I think it would be worthwhile for everyone to occasionally pack up all of their belongings. Everything goes into a box, and the boxes are all stacked together. If it can move, it is packed. Everything in the dresser and closet, everything in the medicine cabinet, everything in the kitchen, everything in the living room, everything in the garage. For many, this is unpractical due to the sheer amount of stuff in their home. Push comes to shove, and packaging a single room will suffice. Once this is done, clean. With everything out of the way, you can finally, fully wash the walls and vacuum the carpet. Then check out the pile of stuff. It is everything you have accumulated over the years. It ties you down. When you are not around, it must be secured from thieves. If you move, it will have to be dealt with through sale or transportation.
I had the opportunity earlier this year when I moved out of my college dorm for the last time. I spent the morning with my dad going through my room and dividing my stuff into three piles: that which I would keep during the summer before leaving for Kenya, that which my parents would take back to my hometown to store and that which would be donated to local organizations. It was a lot. It was humbling. With an eye toward frugality, I had always fancied that I bought only what I needed. Even less than that actually since the apartment was furnished and I bummed my roommates' silverware, dishes and cookware. Still, the storage third of my stuff rather comfortably filled the back of the Honda CR-V my parents were driving. Another trip was necessary to drop off the clothing donations and another one after that was needed to move into my house for the summer.
I had always thought I was the kind of person who neither needed nor had a lot of things. I have described myself as an anti-consumerist on more than one occasion. I was wrong. My things are just too well spread out to realize how much there is. Seeing it all together is a rather forceful reminder of how much I have. It's kind of a punch to the stomach, too, in light of my time at House of Charity. One of our most popular services is a gear storage closet where our clients can leave their stuff and not need to keep it with them while going to appointments or searching for jobs or whatever. Due to limited space, the rules of use are strictly enforced. No more than two bags, and neither can weigh more then 35 pounds. It can be incredibly frustrating trying to find space to fit gear. I mutter curses while trying to wedge someone's full-size, black garbage bag into a space far too small because it's the only spot available. When I see someone in line with a metal-frame hiking backpack, I just want to tell them "No. Put it all in something smaller first." Then I realize that my stuff alone could easily fill a wall of shelves in the closet and probably more. Perspective can suck.
Possessions overwhelm me. Yes, we need things. We need shelter and a place to sleep, means of preparing and serving food, ways to keep clean. We need clothes and entertainment. But do we really need this much? What is the proper relationship between us and the things we have collected?
In less than two weeks now I am going to Kenya and will only be bringing what fits into my backpack, a sport duffel and an old army duffel. I can only hope that at least of year of being reminded what things are really necessary will provide me with some answers.
If you prefer a comedian's take on the whole issue of stuff, check out this classic George Carlin bit.
3 years ago