26 May 2011

How Little Do We Really Need To Be Happy?

I feel like I am always talking here about going through closets and organizing, which is rather silly considering there are only 4 closets in my entire home. I came up with a nice solution for my long-term storage, boxes of things I have saved from my life.They are out of my closets now and have a new home in lockable bins I will put downstairs. This turn of events now gives me much more storage space in my apartment.

As I am going through my things -- and I don't have a ton of things, I realize how much less I could happily live with. There are so many lovely things made in this world, so many shiny objects to catch our eyes. But how many little kitchen appliances, candle holders, clothes, shoes, purses and holiday decorations does a person really need? The more we own the more those belongings own us and require our taking care of them, buying more storage items to organize them, renting storage space, getting bigger homes to hold more stuff, having no garage space to actually park in or just having our homes overtaken with mountains of stuff. Can you relate to this in a little way or perhaps a big, rather scary, overwhelmed way?

I have been thinking a lot about the quiet, simple, joyful, adventurous life I want to lead (and in so many ways absolutely enjoy already, thankfully) and it does not involve lots of stuff. I realized a while ago that when I want to relax or have some fun I often think of going shopping. Does this sound familiar to you? I think I have always been pretty conservative, but this is a challenge for almost everyone including me.

Shopping without a serious need or purpose has become a habit for many, many people and in the end costs a person a lot of money. It might be in $20, $200 or $2000 increments. I honestly get really freaked out by the TJ Maxx commercials where the mother with her car overloaded with housewares purchases pulls up to pick up her daughter at school and the daughter says, "Not again." I am sad to say I have often seen people voraciously shopping who I could feel very powerfully were trying to fill and emptiness with stuff. Is this not a dangerous disease?

Does this sound familiar to you? How often do you pop into a big retail store to pick up a couple of things and end up leaving having spent $50-$100 dollars on things that caught your eye. What I would give to have the dollars in my pocket that I have spent frivolously in my life to this point okay even just half or a quarter of that money. I think it's okay to be frivolous occasionally, don't get me wrong, I'm not that uptight. Some might argue that if we all stop shopping it will harm the economy. I would argue that if we stopped frivolous shopping the economy would adapt, creating new jobs focused on more important things than retail joyriding. We would still buy what we need.

Another big reason I want to seriously simplify is that I want to have a life where I use and appreciate everything I have. I don't do that now. I have small kitchen appliances I have never used, I have beautiful trays that I'm not having parties to use, I have sports equipment buried in closets, purses and hats I've forgotten I own. I have so much beautiful jewelry I need to be wearing. I own some really lovely things that I don't even remember I have or make an effort to use and enjoy. I want to be having great experiences rather than managing tons of stuff in my house. I could afford more of those great experiences if I spent my money just a little more wisely.

And so I begin this little journey in earnest, combing through my belongings. Know that everything I weed out will be sold or donated for good use. I can feel that I'm struggling with letting go of things I've spent good money on that still have use in them, but still that's no reason to keep hold of them so tightly. It's every reason not to buy more. Owning less helps me feel less encumbered, will keep more money in my wallet and allow me to enjoy what to I have more. I'll definitely be talking more about this in coming days.

I'd love to hear how you're feeling on this topic. Where are you on the spectrum? Does this post make you feel anxious about the past or joyful for what can be? What have you learned in your own life and how have you changed how you spend? How did you find the courage to let go of things and what did you do with them? This is something I'm thinking about a lot and would really love to hear your thoughts, fears, regrets, successes and lessons learned.


Ever - The red house by the lake said...

I'm with you on this one.

I think shopping really turned more into a hobby than an actual need. But I also find that it is quite hard to break out of the habit - even at thrift stores I find myself buying things "just in case". In general, I have a hard time to let go of anything that I fancy (and can afford).

It's very stupid and I am trying to cut back on it, but as you say - it is hard.

On the other hand though, many people seem to have an urgent need to constantly "clean out the clutter" and getting rid of things (only to replace them with new things). I don't think that's the way to go, I think it makes sense to save things even if one haven't used them in a year, because life changes and one might want that thing again (of course there are some things that one will never use again). (Not talking about you here, just in general)

And just as you, I am certain that the economy will adapt. A stronger economy does not have to equal more consumption.

kalanicut said...

