A couple of things of late have led me to this topic. I have just read Peter Walsh's new book, It's all too Much - An Easy Plan for Living a Richer Life with Less Stuff. I thought this book would be a nuts and bolts plan for decluttering your life and it does cover that. The real purpose though is to figure out why you are keeping so much stuff and why you keep buying more stuff. Walsh blames our constant need for more on a lot of this, that and the fact that we cannot seem to part with anything. We are lured by the words 2 for 1 or buy 1 get 2 free and this supplies our homes with a steady supply of stuff; this coupled with our inability to get rid of anything means we are drowning within our own walls.
This premise, that what we covet and so actively seek out for our own happiness, is actually what is making us so unhappy and unhealthy is what interested me. Your stuff starts to own you and this what Walsh tries to uncover. He makes reference to the fact that while the average house size (in the US) has gone up by half the self-storage facility industry has grown by 75%. Apparently, people are more than willing to store it rather than sort it. I find that so unbelievable.
"We are at the center of an orgy of consumption, and many are now seeing that this need to own so much comes with a heavy price: Kids so overstimulated by the sheer volume of stuff in their home that they lose the ability to concentrate and focus."
This book is great and goes beyond the idea of buying a few totes and stashing things away. He has focused plans for each room and walks you through the steps. In the end, most people realize that all the stuff that they "could not live without" is easily given up and not missed a bit. Walsh talks about imagining the life you want. Is your home your refuge from the world, your place to connect as a family? His plans help you achieve that. While I don't have a horrible clutter problem now, I used to. I have come to realize that keeping a few choice precious mementos is more meaningful than boxes of stuff. If your use of space doesn't match your priorities Walsh can help. Sorting the memories or perceived value of an item, from the actual item is key and this is Walsh's specialty.
Since Alpha Dogma tagged me for a long forgotten meme I am going to use this book since I was planning on talking a bit about it anyway. Here are the instructions:
Find the nearest book. Name the Author & title. Turn to page 123. Post sentences 6-8. Tag three more people. (Tagging not likely since this made the rounds a while ago.)
Page 123-This is the second page of Chapter 3 Family and Living Rooms. Here are the sentences (as best as I can there a few bullets in the area):
Gary and Marie have three young children. They live in an 1,800-square foot home. When I first saw their living room it was a catch-all for anything you can imagine - clothing, books, mail, the kids' toys, crafting materials, even two large stacks of romance novels that Marie had recently collected from her grandmother's home.
Bub & Pie's recent post about narcissism and the subsequent thought-provoking comments also got me thinking about how much is enough these days. This applies to so many things (see above), how many toys, books, time with you, time without you, time as a couple, activities, lessons, the list is endless. We talk a lot in the blogging world about balance, how to achieve it and if it is even possible.
Christmas 2005 we decided that each girl was going to get five gifts. I picked five as a random number and it just stuck. We don't give the girls any gifts from us just from Santa. So five gifts from Santa and their stockings. Leading up the holidays I found myself struggling to come up the one gift, you know the one, the one they gasp over and won't put down for days. Since I had "given away" many of the gifts I knew they really wanted to grandparents, aunts, uncles, godparents and friends; my list was a little dry. Feeling stupid for not saving at least one for us to give the girls I came up with idea of sticking to five gifts and that could include pajamas, books and toys.
In the end I did come up with some great and well used and loved gifts. My girls were completely happy and satisfied Christmas morning and it was not at all hours of endless gift opening and tossing. What I wasn't prepared for though were some of the comments from some of our friends. Many clearly felt five gifts was pretty chintzy and I was shocked. How many gifts does a one year old or three year old need? I mean they get gifts from at least six other sources, as it was I felt they were getting too much. I am no Scrooge I promise you, but when I am struggling to come up with gifts they would truly love and play with - the key word being struggle - you know they are not wanting for anything. They can always use more books and passes to places like the zoo or Science Centre are always appreciated, but really more crap - no thanks.
We are still sticking by our rule three years later and I think it is great. I know exactly how many to buy for each girl and it forces me to think a little harder. One family we know bought each child over twenty gifts to open and several were the big ticket items. I just don't see the point of that. They also let one of their children spend all of their birthday money in Toys R Us a month before Christmas. While I am not at all a wooden toys and cloth dolls only Mom - Nickelodeon characters are my friends - I sure value the quality gifts much more than another plastic piece of junk that will be broken or forgotten in a few days.
This theory also applied to our "big trip" last summer to Disney World. Hubby felt strongly at first that this was just too much to give them at such an early age. Would they start expecting such grand holidays all the time? We used all our Air Miles and loyalty points so the flights, hotel and car rental were covered - what I am getting at it is it isn't likely another trip of this scale will be happening for quite some time. Turns out we all had an amazing time, the reconnection as a family without any distractions was just what we needed. They talk about our trip all the time, but show no signs of being spoiled about it all. They were more than thrilled with our three day trip to Collingwood over the Christmas holidays.
I think we are just used to getting and giving too much. With dollar stores in every plaza and toys chests in every restaurant kids (and us too) are used to walking away with something in our hands. Don't get me wrong I love to shop, it is recreational for me sometimes, but I have seen the hazards of tripping over hundreds of dollar store toys. What is the point? Why do you need a hundred of something when a handful will suffice. In terms of giving, when did we create so many new holidays and occasions? We have the requisite Mother's and Father's Day, Easter and Valentine's Day, and now there are St. Patrick's Day gifts and cards in stores. Even engagements and baptisms have become a reason to have a fancy party. More and more frequently we are being invited to these type of parties, and by this I mean, 50+ people, sit-down dinner, often dancing, and oh yeah a gift or envelope. I mean I am happy for them and all and I would encourage them to have a lovely dinner with both sets of parents, but I have been to these engagement parties where if the priest had been willing we could have been done with it on the spot. Add to this the shower and wedding gifts and it really does seem overboard.
I worry that I am becoming a big old curmudgeon. I would never want my kids to want for anything, but more and more I am realizing more is not necessarily better; in fact it IS worse. A blog I wish I had more time to visit My Dog Harriet posted recently about an article in New York Magazine and the hazards of over praising, which ties in so nicely with Bub & Pie's post. This is something I have long thought and have commented on before on other blogs. Following around little Timmy all day with a steady stream of, "good job and you are the best" cannot be good for a child. How do they know when they really are doing a good job? What about when they know they are not trying hard and are getting the same recognition as when they do? Go read the article you will be amazed at the connections they make between self-esteem and over praising; feeding right in to the narcissism debate. You will be surprised when you realize that we all absently do this, especially when our little prodigies are holding up something for us to see and we are busy doing something else.
Where is this all going? We are constantly surrounded by too much stuff. It might be physical stuff like toys, books or clothes. It might be media that floods into your life on every possible channel. It might be giving too much praise (or the wrong kind) to your children. I think it is important that however you define balance for your family, that you actively try to achieve it. Personally, when I let things slide is usually when I feel my most scattered and helpless. When I make an effort to stay present and in control of our stuff we have more time for the things we love doing, whether it is a Scrabble game before bed or a trip to the park.
More and more I am working on making our home and our lives less filled with stuff. When this happens my life opens up to all the other things I want to fill it with and that makes me feel good inside. I will never shun shopping or toys for my kids, but I will try very hard to limit the flow coming into our house. I love a good Coach bag as much as the next gal, but I don't need twenty purses, one or two will do. Now the new Aerosole sandals I saw...that is another story.