Thursday, January 17, 2013

Storage USA

I have been grappling with the concept of "stuff" for so long. As a kid, thinking about all the toys I wanted for Christmas and birthdays--which is probably where when my fascination initially began. There were two times a year when people would bring me things??!! How amazing! Or so I thought. I had so many toys that my toys required a box, it even had a name, a "toy box", along with shelves, closets and drawers. Even while I felt like I had so many "toys" I am uncertain how much "stuff" I really had.

This makes me think about my own perceptions. Looking back on my childhood I had so many toys . My parents did not have a ton of money, but I had anything I could have ever needed growing up. It makes me wonder and hope that if and when we have children I will be able to distinguish between what is wanted and what is needed. A real effort to place more importance on the love, gratefulness and service than on the stuff any one may receive.

I  remember waking up on Christmas morning early to count to ensure that Katey and I had the same number of presents. Clearly I had no concept of size and cost, all that mattered to me at 6, 7 and 8, was that if I had 9 gifts, she better also have nine gifts. Things were all about equality at the most basic level. I get one cookie, you get one cookie. It didn't matter if she wanted more things initially than me, or if she genuinely needed more things than me, what mattered most was that we use to have the same number of gifts.

As an adult, my desire to aquire morphed into clothes, books, cheap jewelry and skin care products. I have cut down on actual books a bit thanks to my kindle-where they all live virtually, but I have so many clothes--require a  closet, along with an entire box for my jewelry and shelves and closets for my skin care products.

Even today in 323-ish square feet, where at times I feel like I am living with the bare minimum amount of stuff, the things I posses still require their own boxes, closets, shelves, drawers, containers, cabinets and storage space. Even today, when I feel like I am living with the bare minimum of stuff, we continue to have stuff stored under the bed, high up on shelves, on top of Greg's desk and shoved away where we are hopeful they will somehow disappear (like that sock in the dryer).

I feel like so many people around me have been talking about cleaning up their spaces, helping others with cleaning and organizing and just shedding "stuff". I feel like there is a real shift going on with those I have been surrounding myself with, or at least the ones I have been hearing more loudly than others. A real shift away from things, and a real shift towards love, friendship and soaking life up and being present. As Thoreau stated so much more eloquently than I ever could

" I went to the woods because I wanted to live deliberately, I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, To put to rout all that was not life and not when I had come to die Discover that I had not lived.”

Just reading it over and over again, makes me want to run away, run far, far away, and live off the land, live in the wilderness. It brings me a certain type of peace, certainly

I am grateful for the gentle nudges I have been receiving. I feel like I too have been overwhelmed by "stuff" for a very long time.

It can be very overwhelming to know where to begin when it comes to cleaning and shedding and it can also be hard to let go of the "stuff" and the "things" for sentimental reasons. As a very superstitious person, I think more than anything, I have always been superstitious about getting rid of my things. I have been trying hard to focus on the memories and the love, instead of the things they symbolize. I am hoping this gentle shift will allow me to begin to get rid of more things, that at this point, are just taking up plenty of space.

I find things and stuff all so fascinating. As I have said a few times already, while I feel like I am living with bare minimum stuff, we still have "stuff" busting from the seams. More stuff than we need. Yet, when I travel to the homes of friends and family, where square footage is rampant, I often wonder, what am I missing out on, what don't I have? It automatically gives me a sense of missing out and I suddenly want a big space with more things. I grew up in a house. I honestly never imagined myself in anything but a nice house with a backyard and a 2 car garage. This is and was the American Dream for so long. Not necessarily a big house, but at least a house, with 2 cars, 2 kids and a dog or cat, certainly. Being in the city these past, going on 9 years, I honestly am not sure what my feelings are about having a house anymore, or even the need for a yard (I have no doubt children alter this all).

Part of me is fearful that I would just feel the need to fill it with things that I am currently living just fine without right now. Don't get me wrong, if and when we have children, there would obviously be a natural exponential increase in stuff. I am sure there is actually an equation you can use. Add "x" number of people to your family and you will require "y" additional square footage and space, storage, shelving, closets, drawers and boxes of their own. I also would be lying if I didn't say that I too would even like a bit more space. Nothing too crazy, but perhaps another room and another bathroom. In this other room, I would like to use it as a spare bedroom and also a place for me to do yoga. The additional bathroom would just be for convenience and it would be nice to not have to always walk through our bedroom to use the restroom.

Even as I describe my ideal space, perhaps 900 square feet, or so, with a current 2 person maximum occupancy--plus the cat, I see terms like "bed room," "living room" and "rest room." We get a room for sleeping, living and going to the bathroom. Don't even get me started on the homes we have for our cars, lawn equipment, pool equipment and pets.

We, as Westerners, have obviously come to like our space and even more so, our stuff. Growing up in a culture of space and stuff, makes me curious about the large populations of  the world who don't have the "luxury" or quite honestly the need, for either. Clearly there are millions of happy people in the world who are getting by just fine without their separate rooms for separate tasks and so many things that they justify their own rooms, shelves and boxes. Many people can carry all that matters to them on their back. I am not trying to state in any way that I am ungrateful for what I do have, I just hope that I truly realize that my happiness does not live in things, spaces and stuff. My happiness should live inside me, inside those I love and care for. I like to think I have finally realized that things, stuff and space won't make me happy. I just continue to be fascinated by the deep rooted need and desire to acquire.

