One Sunday morning, much too early to be in public, I participated in a yard sale with my friends.

Since I keep Amvets on speed dial I didn’t have much to sell; I purge my possessions every chance I get. But, I joined in to support my friends who had worked hard to empty their spaces of extraneous stuff.

It was a classic June San Diego morning—overcast and cool, the lawn damp with dew, shielded from the sun by the building’s shadow. We 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 guitar amplifier that I finally decided to sell, now that my dream of rock and roll stardom had faded.

It was the typical yard sale scenario, three groggy people engaging with potential buyers who stopped to fondle our stuff, ask questions, and haggle over prices.

Sipping chai, slowly waking up as the sun crested over the building, we picked through each others’ stuff laughing as we pondered the goods: from the ridiculous to the utilitarian. And that’s where this little story ends.

We didn’t discover any stolen jewels hiding in the guitar amp, and Bigfoot did not show up looking for a signed Martha Stewart cookbook. No, something much more subtle happened as I stood there looking at the pathetic future landfill spread out before us.

The psychic weight of stuff had become unbearable.

Stuff—knick-knacks, clothing, appliances—all of it made me feel weighed down. As my regular readers and friends know, I’m not a likely candidate for the next episode of Hoarders. I live in a small house and am evangelical about the virtues of living a life that favors simplicity. Lest you think I live an austere life—I do have and like stuff—just a lot less stuff than the average American does.

Evaluating the stuff, pondering how long I had owned things, where or how I acquired them, and the fact that none it held any meaning for me, was smothering. I carted some of that stuff around for years—maintaining it, moving it, and living with it—I spent hard earned money on those things. That stuff used to be money and it’s a bunch of crap I never want to see again.

Stuff has weight. It takes space—both in your environment and psyche.

Our culture is so consumed with acquiring stuff that we rarely stop to think about the consequences of consumption. Sure, some things make our lives easier, perhaps better, but things don’t give our lives meaning. The stuff just fills space in an attempt to assuage our loneliness or disappointment with our lives. 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 we can’t do things we want to, like travel, because who would make the payments on, or watch, our stuff? We’ve tethered ourselves to the impermanent as we quest for meaning. We consume and are being consumed by material goods and we don’t seem to be getting any happier.

Exponential Expansion

Since the yard sale, I’ve been thinking about how acquiring an item expands exponentially the item’s weight and energy. It’s so easy to bring something in, and so hard to get it out! It’s like the thing quadruples in size as soon as you take it out of the bag or the box.

Preparing a yard sale takes more time than acquiring the items does. I can’t afford to expend life energy on things I don’t want or need. I vow to be more discerning in my purchases, and I challenge you to do the same.

Although this was not likely my last yard sale, I don’t plan to join one any time soon. I regularly go through my home paring down even more. Taking an unsentimental view of my possessions, I ask, “Does this bring value to my life?”  If I can live without it, if it does not serve a function (beauty is a function, so I keep my artwork), then away it goes.

So don’t expect to see me hanging yard sale signs anytime soon; I’ll be spending my finite time on more fulfilling pursuits.

[originally published in May 2011, edited]

image: pixabay under creative commons license