I moved recently (within the last six months). I moved from a twentieth floor apartment (great view) to a third floor apartment (fewer steps). Needless to say, I hired movers to handle transitioning my “stuff” from one place to another. However, I was not above packing the items that were most important to me into my own car and then “suggesting” that my younger brother help me carry them up the three flights of stairs.
Somewhere around the fourth load, he turned to me and said, “You know, Jos, I can fit every single item that I own into my car. “
Of course, he said it in the way that people who can fit all of their possessions into their car do. It sounded a little judgmental. Because I’m his sister, I could even admit that it sounded a little snotty.
Which then begs the question, is that a metric that a person should really be proud of? Or should it be the standard? I’m going to tell you right now, no matter what you think, the answer is no. And why is the answer no? Because every person needs to decide for him or herself what their standard is for how much stuff is too much stuff. And I will tell you right now, I own too many shoes for my standard to ever be “I can fit everything that I own into a car.”
Now, that doesn’t mean that we can’t acknowledge that there is a point of having too much stuff. There are some obvious boundaries, hoarding aside. If the only way that you can be happy is to have “stuff,” that’s a problem. If you use “stuff” to fill an emotional void, then that’s a problem. If you need to rent storage containers because you can’t bear to part with your “stuff”, that may be a problem. But every single situation is different. Comparing me, a thirty-eight year old woman who’s got a corporate job and entertains regularly at home, with my brother, a thirty-five year old school teacher who lives with roommates, is apples to oranges. One lifestyle isn’t better than the other. But both come with certain requirements for more or less stuff.
The problem, of course, is the tone that my brother used when pointing out that he could pack everything that he owned into one car. It was judgmental, and it honestly made me want to go shopping just to prove a point. And that can be a big part of the problem with the movement to get people to realize that they can let go of an attachment to stuff. Helping people to make their lives better won’t work if you make them feel like you think less of them.
Which you see a lot in the “reduce stuff” or “live green” movement. There isn’t a lot of “congratulations for finding a middle ground that can work for you” like we have at Postconsumers. There is a lot of “adopt the mantra.” My brother is good at speaking the mantra.
Here’s my point: If I have enough stuff that it requires a moving van, but it’s stuff that’s important to me and I understand the value and/or lack of value of it in my life, that should be enough. I shouldn’t have to pare my possessions down to some arbitrary bare minimum just because that’s what somebody else wants me to do.
We all have our own journey, and our own comfort level. Let’s encourage people to celebrate making their lives better and more fulfilling and less reliant on stuff. Let’s not punish and demean them because they didn’t do it quite as much as we’d like!
But I still love my brother!
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Photo via Flickr Creative Commons: Dan Reshef