Ground Rules #4: The Ultimate Goal

“I might find it useful someday” and other powerful mantras…

Featured image

A sander (not one of the 1000 things — see below for explanation)

Beyond the goals listed in my previous post, I wanted the 1000 things project to bring me closer to one more overarching, ultimate goal: living in a dwelling in which every physical object I have has some sort of identifiable purpose or meaning.

If there was a light at the end of this project tunnel, it was this notion, or ideal if you will: what would it be like to live in a place where you could look at any object you had and know why you had it?  Know that it had a value or purpose and be able to say what that was? I meant this beyond simple utilitarian reasons: anyone can tell you why they own a hammer, for example — in case you need to hammer things. But ideally I’d like to justify owning that hammer for reasons simply beyond ‘because I can (afford it)’ — Why did I get it in the first place? When was the last time I actually used it? When is the next time I’m likely to use it? If I can’t answer either of these latter two questions, why do I still have it? Why do I have four or five of them? (Which I do, more or less…). Actually, I can’t tell you how many hammers I have, which is just one of many indicators of how far I am from my stated ideal.

I didn’t expect that getting rid of 1000 things would get me to this ultimate goal of every thing I own having identifiable purpose or value, but I hoped that it would give me a reasonably good idea of how close I was to that goal, or even whether such a goal was attainable.  Standing in the way, I learned, was a formidable phalanx of mantras which embody various beliefs, ideas, attachments, and other impediments to getting rid of 1000 things I own.

Having a hammer (or a few different ones for different purposes) is easy to justify, so here’s a better example. I own a sander (see picture above) which I got from my dad’s workshop when we were cleaning out my parents’ house after my dad’s passing. The decision to take the sander was one minor skirmish during the Battle of the Basement, which was a major part of the War of What to Do with All Our Parents’ Stuff.  The war and its battles were always about deciding what to do with yet another thing so carefully saved for Some Day. Once my parents died, Some Day became days upon days of reckoning for us three adult children, constantly battling with decision after decision of what to do with so many things of tangible value found amongst a myriad of other things, most of which could not be saved without subjecting ourselves to the same thing-filled existence as our parents had lived. Inevitably there were seemingly endless battles which seesawed back and forth between We Can’t Just Throw This Thing Out; It’s Worth Something and If I Have to Decide What to Do with One More Thing, I’m Gonna Go Crazy.

OK, I may be exaggerating — slightly. Anyway, in the case of the sander, I took it with the notion that I might find it useful someday — a common mantra which explains a lot of the things in our house. I can’t remember if I ever used it, although my son used it some years ago for a high school project.  When will I ever use it to sand anything again? The likely answer is never — yet that sander did not become one of the 1000 things; I still have it because ‘I might find it useful someday” is also a very powerful mantra. In fact, it’s one of many powerful mantras which I encountered along the way, both old acquaintances and new, that keep us bound to our things — mantras like:

  • “It might be worth something”
  • “I paid a lot for that; I can’t just give it away”
  • “My son might want that some day”
  • “This was my favorite [x] when I was a kid”
  • “I might want to look through those (papers, pictures, drawings, etc.) some day”

Thanks to these and many other such mantras, at times it felt like ending a personal relationship every time a thing went out the door. Not always, but often enough. Along the way, the nagging question became: why is this so hard to do mindfully, responsibly? What’s going on here? These mantras go a long way toward explaining why, but there is an even deeper, more important reason why we are so attached to our stuff. More on that in the next post…

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