Cream and Sugar 10/12

 

Are you a sentimental sort who collects souvenirs, or do you take a more practical approach to material goods – always considering usefulness and storage capacities?

It felt like memory lane meeting reality when visiting my mother-in-law a few weeks ago. A place called home for 50-plus years, is now a holding place for hundreds of items that will soon have to go . . . somewhere. You see, my mother-in-law is planning a move to a very small space.

Yes, of course, there will be furniture, linen and lamps that will need a new home. But also stowed away in a beautiful old trunk are historical photos of ancestors known and forgotten (most of them wearing hats), souvenirs of war, a wedding dress, a Boy Scout tunic and a campfire blanket. What to do?

In the kitchen there are enough teacups and cream and sugar sets to supply the United Church Fall Supper. All these possessions are part of the story of this home and the family who lived in it.

 

The sum of a home reduced to its parts got me thinking philosophically about a variety of dichotomies that come into play when I think about “stuff.”
• old and new
• past and present
• junk and treasure
• minimalist and collector
• small homes and large ones
• adequacy and luxury
• simplicity and complexity
• scarcity and abundance
• permanence of impermanence
• physical and spiritual
• attachment and non-attachment

I don’t have many answers, but I have lots of questions. Why is it that we hold tightly to, and identify with, our belongings? If we were 100% grounded, say “self-actualized,” would we need so much stuff? You might argue that you don’t NEED stuff, but you certainly like to have it.

These are affluent times for most people on this continent, much more so than our families before us who lived through the depression and war.

Are people who have more stuff happier? The Stoic philosopher Seneca said, “It is not the man who has little, but the man who craves more, that is poor.”

Planned obsolescence certainly forces us to “buy, buy, buy,” filling our basements or furnishing our landfills in the process. I admire the “waste not – want not” attitude of the past. “This is good enough,” was the mantra. Contrast that with today’s materialistic motto, “I want a new one.” I kind of like that too.

All of this makes me wonder why we’re here and what is the role of material stuff?

Let’s say you were moving to a one-room apartment, what would you take? What would you let go? What criteria would you use to decide?

How would you feel about shipping your worldly possessions in a 8′ x 8′ x 4′ crate, not to exceed 1,200 pounds? That’s exactly what adventurous, and newlywed, Julie and Scott did recently. They moved 2,400 miles, as the crow flies, to Fort Good Hope, Northwest Territories.

When I asked Julie how they determined what to take with them, what they wouldn’t be able to get up north was high priority – including food. “Not getting sushi, ever, was frightening!” Julie said. Sushi supplies were packed.

Julie knew her pretty little dresses and business attire would be useless in Fort Good Hope. So she laid them all out and invited friends to come and take what they wanted. “It was easier than you think,” she said. Necklaces collected from her travels easily fit the crate and the new environment, and were not so easy to relinquish.

It seems most of us want both practicality and sentimentality.

As I’ve just moved, not quite a year ago, I remember all too well the review process to reject or re-instate. It’s a good process – arduous, but good. Clearing clutter clears energy. I think we all know that to be true. Once we make the decision, it feels so good to let stuff go. We feel lighter. Think of it as slimming down or taking weight off. Feels good, doesn’t it?

If you really love your cream and sugar set, perhaps you should keep it. But don’t stash it at the back of the cupboard. Use it and enjoy it. On the other hand, if you choose to practice the Buddhist concept of non-attachment, it’s okay to let the cream and sugar set (or the pretty little dresses) go. Non-attachment. It’s freeing and healthy.

If your home is overweight, it might be time to shed some household pounds. That’s a healthy thing to do. Who knows? You might shed some too, in the process.