Decluttering, Emotional Housekeeping & Good Activism
Initially I didn’t want to include this post on my blog, as I wanted to stay true to my expressed mission of helping Tuk’a in Ethiopia. My motivation to gather a community of people to underwrite the cost of this village’s development is that we have SO much, while others don’t even have the basics. But then, it occurred to me–that is the whole point. We spend a lot of time consuming. And then all the stuff we have purchased (just as the very wise Henry David Thoreau suggested) begins to own us. Not only does it own us, the person immediately responsible for its purchase, it also begins to own our children, and their children, and whomever else is ultimately responsible for the stuff when we no longer can take care of it ourselves. If we didn’t spend so much time and money acquiring it, we wouldn’t have to pay to house it, store it, maintain it, and eventually dispose of it. Getting back to basics, eliminating the unneeded items means that I will be using fewer resources to own what I already own.
So here I am, linking up to both Project Simplify and to 2011 in 2011, in order to make the world (and my home) a better place. It is really hard to let go of STUFF so if any of you decide to join in, you will have my full sympathy as you deal with the mental/emotional aspects of the transformation. It is my hope to adopt a different way of thinking so that my kids will go into the world with an entirely different approach to acquisition. I do not want to send them out feeling beholden to material things.
Today I did the first of five week’s purging assignments through Project Simplify: cleaning out my wardrobe. I was able to remove 44 items to go to friends or the Goodwill. Only 1,977 more items to discard by the end of the year (for 2011 in 2011).
My friend called at a great time, just as I was about to tear out my entire wardrobe for scrutiny. She regaled me with her latest good news as I went through every single piece of clothing in my closet. Admittedly it was a pretty liberating feeling to finally shed items I have been saving out of guilt or obligation. I know this is probably the easiest of all the decluttering projects of the year, but I am still celebrating this victorious first step. I didn’t get it all, there are still pieces lurking in there which don’t deserve their spot. So I will continue to be vigilant. What really concerns me, as I declutter, are the boxes of “special things” inherited from mother, grandmother, aunts… That is the stuff that scares me. These are the boxes I recently moved into the basement, full of momentos and photos from childhood, the things I made in junior high. What are we supposed to do with all that stuff anyway? Luckily, that is a question for another day.
Feel free to join this party if you are so inclined!
A few years back there was a nice lady that worked at the desk at my gym. We would always chat a little and one day she was handing out flyers for a massive yard sale. She was selling all her family’s possessions so they could move to Ethiopia to do missionary work. She went on to tell me about how her 6-year-old daughter was very distraught about giving away all her books. I had a 7-year-old daughter at the time and (surprise) found this very difficult to hear without losing it. My (then) 7-year-old also had a passion for books and I couldn’t imagine her having to part with them. The nice gym-desk lady went on to tell me the story of adopting her Ethiopian son (then 4). Her family felt that it was their calling to return to his home country and affect positive change. One thing she said which stayed with me was that “he always needs to be reassured that there is plenty of food.” Even though he had been living with them for a substantial period of time, he had to be told daily that there was plenty of food to eat because the memory of no food was central in his mind.
This conversation affected me deeply. We always have food! In fact we not only have food but we have so many choices of food! And I, for one, delight in all the different ways that food can be combined and recombined into delicious recipes and beautiful, satisfying meals. I love eating and having enough to eat. The thought of a child being that hungry makes my heart hurt. He remembers chronic hunger vividly.
Within a few months, I happened to meet a man who was a business associate of my boss at the time. He had adopted a child from Ethiopia. Of course I interrogated him as thoroughly as I could politely manage, and he was generous with his stories and information. The part of that conversation which I will never forget was his description of his son’s life before they brought him home. This little boy was begging on the streets at age 4. I had a 4-year-old boy at the time. A precious little wonder who I protected like a mama bear. 4 is practically still a baby. And the thought of someone else’s baby with no one to fiercely protect him, no one making sure he has food…
When the man and his wife went to pick up and bring home their new son, they asked him “do you have any possessions you would like to bring with you?” And the child said that he did and with a huge smile on his face produced a bottle cap. That was his toy, his favorite item in the world, and he brought it with him.
When we find ourselves riddled with guilt for not providing for our child’s every whim, we must bring to mind the joy that this boy was able to extract from a bottle cap. And we must teach our children to care, to reduce their consumption of the world’s resources, to be happy with less, to devote more of their hearts to the needs of others.
And the best way to teach this is to do it ourselves.