As much as I talk about less, about purchasing less and striving for less and working toward less, I have quite a bit of more. My job, this brown swirly mix of writing and styling and designing and producing, creates a tornado of stuff. Daily, there are cardboard boxes arriving at the door, ready to be unpacked and photographed and kept, or passed along to someone else, whilst the tower of empty boxes and spilled styrofoam peanuts sit in the corner of the dining room in need of some cutting and de-packing and recycling by Tuesday morning. And so, as I write about less, about a sparse closet or toxin-free beauty cabinets, my dining room is camouflaged in cardboard from Wednesday to Monday, nearly always.
I don’t think this makes me a hypocrite; I think this makes me a human. I think this makes me someone that doesn’t see the other side of it, because she’s not in it. Because she has more, she can only think of less. And when she has less, she might hunger for a tiny bit more.
I write quite a lot about reducing, purging, de-cluttering, and not quite enough about the stewardship of it all. About what happens after you’ve taken a car-full of old CDs and receiving blankets and coffee mugs to the local Goodwill. It cannot end there, after all. The purge is simply the beginning.
I once believed that de-cluttering would make me happier, lighter, Lynyrd Skynyrd Freebird style. I’d envisioned our family in a Spartan, sunlit space void of excess, not a power cord or plastic ninja in sight. We’d be surrounded by heirloom furniture (in perfect condition, naturally) with felt slippers that didn’t smell and showers that never molded. There would be no crumbs from the toaster, no stray rubber bands from the newspaper, no dust on the floorboards. Fresh! Clean! Minimal! Now we can travel the world!
And yet, it is my belief that this vision I used to hold close is far more destructive than the clutter itself. Because of course, I’d become a minimalist obsessed with minimalizing. More purging, please! More de-cluttering! More empty space! More of less, more of less!
And although I do believe that too much clutter can indeed steal our joy, I have come to know that our perspective steals far more than the clutter itself.
Can I peek at the cardboard tower and see gratitude for gainful employment? Can I survey the plastic ninjas and see creativity at work? Can I look beyond the mountains of paperwork and see productivity and purpose and a kind husband tackling taxes?
Indeed, things arrive into our home out of our own accord – paperwork and gifts and objects that carry meaning to us, or to those under our roof. And although we know all of the tricks (“One in, one out!” or “Snap a photo; rid the item!”), perhaps our rules and regulations are simply continuing our obsession with stuff. Perhaps we’re gritting our teeth as we purge, as we clean, as we reduce. Perhaps clutter isn’t stealing our joy – perhaps we are.
After all, a quest for less is still a quest.
And so, my new goal is this: to become void not of things, but of my attachment to things (and my corresponding resentment of things, and my sometimes corresponding resentment to the bringers and keepers of things). To acquire mindfully, to gather out of necessity, and to respect the things I have been given. To remember the weight of the Goodwill purges – the bulging of the plastic bags, the stuffing of the cardboard boxes. Remember the chaos, yes, but in the mean time – accept it for what it is.
To appreciate it, and to release what I need to – whether releasing the clutter or releasing the de-clutter.
Lynyrd Skynyrd Freebird style.