Most of us admit we live in a consumer-oriented materialistic society. The frightening part is the way this underlying attitude has permeated so many aspects of our American lives. We spend our work time earning money to pay for goods. We spend our leisure time shopping for new toys that are marketed to us under the pretense that they will make our lives simpler and happier, and, finally, we spend much of our remaining time maintaining these new items. When will I realize my stuff isn’t the source of my happiness. When am I going to figure out a better direction to focus my life? What would that look like?
A friend of mine who had just helped run a garage sale observed an interesting trend. She said sales attendance wasn’t down, but the volume of purchases was down. Lots of people were walking up and looking, but fewer were buying. Since garage sale items are so reasonably priced, she thought it odd that people wouldn’t grab things for a quarter or fifty cents just to try them. She hoped maybe the thoughts of the simplicity movement were finally taking hold. I am not so sure. Is it possible that we are all simply reaching a saturation point with the quantity of stuff in our lives?
Recently, I had been thinking about getting a kitten. In a strange dream one night, I was buying a new kitten. The problem in my dream was this: there were three kittens that I liked and I wanted all three. “More is better” even in my dreams? In my dream, I eventually decided to purchase just my first pick and to let the other two go. When I woke up, I realized we already owned two neglected dogs, and I decided my time would be better spent with more time with our current pets. Maybe I was shopping for love when it was already right under my nose. Certainly more animal hair, food dishes, and veterinarian bills weren’t going to improve our life.I was recently in a home that was overflowing with stuff. There were clever knick-knacks in the family room, every lotion, spray, and whatnot in the bathroom, books crammed onto bookshelves that reflected twenty years of reading trends, and more. All this stuff could not possibly be currently in use. Did bringing it home in the first place help? Will bringing home more make life in this house better?
It is amazingly easy in our society to run out and grab “more.” I find it takes constant effort to encourage myself to stay put and spend time with who and what I already have. Why is it more fun to shop for a new kitten than to play with the family pets I already have? Why is it more fun to shop for new windows than to clean the dirty ones we already own? Why is it more fun to buy new clothes than to sew a button back on something already in my closet?
We have been taught that shopping is fun and easy. We can simply buy something to make our lives happier. We collectively follow the path of least resistance as we head out the door and throw our plastic on the counter at the checkout. We eventually become vaguely frustrated as we struggle to pay bills, wade through our clutter, and work overtime to pay off our debt.
I will not enjoy a new acquisition as much as I do when I am on the hunt for it. Once I buy “it,” I have to worry about paying for it. I have to store “it.” I have to take care of “it.” And, “it,” whatever it is, doesn’t stay new or in style once I bring it home. Once I have “it” home, I learn its flaws–it isn’t quite the right color, or size, or it doesn’t work as well as I thought it would. Many purchases are designed to be disposable simply so we will need to head out soon to buy more.
What is the true source of happiness? Maybe it is growing our faith? Maybe it is healthy relationships and helping others? Maybe it is improving our interactions with other people. Maybe it is deliberately making the choice on a daily basis to talk to, e-mail, encourage, and interact with the people we care about rather than go shopping?
The economy is sometimes uncertain. I remind myself daily of my ninety-nine-year-old grandfather’s advice: “Play it close to the belt. Don’t go into debt.” To his advice I add: “Direct your energy to the people, pets, and finally things that you already have, rather than heading out the door in search of more.”
Barbara Tako is a clutter clearing motivational speaker and author of Clutter Clearing Choices: Clear Clutter, Organize Your Home, & Reclaim Your Life (O Books, 2010), a seasonally organized book of clutter clearing tips that readers can pick and choose from to fit their personal style and needs. Sign up for her free monthly clutter clearing tips newsletter at http://www.clutterclearingchoices.com.