Thursday, January 26, 2012

How much is too much?

We're committed.
Solidly in the thick of it.
We've been feeling it for awhile now and have turned the corner to take the decision seriously and put the action behind our desire.

It's time to downsize.

When you say that at 60, no one bats an eye. Of course--as you look to retirement or the "empty nest years", or whatever you have planned for the next 1/3 of your life, a normal transition is to downsize.

When you say that at 30, most people look at you like you've grown a third eyeball. Especially when you talk minimalism while raising 4 young children. However, our perspective is that this is precisely the time for us to do it, before we get too caught up in accumulation and live life while it is ours to live.

American culture tells us that now are the prime years to gather wealth, accumulate the treasures that will fill our lives and our homes for decades to come and to set our sights on bigger and better. While we wholeheartedly agree with this statement, our definitions of wealth, treasures and bigger and better are different from most of Americans. Our desire to gather wealth is to gather a wealth of experiences. The accumulation of treasures is in the moments shared with those that we love and making space for the quantity of time from which quality time can emerge. In setting our sights on bigger and better, we are looking for how we can make a bigger impact on our world and make the lives of those around us better than they were yesterday.

Now, this is all most definitely possible while also accumulating stuff, which we have also spent much of the past decade doing, but for us we have passed the balance point on the fulcrum. In taking a step back and re-evaluating the whys of what we do, we see that a lot of stuff has crept into our lives without a real purpose. We want the things around us to be useful, beautiful and purposeful. We desire to keep a proper perspective that our "stuff" is just "stuff". Too often we forget that we are just stewarding the resources we've been blessed with. If we hold onto something too tightly for fear of scarcity, it can begin to possess us, and poor stewardship ensues. Alternatively, as we hoard possessions to the point where we don't even know what we own, a similar lack of stewardship emerges.

For instance, how many sets of dishes do we really need? Without looking into my cabinets, I'm pretty sure that I have at least 4 different sets of full place settings for between 4-12 people. Really?!? That's a little ridiculous for me, considering I can't recall ever having a dinner party that required all of the sets to be used at once. It's time to let some of these go to someone who would put them to good use and steward them well.

What about the shelves upon shelves of books that I've read once? If I'm not going to read the book again, a better way for me to steward these resources is to sell or give the books to someone who will read them. Owning books does not make one a reader. Reading books makes one a reader.

When my father died suddenly at the age of 58, he left behind a handful of expansive barns and garages full of treasures that he collected over his years. For what? For someone (many someones!) else to sort through and determine what was worth keeping and what to find a new home for. After watching my mother and his brother labor through this process for the better part of 18 months, it confirmed for me that I want to keep a tight reign on accumulation. I'd rather my family have a quick job of sorting through few things after I'm gone and less time laboring over how to re-home possessions and wondering if it was something that I valued.

As I mentioned, my father died at 58, his mother died at 58, and her father before her also died at 58. If I was a superstitious woman, I'd say I'm likely already over-the-hill! Fortunately, I have grand plans of living a vibrant life well into my 60s while I'm still young, then being the fun and quirky old lady in the neighborhood when I'm in my 70s, pretending to be senile as I move through my 80s and then when I'm in my 90s and actually do start to lose my mind no one will ever know the difference. However, with part of my family tree ending abruptly only 2/3 of the way through life, I do look at life and how to live it a bit differently. With retirement not guaranteed, I refuse to put off plans for "someday" that can be made today. I want to live life while it is still mine to live and not come to the end of it wishing that I had spent less time striving to accumulate and financing "bigger and better" and more time actually living.

So, as we continue to simplify our lives to make room for life, we recognize that in a society that marks success with "bigger and better", our value of "less is more" is almost absurdly counter-cultural. However, I don't think we'll really miss the 3 extra sets of flatware or dozen extra sets of bed linens that do not add real value to our lives in the same way that the freedom of not being possessed by our possessions will.

***Disclaimer: Our definition of "enough" may be very different from our readers, and that's totally okay! It may even change over time, as ours has. Whether your family lives in a home with 2,000-square-feet per person or 50-square-feet per person, we all have to find that balance for ourselves and it's different for each person.***

--Update: Shortly after reading this, a friend sent this link for a 5 minute video at TED on this topic.  

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