My complicated relationship with stuff


I’ve been thinking a lot lately about my stuff. Like, all my *things*. I know this is a little weird. It’s probably more reasonable to think about one thing like your car, or your kick ass doll collection (sorry…kidding). But with all the exploring I have done to help me understand my world and what makes me happy, stuff comes up. Like, actual stuff. And it’s complicated.


I may have mentioned in the past that when I first started making money; beyond what was actually required to pay rent and feed myself, I started acquiring. Different people react to the same thing in different ways. For me, not having meant having as much as I could get my hands on, once I had the cash. And an Old Navy opened up near me around this time. Synchronicity!


When I imagined what I wanted my life to be, the picture in my head included things. If you ever take the time to investigate the pictures in your head, there’s some pretty interesting stuff there. Fairly recently, I realized that when I pictured myself and “family,” it was someone else’s family at a big dinner table and I was passing someone something. I appear to be pretty comfortable in this picture. Anyway, the life picture with things. It kind of looks like a Martha Stewart magazine shoot, which makes a lot of sense because I was reading a lot of that stuff. Articles about these ridiculous things to have or make that were totally unrealistic to the point of being masochistic. I kept all those magazines too. You know, in case I wanted to learn how to flock my own nest.


Anyway, given this (and it’s sad commentary on the state of my own psychology back then), I started acquiring. Speaking of flocking a nest. Clothes and every unitasker I could get my hands on. If I had to ask myself if I was happy back then, I would probably say no. Not because there was anything specific making me unhappy (though the stuff didn’t help), but because I didn’t realize that you had to work to be happy.


Even recently, I’ve had a conversation with a friend and then realized that we just spent an hour talking about “things”. Five years ago, that would have felt like a good conversation because I surely would have gotten information about where to buy good things, good things I hadn’t thought of yet or the best….how to organize all the things you have. Whee!  Now, I find myself observing the conversation and asking myself what good it is doing me. The stuff I buy now is better stuff (pay the money for the good stuff and buy it once) but it’s not because of that that my relationship to my stuff has changed.


People will tell you that your stuff doesn’t make you happy (just like money). And I disagree to a point. I can find some happiness in some things (a good Chloe bag). But it doesn’t work if I am not already happy. And generating that kind of happiness takes a lot of work. Buying the Chloe bag is easy. It’s really simple to say that things are bad; our attachments to things are bad. But I’m working to strike more of a balance…find the middle path. This means finding the peaceful ground between austerity and luxury. This means I can treasure things, but not to the exclusion of things that are more important. And really, for me, not too many things. Did I mention my limited attention span?


Lately, this has meant that I have been very mindful of my feelings toward things. This week I heard myself say out loud that I fantasized about selling everything and disappearing. That was an honest thing to say, but I didn’t exactly pull it from the top of my consciousness. I was kind of surprised to hear it come out of my mouth. I think that what I was feeling is a growing ability to separate my self (2 words) from the things that I had previously used to define me. I don’t even want to look back on the blog post I wrote when I bought my car. I cared so much. I still really enjoy my car but it feels different now. It’s a thing. And if I were to lose it, my life doesn’t change that much (I’ll tell you where it’s parked…keys are in it). I feel lighter. And yet I am still surrounded by my stuff; much of which shows up on my doorstep in a brown box (thanks interwebz!). Life is a struggle.


So I am not going to sell all my stuff and hit the road. I feel like I am exactly where I am supposed to be (in life, in general, so many things are going right). Not because any being says so but because my life feels really comfortable to me right now. I am learning so much from things that bring me pain and I am thankful every day. Every. Day. But I do feel like a change is coming. I am almost worried about the people in my life seeing this because I don’t know what it means. What I feel like I am being drawn toward is simplicity and putting myself in the right place for good things to happen to me. I’m thinking of selling my house. And I am thinking that what I am going to do, I have to do alone. Even if I am not “alone,” I am doing it alone; it’s *my* change.  And I am probably writing this to work it out.


The things that made me happy don’t work for me any more. And if I really think about it, they never did. This would all sound sad if you didn’t know that I am really starting to know what does make me happy and it’s within my control (because it’s not like I can change my personality overnight).  I guess you could say that I am getting my house in order on the inside and putting it on the market on the outside. In the past, I would make changes to get away from something negative. This feels very different.


This wasn’t exactly where I planned to go with this blog post. I should probably also make clear, because I am blogging at work, that I am NOT interviewing for a new job. This isn’t about that. I’m still totally committed to my work and excited about what it could be bringing this year. And trust me, I am going to hover over that “publish” button for a little while before I post this. Writing about my stuff, which actually started because I wanted to link to what Penelope had to say about her stuff, is making me realize that “my complicated relationship with stuff” doesn’t exist in a vacuum and there is something else going on here. And I think that I may have been hovering over the “publish” button too long.

Comments (4)

  1. Stephen Bárczay Sloan says:

    Wow, Heather.

    Parallel lives.

    We’ve just moved away from all our big stuff.  We, like you, felt the need to create space for good new things to happen.

    Well, not things, exactly, but possibilities.  All our wonderful, wonderful stuff just started to feel like an anchor.

    So, we fixed up our house in a most amazing place (see it here: http://www.bainbridgebarn.com/ )and moved to what most consider a most oppressive place (Sacramento) because we decided to listen to that still small voice that whispers about possibilities.

    Several years ago a great friend sent me this:

    When your ship, long moored in harbor,

    gives you the illusion of being a house…

    put out to sea!

    Save your boat’s journeying soul,

    and your own pilgrim soul,

    cost what it may.

           — Brazilian Archbishop Camoro

    Onward…

  2. HeatherLeigh says:

    Stephen,

    Wow….thanks for posting that. I may have to repost the poem. I hope you don’t mind.

    I’m looking around my house at all the things that I can totally live without. Why do I need 3 phones when I can only talk on one at a time? Why do I need the DVDs that have remained unwrapped for 4 years? Un-used guest bedroom….why?

    I just contacted some contractors for estimates for my bathroom remodel. I’m thinking I may need to take some baby steps: rent out my house, get a storage unit, start looking at smaller places in Seattle. Change is in the air. I’m feeling brave.

    Thanks for sharing your story.

  3. mtimdog says:

    I keep meaning to start the 100 Things Challenge myself, and it sounds like you’re in a similar rut.  I’m fixing up my house to sell currently and dread lugging all those plastic bins of "junk" from our basement that haven’t even been opened in years.  I want to break away from it all and start fresh, but can’t get my head around the idea of giving it away.  I would adore the option of selling it, but like I said…."junk".

    http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1812048,00.html

    –Tim

  4. HeatherLeigh says:

    Oh wow…just 100? I have to admit that I have already made a deal with myself that the books and the clothing (well the fashion including shoes and handbags) are coming with me. At this point I still feel that they are too central to who I am. I will purge them but what I still want, I am going to keep.

    But everything else is getting some serious thought. And everything that I question getting rid of is going into a storage unit. And will be revisited. I should take pictures of some of this crap. I am so organized but still…it’s all the "just in case" crap. It’s driving me nuts.

    Thanks for that link. I am definitely going to follow his progress. At the very least, it will inspire some of my "do I really need that?" thinking.