Featured Wellness

Consumed by stuff

Ask me not what I have, but what I am.

— (Heinrich Heine)

Our world revolves around consumption. The average person, according to the marketing firm Yankelovich, sees as many as 5,000 ads a day. They’re messages about the things we should like, about the products that will make us feel good and happy. That if we buy a certain brand of jeans, we will attain a certain brand of life. That we’ll be more attractive to the opposite sex if we drive one particular car over another. And that one of our ultimate goals should be to buy a big house to store all our jeans and cars and all the other stuff we’ve collected.

And so the way in which I acquired is nothing out of the ordinary. I am a product of my culture.

I grew attached to almost everything: the beautiful and impractical, the sensible, the sentimental.

But the problem is, I found myself connected to so many belongings, that with each passing year and the stuff that came with it, I made space. Space for things I had acquired and the things given to me. Space for books and binders and stuffed animals and athletic trophies. More space for candles and clothes and collectibles.

Inevitably, all my space got used up. So I became a grand organizer, using spacers and organizers and more and more boxes to accommodate my growing collection of clutter.

The management of things had taken over my life.

It had been a comfort of sorts to know that I could dig for handwritten notes on tattered paper, or to be able to reach for every book I had intended to read in 2012, then 2013, now this past spring.

So it came as a shock to me that I recently felt compelled to stack boxes upon boxes of my possessions outside my childhood bedroom for donation.

The things that once had given me such joy were now taking that joy away. I was swimming in stuff, increasingly unable to focus on my goals and tasks at hand. My current dreams, desires, and ideas were somehow caught in this tangible space. Creative ideas stuck in between old books, new concepts concealed under stacks of paper, peace of mind fallen behind overcrowded shelves.

So I chose to do something radical, even revolutionary. I let go.

I filled boxes with a seemingly endless supply of stuff. A personal anthology of graduate school books and old journals and classic literature and graded papers from years past.  I emptied my armoire of brand new, still-tagged slacks and blouses from various stints in retail, and I gave away beautiful glass glitter globes more deserving of places where they could shine instead of on my overcrowded shelves. An exodus of stuff left my shelves, my closet space, my drawers, my corners. And I was enlightened.

I felt the value of this empty space. I was no longer burdened by the literal weight of my past, by the hoarding of sentiment.

Soon after my purge, I went on my first trip to Europe. I promised myself to embrace beautiful moments, rather than stressing out about grabbing tourist items at each turn. I promised myself that my memories would be of greater importance than Italia magnets, “I’ve been to Europe” t-shirts, and mini leaning Tower of Pisas.

And so, I cherished the beauty in Italian vandalism (Amor tutti fa uguali, Love makes all men equal), the hope in each prayer candle flickering silently under Mother Mary in the Norte Dame Basilica of Marseille. I was mesmerized by the hypnotic pulse of vanilla and bergamot on gusts of summer air in the hills of a perfumery in France.

Upon my return, when people ask me what I brought back from my trip, I smile and mention a keychain or two. But my important possessions are ones not able to be held; they’re intangible, in the empty spaces where things could have been.

Dedicated to Dominique: my friend, inspiration, and travel extraordinaire.

Photo (Flickr CC) by Alex.