later. Quite annoying.

    Good luck with your quest!

    1. I have had the very same thing happen Linda. I suppose that is why I am always reluctant to let things go.

  2. I am in the process of downsizing to a rental apartment-type place from the large house I've lived in the last eleven years. I've had similar houses for most of my life, but with my declining health, I can't take care of one anymore. I'm finding that God is helping me release that 'packrat' nature and simply leave the vast majority of what I've accumulated behind - either to be donated, given to friends or the church, or simply thrown away. What little I need any more, I will take with me. But I'm surprised at myself how little that really is. The majority will be either the children's things or books. There is a certain freedom that this gift has provided me - and I make no mistake in saying it's a "gift" to be able to do this. I thank God for helping me internalize my 'head-knowledge' about the unimportance of 'things'. As you closed with, we cannot take it with us, nor would we want to. Better for me to release it now if I don't currently need it.

    1. That is wonderful. God bless.

    2. I saw that you posted this (which indirectly may have contributed to me writing this - God's good timing). I too share much of a packrat nature about certain things. But then I reflect on the fact that we spent a week at the cabin in Montana with not a tenth of the things we have here. Yes, I know that it was only vacation and not "living", but we managed surprisingly well.

      This thought has come to me more and more over the last week - not just the leaving of so much of our life here behind (traffic and expenses - ugh) but what we have as well. I am beginning to ask myself the question "If I could make do on X amount (do not know that is at this point), would I be willing to shuck so much of what I have and do it?" I am finding the answer to be more and more in the positive at this point.

      Be well, friend. Still praying for the apartment.


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