Having things is ok, thinking you will find happiness in them, is not.

There are entire companies today whose profit is solely based on the assumption that Americans have so much stuff, they now need others to store it for them. Storage facilities, PODs, etc. all allow us to keep our stuff, that we "need" enough to be unwilling to throw it away or donate it, but not enough to keep in our homes and apartments. It is a really interesting thought experiment, for me anyways.

One of my friends is moving to Australia here soon. I read her blog all the time and she was talking about packing and what she is going to take with her. I thought it was a really interesting thing to think about. If you were going somewhere for an extended amount of time, what would you take with you? What would you get rid of during the packing process? Why were you keeping some things, but not taking them with you? What do you really need?

What is it about things and stuff? Is is just that we are curious and we like our gadgets, our toys, our shoes and purses? It is an evolutionary instinct, where we all feel like there are limited resources, so we need to acquire as much as we can, while we can, to ensure we will be the fittest and most certainly survive. Or, is it driven by the lifestyles we see on t.v. and in the media. Do our desires to always want more and bigger and newer and better and faster and sleeker come from how we see others live on t.v? Are we once again being tainted by unrealistic expectations? Or, do people really find happiness in things. Is it out of fear?? Is it to gain status??

My utopic self of course says, why can't we all get together and see what we really need and what our friends and neighbors actually need more. There is so much stuff, so much food, so many leftovers, I feel like there is just so much extra stuff that is taking up space, when someone else really needs it. It is occupying your home, not serving any purpose, when it could make the difference in someone else's life. How can we collaborate more on this? How can we only take what we need to save more for each soul on this earth? They often say there should be no hunger problem in the world. It is a solvable problem (for now anyways). Why is there so much hunger? Is there a way for us to work together on this. What do we really need tonight? It is more than just that, of course. It isn't just only taking what you need, it is then finding a way to get those "leftovers" to those who need it most. How big of that piece of the pie do you really need.

What kind of person are you at a buffet? At a potluck? Are you the type of person that takes as large of a serving as you want, regardless of how many others are behind you in line. Or are you the type of person that takes just a bit that first time through, to ensure there will be enough for everyone. How good at cutting birthday cake are you? Do you feel like Milton from Office Space? Do you never get a piece of cake, or do you always get the biggest piece? There is a way for all of this to work more easily. There is a way to solve this imaginary problem of "not enough stuff." There is also an attitude or perspective adjustment that needs to happen where some people feel more entitled or more deserving of getting stuff or things for one reason or another than others.

I, for one, find it dangerous to attach happiness to things, basically saying from the very beginning, before you even get started in this game of life, that you are not fully capable of making your own happiness with what you already have inside you. I have been reading many books lately discussing, happiness and fear. While I know that life is never perfectly what you may plan or imagine for yourself, I do believe that we make our own realities, choose our own perspectives and are ultimately, responsible for our own happiness. While it may seem so much easier to blame others when we are unhappy, in reality, we SHOULD have more control that anyone or anything over our own happiness. When you blame others, you are just a spectator in your happiness, when you realize you have the ability within you, you are in the game, you have power, you have responsibility and you have willingness to change your perspective and begin a new story.

I think what becomes so scary about trying to find happiness in things is that it takes your power totally out of the equation. You can suddenly lose your happiness if you lose things that you have placed value on. Clearly, there are many things that can lead to legitimate unhappiness, losing your job, losing your house, etc. I would just argue that even in these moments, there is a way to find your happiness, to the level you can, at that time. There is a way to reach deep into yourself and try and feel a little more happy each day. All knowing that "happiness" is all relative and it isn't about being the happiest person ever, it is, I think, just being able to be at peace with yourself and your situation. Again, knowing nothing may ever be the "perfect" way you imagined it.

While nothing may never happen the way you envisioned, I do believe that people, challenges and even books and conversations happen to you when you need them most, as long as you are open to the possibility.

So, as I plan to continue cleaning out my own closet this weekend, with a plan to donate all of my clothes that either no longer fit, or I just do not wear, I will continue to try and look inside myself. As you look inside yourself, are there things you place more importance on than you should? Do you feel like you are always looking to something else to make you happy (men, women, food, alcohol, clothes, money)? It can get exhausting and completely disappointing. I feel like so many times I use to say to myself  "I will be happy when I get a boyfriend," "I will be happy when I find my perfect job," "I will be happy when I lose 30 lbs,""I will be happy when I have a house," "I will be happy when I have a car," etc. Always looking to things and setting benchmarks. Realizing slowly but surely that after each "achievement" that I was totally wrong and that none of it, alone, would make me happy. I needed to make myself happy and find a way to be in charge of my own happiness.

"You yourself as much as any body in the entire universe deserves your love and affection"
~ Buddha

Whether it be how you dress, what your house looks like, what your body looks like or what your current financial situation is? Is there a way you can try and take things back to the basics. Would this allow you to be less stressed and more happy? Can you start shifting your perspective just a little bit, change up your self-talk, be more forgiving and supporting and loving of yourself. Is there a new story you can start telling yourself that is more gentle. Life is hard, but loving yourself should not be!

If you are thinking any of this sounds interesting to you, I would suggestion both Gabrielle Bernstein and Gretchen Rubin to you. Both of these ladies have written some incredible books that take a closer look at happiness, spirituality and your role and responsibility in it all.

Cheers to the need for less storage space and more self-love!

And that's all she wrote....

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