On a recent Sunday morning, much too early for my usual public emergence, I participated in a yard sale with my friends. Since I keep Amvets on speed dial I didn’t have much to sell; I happily purge my tiny abode any chance I get. Yet I joined in to support my friends, both had worked hard to clear their spaces of extraneous stuff, and for the early morning camaraderie between the three of us who were there to hawk our worn wares.
It was a typical San Diego June morning—overcast and cool, the west-facing lawn damp with dew, shielded as it was from the morning sun by the shadow of the building. The three of us laid out our stuff on blankets that soaked up the dew. Shoes of all sizes (mine and hers), speakers and VHS players (his), and my sad little bass amplifier that I finally decided to sell, now that my dream of rock and roll stardom had faded.
Yes, it was the typical yard sale scenario, three groggy people engaging with potential buyers who stopped to fondle our stuff, asking questions and haggling with our prices. Sipping tea, slowly waking up as the sun crested over the top of the building, we picked through each others’ stuff laughing at ourselves and one another as we pondered the goods: from the ridiculous to the utilitarian. And that’s where this sweet little story ends.
No, no diamonds were discovered hidden in the bass amp, a decades-old murder was not solved, and Bigfoot did not show up looking for a signed Martha Stewart cookbook—now THAT would have been cool. No, something subtler happened as I stood there looking at the pathetic future landfill spread out before us. The psychic weight of stuff became nearly unbearable!
Stuff, things, knick-knacks, clothing, appliances—all of it made me feel weighed down more than usual. Now, as my regular readers and friends know, I am not a likely candidate for the next episode of Hoarders. I live in a small house, drive a tiny car, and am evangelical about the virtues of living a minimal lifestyle that favors experiences over things. And, lest you think I am austere, I do have and like stuff, some stuff—just apparently a lot less stuff than the average American does.
This weight that I felt as I evaluated the odds and ends, pondering how long I had owned the things, where or how I acquired the stuff, and the remarkable fact that none it held any meaning for me, was smothering. Not only had I carted some of that stuff around for years—storing it, maintaining it, and living with it—I spent money, hard earned money that was a result of hard work on much of those things. That stuff. That crap I never wanted to see again.
Stuff has weight. It takes space—both in your environment and your psyche. Our culture is so consumed (pun intended) with acquiring more of it, that many of us rarely stop to think about the consequences of these acquisitions on our lives. Sure, some things do make our lives easier, perhaps even better, but much of the things we buy that fill our homes and, sadly, myriad storage facilities around the country, are not things that have meaning to us. Most of the time we can’t even remember what we have.
We spend our life energy, our time and attention, managing our stuff. We complain that we can’t do the things we really want to do, like travel or start a business, because who would make the payments on, or watch, our stuff? We have tethered ourselves to the impermanent as we quest for meaning. We consume and are being consumed. And we don’t seem to be getting any happier.
Since the yard sale I have been thinking about how bringing an item into my home exponentially expands its weigh and energy. So easy it is to bring something in, and so hard it is to get it out! It’s like it grows to quadruple the size as soon as you take it out of the bag or the box. Just preparing for a yard sale takes many more hours per item than acquiring the item itself. I cannot afford to expend life energy on things that I don’t truly want or need. I vow to be even more discerning in my purchases and I challenge you to do the same.
This yard sale was likely my last. I am still going through my home paring down even more than before. I am taking an unsentimental view of all my possessions asking, “Does this bring value to my life, can I live without it?” And if I can live without it, if it does not serve a function (yes, beauty is a function, so I keep my artwork), then away it goes.
So don’t look for me out there hanging up cardboard yard sale signs on telephone poles any time soon, I’ll be spending my finite time on more fulfilling pursuits.
[originally published in All Things Girl]