Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The tyranny of stuff

1440948116_00fe4272c7_mTwo or three weekly trips to the grocery store. A monthly Target run. A birthday party goodie bag. A McDonald's Happy Meal toy. Drawings and craft projects brought home from preschool and daycare. Cool rocks and pine cones collected from a nature walk. A toy borrowed from a playmate. Every day more stuff walks into my small house than walks out, and pretty soon we're going to run out of room!

Compared to most Americans, I don't think we buy a lot of things. We recycle. We we even reuse things--putting nuts, dried fruit and leftovers in washed-out glass jars and making caterpillars out of old egg cartons.

But still the stuff piles up. Relentlessly. New books, DVDs, and clothes come in faster than I can get rid of their predecessors. I'm grateful for all we have, but I find myself wishing we didn't have so much.

After years of listening to me complain about the 4 7-foot bookshelves dominating our dining room, my husband took down 3 of them. I marveled at the blank walls, grateful for once to have nothing to look at but glorious yellow paint. But he couldn't bring himself to donate more than a third of the books. Josh is about as likely to dig a dog-eared copy of Kant out of the basement as he is to win the lottery (he doesn't play), but he wants to have them. He loves his possessions; he gets a sense of security and pride in physically owning the books, music and movies he loves.

I don't. In the age of libraries, Netflix, toy rental services and digitized music, I want to free myself of all that space-hogging stuff. I want space, beautiful open space. Room to breathe. To rest my eyes. Can you tell I have two children under 5?

I know, deep down, that the fewer things we own, the more we enjoy them. Certainly my kids don't play with half their toys. It's my goal this summer to "disappear" everything at the bottom of the toy bin. I will be equally relentless with my wardrobe. If a new item comes in, an old item must go.

I have to stay on top it--this stuff--because it can take over. TV shows, filmsand articles--even self-help tomes--have been dedicated to the tyranny of clutter, showing us what happens when families are overwhelmed by the junk that fills their homes. Heck, the abundance of stuff we don't use has spawned a whole new business model--the self-storage facility. You pay them to store the stuff you don't have room for in your home but can't bear to part with.

Perhaps this recession will have a silver lining. We're learning, as a country to pay cash, to live within our means, to grow our own vegetables and to shop less. We're looking around our homes for items we can sell to help pay the bills. Am I dreaming to think we'll end up with less stuff and more contentment?