The other day I was standing on a chair in front of my very full cupboards, trying to find room to stash some of the gifts I'd received over the holidays. Naturally, I got to thinking about stuff, about all the endless piles of stuff, all the many, many things, in my life. Now, I know there's a high value placed on being clutter-free and minimal these days. I know you're expecting me to launch into an anti-materialism, it's-all-just-landfill-waiting-to-happen rant right now but actually, the opposite feelings came over me.
I looked from my little pile of kitchen gifts and into my already full cupboards and felt a wave of pleasure and appreciation. Wow, I thought. Look at all this amazing stuff! How lucky I am, how fortunate, to have all these delicious, helpful, thoughtful, interesting, beautiful things in my life!
People can get a little preachy about clutter these days, and a little judgey, too. And I get it. There's is way too much crap in the world and it doesn't look like we're going to stop the incessant flow of it anytime soon. Relentless, restless materialism is a curse and a symptom of a more pervasive kind of unhappiness. You can't take it with you; you don't own your stuff, your stuff owns you; an object in possession seldom retains the same charm that it had in pursuit. etc. etc.
But it is for exactly for those reasons that it's important to appreciate and find pleasure in the things we do have. Slowing down and spending time with our stuff, handling our things with care, choosing them carefully, can lead to a more satisfied relationship to them. (And letting them go gracefully when the time comes, too.) We invite a deeper pleasure into our lives and because of that, we want and need less.
So it may sound like a crazy equation, but really getting into your things can lead you to having less things. Cherish and take good care of that beautiful coffee mug and you won't even think about running out and buying another. You won't need to.
So yes, there's too much stuff in the world and yes, we need to purge and winnow and sort and monitor the clutter in our lives. But if we're mindful of what we bring in and treat our things carefully, if we follow that old saying and limit our stuff to only that which is beautiful or useful, then perhaps we can find a middle path, and strike the right balance between the renunciate monk and the hoarder. I suspect that the territory between the two is much broader than we often imagine.
My pile of gifts included some very precious things. There was a jar of my niece's homemade hot cocoa mix and a bottle of good bourbon vanilla from my mom. There was a packet of beautiful dried fruit and a disk of sticky dark panforte wrapped in plain paper. There was a short stack of three pretty plates and a lovely, creamy ceramic jar with a bright red band holding down the top. Each thing beautiful, useful. Each thing a story and a connection to someone. Each thing an expression of love or appreciation or both. So of course I have room because there's always room for the many delicious, helpful, thoughtful, interesting and beautiful things. Always..
(Image credits: Dana Velden)