Things, it’s time you and I had a little talk about our relationship…
One series of posts in this blog will chronicle my experience with a recent project which I called the “1000 things” project. From May 2014 through early January 2015, I decided to see if I could get rid of 1000 things from my house. Wanting to get rid of clutter was one of the reasons for doing this, but it was not the main reason. I was more interested in exploring my relationship with things and the hold they have on me and on us.
The prospect of wanting to be prepared to move was one of my big motivators. I felt weighed down and a little trapped by my possessions, specifically by the prospect of having to move so many of them again. I’d last gone through this process eight years ago, during which I purged a lot of possessions, but I still ended up moving with something like 130 boxes, plus all the things that weren’t in boxes. This is not necessarily a lot of stuff by American standards; when I cited that figure to a colleague who had moved around the same time I had, he told me that his move involved about 400 boxes plus the unboxed stuff. But I didn’t want to move that much stuff again.
The genesis of this project may also traceable to the experience of cleaning out my parents’ house after they passed away. Over nearly a year period, my sisters and I, along with various other family members, went through the harrowing experience of sorting through thousands of objects, loading dumpsters, finding unexpected stashes and ‘treasures’ at every turn — room to room, drawer to drawer, box to box and jar to jar combat. (I’m sure I’ll have some stories to tell about that experience as well along the way.) One of the things you learn when you go through such an experience is how so many other people have similar stories to tell about going through their parents’ stuff, and each story is more of a doozy than the last.
So, as I started to look around at the things I had, I started questioning them: why do I have this thing, that thing, so many things that I hold on to for no apparent reason?
Eventually I realized that I had a deeper motivation for undertaking this project, which was a growing awareness of the hold my things have on me. Our possessions take a lot more of our time, attention, and energy than we realize. We own our things, but they also own us. So at some point I decided it was time to sit down and have the talk: things, what is it about you that keeps us so attached to you? Why are there so many of you, and what are we going to do with you?
Some answers came to mind fairly quickly. We have — I have — so many things because our consumerist society encourages us to collect them so easily, seamlessly, and thoughtlessly. Things come into our lives in a seemingly unending flow, unbidden and without apparent effort. This flow of things is an integral part of our identity as denizens in the affluent, fortunate part of the world.
But I wasn’t and am not interested in becoming a minimalist in response. I didn’t want to get rid of everything, nor was I seeking to live with as few possessions as possible. This project was more about establishing a healthy relationship with my things, including the setting of clear and reasonable boundaries — something which did not feel like the case when I started.
This topic resonates with many of us; sharing this experience has already moved several people I know to start getting rid of stuff themselves, exploring their own relationship with their stuff in the process. The “1000 things” project turned out to be a great way to get the process going, and so I’m happy to chronicle and share my experiences with it.