Awesome comment. I know you are right about clutter busting. I have given away stuff in the past and then been forced to replace it later. Very wise reminder. Definitely a challenging balance that has to be found, doesn't it. This is going to be an ongoing learning experience!

Kelly said...

The captions on your purse photo gave me a huge laugh -- and then I went back to read the post. I agree with you 100%. We have gone through several rounds of purging extra stuff -- and I think it takes several rounds and lots of maintenance to keep things at the right balance. However, having gone through that now, I'm much more conscious of what I bring into my home because I know 1) there's a time-maintenance cost to every purchase and 2) I don't want to buy something that I don't really need or plan to use because cleaning out closets is not really that much fun. One thing that has helped me is to keep a designated "to goodwill" spot, and let things sit there for a bit. That way when it's time to take them, I'm confident of my decision.

Susan said...

You are 100% right! In the past four years I have moved from a two bedroom apartment to a 3 bedroom house and now to a 5 bedroom house (its really too big for my family, and yet the circumstances were right for me to do it).

What I have found when I move is the feeling of "wow...how great to have some space, to not feel the stress of how I will fit everything in...that now I can organize what I do have, becuase I have room." But the amazing and scary thing that has occured is that within the shortest span of time, I am already "full" again. Why? Does my stuff just expand to fill the space? Am I less efficient and organized because I don't have to have everything in its place in order to have it 'put away'? Or is it as you point out...a couple of bags of new purchases here and $50 there and a trip or two to Costco every so often that have taken over my physical environment. No real answers, but lots to think about. I definitely feel the stress of having things out of order. Mostly I believe I am guilty of having too much stuff that I (and my kids) don't even take time to enjoy before just getting new stuff because it is on sale or is the latest, greatest thing...or whatever.

This is not a pattern that I want to teach my children! (My daughter has her own issues of throwing anything away...and I mean everything from candy wrappers to used tape or string...) Thanks for the thoughts, I need to figure some of this out...not just for me, but as an example to my kids!

Anonymous said...

Wonderful post, and SO true. I laughed when I saw the picture of the purses. I am guilty of doing the exact same thing. Keeping things, "just in case". In case of what? In case I need to carry a purse that I haven't carried in over 6 years? My Mom and I were just talking about my Grandmother, and how she kept everything. But everything she held onto was beautiful, well made, and stored lovingly in boxes with tissue. My stuff (crap) is thrown in my closet, on a shelf, most likely because I'm tired of it. Maybe that's the difference. She invested in lovely pieces. She saved up to buy those lovely pieces. Our generation is more disposable. I tend not to "save up", and will buy the mediocre version of something, while the trend is still hot...and then move on. It definitely makes me want to do some rethinking. Very interesting post...thanks for sharing!
xo Deirdre

kalanicut said...

Wonderful comments and considerations everyone. I love all you've brought to the table today!

Deidre, yes you totally hit on something I've been thinking about. Our grandparents and their parents did not just go to a big store and spend money every day. They SAVED up for what they NEEDED and while they were saving they looked at their options, considered their needs what was practical. I'm reading the Little House series by Laura Ingalls and it is having a profound effect on how I think about how we live. What are we doing?

Anonymous said...

I have a hard time with this. We're pack rats, which, I think, means we're mostly just too lazy to go through & purge. We have an entire walk-in closet filled floor to ceiling with boxes, a couple of which are labeled -- no joke -- "JUNK," & "old photos & stuff we don't use."

Yes, it's that bad.

Part of it, I think, especially when it comes to the clothes in my closet, is that we have so little money that I haven't been able to buy many new clothes at all: mostly just replacing stuff that gets worn out. (All clothing purchases go to The Munchkin, since she's growing.) I realized today that probably 75% of the clothes in my closet consists of stuff that no longer fits or I no longer like wearing. But I hang onto it!

Clearly I need help.

Greek Goddess said...

Another awesome post, Kalani. I've been thinking about this topic all year and have been trying to deal with all our "stuff" while taking care of three little ones at the same time. It's so hard because they have their own sets of emotions and attachments and have asked for stuff I've give away. Sometimes it's okay but other times it caused a big issue. A blog I've been enjoying a lot is: smallnotebook.org
Check out this article for a good laugh about having too many towelsl: http://smallnotebook.org/2011/05/25/house-garden-style-lessons-from-may-1986/

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