At Postconsumers, we’re not afraid to talk about clutter (we consider it largely a symptom of America’s addictive consumerism) and about the need for a “stuff purge.” But the reality of the matter is that these can be truly terrifying and overwhelming topics for many people. The nature of addictive consumerism is that you begin to assign emotional value to “stuff.” When that happens, the idea of getting rid of or clearing out “stuff” also becomes full of emotion. A pillow isn’t just a pillow, it’s the pillow that holds all of your memories from when it was on the couch that you had when you moved into the first house that you ever lived in. A dress isn’t just a dress (even if you haven’t worn it in a decade). It’s the dress that holds all of the emotions from the day you wore it to a very special event. And once you’ve invested all of that emotion into a thing, the idea of purging it feels like it’s the same as purging the memory or the emotion. It’s not really the same, but it can certainly feel that way.
In the past, we’ve suggested some ways to get past the emotional attachments to items you’d like to purge. Obviously most Postconsumers are working daily towards a goal of not associating emotion with “stuff,” but there are many intermediary solutions as well. For example, we’re big advocates of taking photos of items that you want to purge so that you still have a visual reminder of the item and the associated memories once it’s gone. Today, we’re talking about another alternative, the memory box.
What Is a Memory Box?
A memory box is exactly what it sounds like. It’s a box in which you keep memories. Of course, memories aren’t physical things, so what you’re keeping in the box are tokens or physical reminders of memories. You might ask yourself, how is that different from my current room/house/garage/basement/attic/storage unit full of things that are tokens or physical reminders of memories? The answer is that, by default, the memory box limits the amount of space that you can use to store the reminders of your memories. A memory box is not the size of a room/house/garage/basement/attic/storage unit, so you automatically will need to begin to give more critical thought (or simply mindful thought) to what you are storing.
So What Will You Be Putting In Your Memory Box?
There are obviously going to be items of “stuff” in your memory box. They’ll just be space limited. So what happens when you’ve taken up all of the space in your memory box with stuff? You’ll need to discard things and select alternative ways of commemorating the event. The photo solution we talked about above is certainly one alternative (and we think a very good one). But there are other ways to reduce the physical stuff in your box and replace it with other items. Consider writing out notes or letters about the memories associated with the “stuff” and putting them into the box instead. Or instead of saving a dress, save the necklace that you wore with the dress and let the dress go. Ask yourself, “What do I really need to hold onto this memory that I love so dearly?” instead of “Will I lose this memory entirely if I get rid of this item?” You’ll likely find that the answers to those questions leave you a bit surprised.
How Many Memory Boxes Are Too Many Memory Boxes?
This is a question that only you can answer, but it’s important to keep things in perspective. You are, after all, adopting this technique in order to reduce the amount of clutter, “stuff,” and emotional materialism in your life. Does it defeat the purpose if you have an entire room full of memory boxes? We’d probably argue that it does, but then again if your house has fifty plus rooms that may be an improvement! It’s all on a relative scale. The question isn’t “how many boxes are too many?” The question is are you using the box as a tool to help you let go of emotional consumerism, or are you letting your emotional consumerism still control you? Again, those are questions that only you can answer. The key, of course, is to be honest with yourself both when you ask and answer them.
There are many steps on the road to Postconsumerism, but we’ll certainly be honest that one of the most difficult is the idea of separating emotion from “stuff.” The concept of fulfilling emotional needs with “things” is one that’s generally promoted to Americans from the time that they are very young. We promise you, however, that there will be a moment where you realize that “stuff” isn’t what makes you happy. And when you do, you’ll find the Satisfaction of Enough. And it will feel amazing!
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