There is so much stuff. Stuff we have, stuff we think we should have, stuff that others try to convince us we should have. Stuff in storage, stuff in the trash, donated stuff, pre-loved stuff, defunct stuff, broken stuff. Sometimes it seem as though we might drown in a sea of stuff.
The collection of stuff has become something of a leisure activity and when the girls were little, we often fell into the trap of shopping when we had nothing else to do. I also succumbed to the lure of online shopping at times when I did not need anything at all but was afflicted with boredom and emptiness. I wonder who else has struggled during lockdown with a constant desire to order something, anything, just to have something to look forward to?
When we packed up all of our belongings to begin our adventure in New Zealand eight years ago, we were struck by just how much stuff we had managed to acquire over the years. I would never have described us as particularly big shoppers (despite the hours spent walking around the shops!) and yet we ended up with boxes and boxes of stuff that we decided not to pack. There was masses of stuff that we either donated or gave away: books, handbags, shoes, clothes, magazines, movies, ornamental objects, children’s toys. For days it felt like there was a constant stream of stuff leaving the house.
When we packed up our home in Auckland to relocate back to the UK and begin a whole new adventure, there was definitely less stuff to deal with. There was, however, still far more than we needed or wanted to pack up into a container and ship across the world. We had consciously tried to avoid buying lots more stuff but it seemed to have crept in anyway: a new kitchen device here, a book there. Much of what we had acquired more recently was second-hand, but there was still too much of it.
During lockdown, as I have spent more time than ever before at home, I have been reflecting on the nature of stuff and wondering what role the stuff we acquire really serves. My dear friend Joyce used to tell me that the older she had grown, the more of a burden her stuff had become as so much of what had at one time given her joy had grown heavy and bothersome. Although at a different stage in my own life, the feelings Joyce highlighted definitely resonated with me and still do today. There are times that just looking in the wardrobe or my kitchen cupboard makes me feel tense and weighed down. Even though the rational, sensible side of me knows that we have more than enough, though, I still struggle at times to shake the feeling that I need more. I think I still believe on some level that if we had more, things would be better and I would be better.
This is despite the feeling that the more the stuff is layered around me, the further away I seem to get from myself. Stuff distracts from what is really important – being at peace with who and what we are.
I have a longing to get away from all the stuff and I think this is because I know that we don’t really need so much of what we have, even now. It is sobering to reflect on how much less we would have struggled financially if we had not bought so much of what we have given away over the years. It is, however, also inspiring to dream about what the future could like if we keep our stuff to a minimum and focus on the development of love and gratitude instead of the acquisition of stuff. What would you rather have?
As I continue to reflect on the role that stuff plays in my life, I am inspired by two things:
1. These words:
“If one’s life is simple, contentment has to come. Simplicity is extremely important for happiness. Having few desires, feeling satisfied with what you have, is very vital: satisfaction with just enough food, clothing, and shelter to protect yourself from the elements.” -The Dalai Lama
2. My daughter Amy, 16, who recently took the decision to keep only 33 items of clothing in a bid to further reduce her load of stuff #proudmum.