“We’d like to move to a smaller house, but what would I do with all my things?”
I looked around the once-lovely home we were visiting, and saw shelves filled with books, photographs, collections of figurines, teapots, and sea shells. End tables were decorated with candles, bowls, and more figurines, to the point where there was no place to set my mug of tea. The coffee table had a glass top, with even more “collectibles” displayed inside. At one end of the room, a set of glass-fronted display cabinets held several dozen plates, an assortment of cut glassware, and even more figurines.
Then there were the “spare” bedrooms. We had been given a tour of the house when we arrived the night before. The first bedroom we came to was piled from floor to ceiling with moving boxes, all containing “important stuff.” The next room held Christmas decorations, some in clearly labeled boxes, other items in haphazard piles. My hostess confessed that she owns enough Hallmark ornaments (not to mention all the others) to decorate seven extra-tall Christmas trees. There’s one more room at the end of the hallway, but we couldn’t get in the door. It’s blocked by yet more boxes.
Possessions bring us pleasure. If they didn’t we wouldn’t pay money to possess them. Every piece on display was beautiful to look at, or interesting, or had an important memory associated with it. The room I was sitting in wasn’t cluttered with junk. Many of the objects there must be quite valuable. Clearly someone with impeccable taste carefully selected each item.
But at what point do we cease to own our possessions, and find instead that they own us? My hostess was getting on in years, and she would like to move to a smaller place. Upkeep on such a large house is more than she can handle. She was overwhelmed, but she didn’t move. Why not?
She had too much stuff.
Just the thought of having to dispose of all these lovely things was more than she could bear to consider. It’s their very importance that kept her from acting. She couldn’t just throw away such lovely items. They’re valuable! Neither could she bring herself to give them away. Times are tough, and she needed the money they would bring. Unfortunately, actually gathering everything together, determining a price for each article, running ads either in the local paper or online, and then dealing with the resulting inquiries, was more than she could handle.
This had been a sobering visit. We headed home with new resolve to prune our possessions. But as I started going through our own closets, it occurred to me that it would have been easier to not acquire so many possession in the first place.
There is nothing wrong with surrounding ourselves with objects that appeal to us in some way—that we find interesting, pleasant to look at, or that remind us of good times and loved ones. Yet, it is worth asking ourselves, “Do I need to own that?”
I’ve now come to a place where I can look at something desirable and think, “That painting (or necklace or serving dish or houseplant or whatever) is beautiful (or interesting, or funny). I like it very much. (Or, it brings back fond memories of people I love and places I’ve been.) But I do not need to possess it in order to enjoy it.”
I wish I had learned this lesson years ago.
Here I am, surrounded by my own possessions, telling you to do what I say, not what I did. Don’t accumulate many possessions. Fill your life with people and experiences, not stuff. Save up memories, not things.
I’ve spent the last few years going through our home, eliminating what I do not use and do not need. Games we no longer play, music I’m tired of, supplies for discarded hobbies—it all goes out the door. I find the most enjoyment when I’m able to give each item to someone who will make good use of it. If no one I know needs something, I give it to a charity that will resell it. Either way, it’s out of my house, and out of my life. It’s one less thing I have to be responsible for.
I’d rather de-clutter my life now, while I am still a fully functioning adult, than wait until I’m mentally or physically incapable. Why wait until I’m old to live free of my over-abundance?
Even more importantly, I’ve stopped accumulating. My Christmas list now includes things like “a day at the park,” “going camping with my family,” and “a games night with my kids.” Instead of going shopping, I go to museums. I want the kind of possessions that moths and rust won’t destroy. I want memories that will last longer than my lifetime. I want to build up my treasure in heaven.