— Henry David Thoreau
Spring is coming.
A Daily OM message this week mentioned The Simplicity Circles Project, a network of small groups that help “people lead lives of high satisfaction and low environmental impact.” Always eager to cut through the crap and get to the core in my own life, I forwarded the e-mail to some friends and family members.
One of my classmates from The New Seminary wrote back lamenting the amount of stuff creeping back into her life and her home since she and her mate last purged their household. Rev. Deb wrote:
“I guess it takes more than one go at it to really sink in that we don’t *need* all of this stuff! One downfall was moving into a much larger house than we had lived in previously… we had *lots* of space to fill… which we’ve done quite nicely, thank you very much. Oy. When will I ever learn?”
Her message was a mirror of what I have been experiencing. Prior to my cross-country move last July, I sold off, gave away, recycled, and donated a large percentage of my own possessions. The relocation forced me into what I’d been reluctant to do for years: to reduce my possessions by half. I had purged my closets and cupboards with vigor from time to time, but still had felt anxiety over the exercise. I remember sitting in meditation one afternoon, worrying that this or that item destined for the Salvation Army would end up being something I desperately needed or wanted later on.
That still, small voice within chided, “So, you’re afraid you’ll get to the end of your life and won’t have enough stuff?”
I had a good giggle at myself over that one — you really can’t take it with you — but I’m not sure that it made the dis-possession all that much easier. Clearing clutter is so much more than just getting crap out of the house; there are so many memories and emotional ties wrapped up in our possessions, and it can be hard to let go, even when we really want to.
(A great discussion of the personal energy we expend on our possessions and our ties to them can be found in Karen Kingston’s “Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui.”)
Keeping in mind the adages, “Never own more than you can love” and, “What we own comes to own us,” I was vigilant in the disbursement of my worldly goods prior to leaving Virginia. I gave away much-prized but seldom-used treasures, sold my entire CD collection on eBay, Freecycled appliances and dog houses, had Vietnam Vets haul away larger pieces of furniture, and had several large moving sales.
Yet the night before the movers were due to arrive, I was astounded by the amount of stuff that remained. Where had all of this come from? A team of faithful friends dropped in to help me sort through it all: while there was an embarrassingly large pile set out with the garbage, much was sent off to Goodwill, and my friends were each gifted with as much as they could haul away. Twelve hours later, the movers came and went; I packed my four four-foots into the car, and we were blissfully on our way.
Arriving in Oregon with only the items loaded into my RAV-4 was a revelation. I had absolutely no furniture. I slept on a sleeping bag underneath the stairs (it was too hot upstairs). I sat on the floor and propped my laptop on an overturned milk crate. I acquired a few necessities here and there — like a bed and a refrigerator — but the house, for a time, remained largely bare. For the descendant of generations of pack-rats, that sparse existence was remarkably exhilarating. I had created a truly simplified life.
Several weeks later, however, the movers arrived. While they had loaded the truck with only a fraction of what I had possessed back in Virginia, the volume of boxes and furniture they unloaded in my new house was staggering. Even after the huge East Coast purge, I was astonished to find that I’m still harboring so much ‘stuff.’
Months later, I am still unpacking the last of the boxes, shaking my head and trying to figure out why, just last July, I’d thought it was so important to hold onto ten old, rag placemats or a collection of odd fabric remnants.
Getting back to that Daily OM on Simplicity Circles …. Several different folks over the years have recommended “Your Money or Your Life” (Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robinson; Penguin Books), and though I’ve not yet read it, this was one of the volumes that escaped the purge to make the cross-country journey with me. At the beginning of the week, I was inspired to go hunting for it on my bookshelf and to at least move it to my desk, where I could reach for it when I found a spare moment here and there.
When I clicked on the Simplicity Circle website, guess which book was mentioned most frequently by folks hosting the Simplicity Circles? There are no accidents. Spring is coming. My place could use a good spring cleaning and purging. I’ll no doubt be posting more “OFFER” announcements on the Washington County Freecycle board.