Monday, January 7, 2008

Acknowledge, Forgive, Change, Move Forward

We have spent the last several weeks cleaning out of the old junk and making room in our lives for well, living. Many people have said that getting rid of clutter is like peeling layers off an onion, and it seems true, although I've found that letting time lapse between the peelings results in a growing onion.

This past weekend we reached a push comes to shove situation with our stuff. To have our home the way we want it, to have spaces for being together, for being with family and friends, for games and activities and music and fun, to have all of that and more, things need to leave our home.

Some people may be surprised. Our home has never sported the cluttered and disorganized look. Which means we hid our stuff well, because believe me, we have stuff. We all do, of course. Our clutter was just less obvious than having seven bottles of shampoo in the shower and twenty-seven framed pictures on the piano.

Some of our first promptings to get rid of more came after my grandfather died and we saw the mountains of stuff my grandmother has to look through (and as of yet has not). We looked in our own garage and closets, and wondered, if we have this much after nearly twenty years of marriage, how much will we have in another forty years?

Another nudge came as we realized the falling housing market means that we are staying put for now. Our house is big enough for us; indeed, we'd love to go a little smaller than out 1700 square feet (1000 sounds about right). Our house is lovely, but it was designed at a time when people wanted clearly defined spaces rather than great rooms and family rooms. The spaces don't flow together, and it certainly wasn't designed for the modern day accumulation of stuff that we have generated over our lifetimes.

Then we saw The Story of Stuff. Well, I can't say that seeing the short film inspired our decluttering, because we were headlong in it before we saw it. But it did create feelings of guilt over all of the stuff that we already have, and it strengthened our resolved to buy used as much as possible.

It gets to the point where it is hard to get rid of things. I've written about it before; we become emotionally and financially attached to our belongings. We thing we should sell what we don't want, or at least find it a good home. Preferably a home with someone we know, so that we can know it is used and well taken care of. We know people who sell things on Craigslist and eBay; we've bought off Craigslist and eBay.

Those first layers of the onion are long gone; we are in the thick flesh of the middle. No longer to we gleefully toss things into boxes and bags to donate to charity. We measure our choices carefully now; do I need 3 dress sweaters, or 7 belts, or 200 rubber stamps?

It's a hump to get over. I know, because in some areas I have pared back to a place where I can easily see any excess and I know I don't want it. Other things are hard. I still waver on the scrapbooking supplies; I've given away so much already, and I have more to go, but I don't know that I am ready to get rid of all of it. I may give it a time table and toss it at the end of June if I haven't used it.

Now of course, we are at the stage where there is no safe abort. Our stuff is out and everywhere, and we have to see the project through. It will probably be a few months before we get to all of the hiding spaces and eradicate what we don't want and need.

Surrounded by stuff, there is really only one good option, and it is the same option that applies whenever mistakes are made. Acknowledge that we make mistakes. We do. We're human, and we make decisions based on the information we have along with a lot of emotional input. Forgive ourselves. I didn't know 10-15 years ago what state the earth would be in, or how my choices were hastening global warming and peak oil. I have been an average consumer, moving toward simplicity over several years now and buying less, but still buying. Forgiveness is a big part of getting rid of physical and mental clutter. We have to forgive ourselves to let go of it. Then we can change. We see what we are getting rid of, and we make the connection between ourselves and the rest of the world. We acknowledge our responsibility to the earth and our ability to change. Then we move forward. We put the changes into action.

Twice this weekend we faced big temptation and fought it down. We briefly considered buying a new car; ours gets 21 mpg and as an SUV it isn't very image-friendly. Since we plan to sell our trailer we figured we don't need the towing power of the SUV. Looking at used small cars we were concerned about safety and longevity; automakers are just now really attempting to put safety, reliability, and small cars together (there are some great, long-lived small cars out there that aren't safe). But that pushed us into new car territory, and we really didn't want to be there. We researched our options and decided that our SUV will serve us fine for many years. The key is to drive less, and not to worry about image. After all, we are already a one car family. Already we are at 30% of the national average when it comes to transportation fuel, and we know we can reduce it more this year.

Then, as we were (are) reconfiguring spaces to optimize family togetherness, we thought about buying a laptop. This really wasn't a huge battle; I think we were over the idea within two hours. We researched again. We talked about it; laptops use less power and take up less space. But I had an idea, and now for less than $8 (thrift store) the computer is out of the way. We don't have to worry about power usage; we have a low power flat monitor already, and have the computer on a switch. Printers and speakers are already on hard switches and are only turned on when needed. Already we had decided that the computer would get used less often. Why buy a new computer that we don't even want to use except for communication and other tasks?

We don't need a car or computer that does something fundamentally different from what we have. We're still human though, and still capable of making mistakes. The difference this weekend is that we can committed to change, and we put our principles before our desires.

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