Love Your Stuff

178 - StuffA lot of people will tell you modern society is too materialistic. That we’re all focused on our ‘stuff’ rather than what’s really important – including each other.

I’d like to suggest something different.

We’re not materialistic enough!

It’s not that we love and cherish our ‘stuff’ too much, it’s the opposite – we don’t value ‘stuff’ enough.

We use things once then throw them away. We replace things rather than repairing them. We don’t look after the things we own. We buy things we never use. We enjoy the thrill of shopping for and buying things more than the things themselves . . . all in all, perhaps we should give our ‘stuff’ a bit more care and attention?

I’m not the first person to say this.

George Monbiot wrote the same thing a decade ago, pointing out that most of us no longer bother to sharpen knives, or know how to fully work our various gadgets, let alone know where the various materials in our belongings has come from. The blog Stuff Does Matter has a similar message.

If we really valued our possessions, understood what had gone into producing them,  were more selective in buying them, took better care of them, tried to repair them when necessary – then as a society we’d certainly consume a lot less.

I also suspect as individuals we’d also decide we need less stuff and clutter in our lives.

The Science Fiction writer and futurist Bruce Sterling wrote that we can group our belongings into four categories:

1 – Beautiful things

2 – Emotionally important things

3 – Functional tools, devices and appliances

4 – Everything else

He suggests that we should have beautiful things, emotionally important things and useful things in our lives – it’s the everything else category he asks us to question and do away with. The writer Dave Bruno goes further, asking us to consider whittling our possessions down to, an admittedly arbitrary, 100 things or less !

A philosophy of simplicity and frugality is important if we’re to combat our mindless consumerism, but we also need a philosophy of good design, careful choosing, proper maintenance, repair and sharing.

If you need a bag to travel to work with every day then it makes sense to buy a bag that you love, is well designed, long lasting and ultimately worth repairing when it breaks. The same applies pretty much to all your other every day items – using well designed items will not only be more enjoyable and satisfying, but they should also last longer, and prompt us to take better care of them. Its an issue of quality over quantity. If you’re after suggestions to reinvent your personal possessions more thoughtfully there are a huge number of sites, groups and articles devoted to these  ideas – Everyday Carry, What’s in Your Bag, Good Design, The Verge, What’s in My Bag.

There’s obviously a balance to be struck – not mindlessly filling our lives and homes with more and more stuff and being more selective about the things we buy, but without obsessing fetishistically about them either.

If we get this balance right we can perhaps change our lives – progressively doing away with the unnecessary ’stuff’ cluttering up our lives, while finding the stuff that we do own and value being more useful, meaningful and enjoyable.

[More Ideas for ‘making a difference’ in my ebook The Year I Saved the World]


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Photo image used under Creative Commons Licence from denharsh, via Flickr

The Heart Impact of Choosing Less

A guest post by Joshua Becker, author of the Becoming Minimalist blog, and on a journey towards rational minimalism with his family in Arizona. He is also the author of two books on simple living: Simplify and Simplicity Inside Out.

“Happiness resides not in possessions, and not in gold, happiness dwells in the soul.” – Democritus

Four years ago, we decided to begin living with fewer possessions.

The decision was based entirely on outward emotions. I was tired of the never-ending cleaning and organizing that my possessions required. I was tired of living paycheck-to-paycheck. And I was getting frustrated that I couldn’t find enough time and energy to be with my family and the people that mattered most. Somehow, I had been unable to notice that my desire to own possessions was the cause of this discontent in my life. Luckily, my neighbor pointed it out with a simple statement, “Maybe you don’t need to own all this stuff.”

My life forever changed. Owning less has allowed me to spend less time and money chasing (and caring for) possessions. It has provided me far more opportunity to redirect my time, energy, and money towards the things that I most value. Ultimately, it brought great resolution to the emotions listed above.

But it has also provided me with even greater opportunity to change than I had ever imagined. The outward change of behavior has brought along with it the opportunity for inward change as well. It has allowed my very heart to change and adopt values that I have always admired in others.

For example, consider how the intentional decision to live with fewer possessions allows our hearts to embrace the following desirable qualities…

1) Contentment: being mentally or emotionally satisfied with things as they are. So much of the discontent in our lives revolves around physical possessions and comparing our things to others. An intentional decision to live with less allows that discontent to slowly fade away.

2) Generosity: willingness and liberality in giving away one’s money, time, etc. When the selfish, hoarder-based mentality is removed from our thinking, we are free to use our resources for other purposes. We are allowed (and have more opportunity) to redirect our energy, time, and money elsewhere.

3) Gratitude: a feeling of thankfulness or appreciation. One of the most important steps that we can take towards experiencing gratitude is to think less about the things we don’t possess and more time focusing on the things we already do. Intentionally living with less (minimalism) provides that opportunity.

4) Self-Control: the ability to exercise restraint or control over one’s feelings, emotions, reactions, etc. Many people go through life having no clear sense of their true values. Instead, their desires are molded by the culture and the advertisements that bombard upon them each day. As a result, they find no consistency in life. No self-control. The decision to live your own life apart from an ever-shifting culture provides opportunity for self-control to emerge.

5) Honesty: honorable in principles, intentions, and actions; upright and fair. Many – not all, but many – of the lies and mistruths that are told in our society are based in a desire to get ahead and possess more. Finding contentment with your lot in life eliminates the need to be dishonest for financial gain.

6) Appreciation: the act of estimating the qualities of things and giving them their proper value.As the desires of our life stop focusing on others and what they have that we don’t, we are more able to appreciate their accomplishment, their success, and the beauty that they bring to the world. We are able to fully appreciate others without being jealous of them (or worse, hoping for their downfall).

Now, please don’t misread me. I am not contending that minimalists are necessarily more content, generous, grateful, or honest than others. I know many incredibly generous people who would not describe themselves as minimalist. I’m sure there are some self-defined minimalists who would chart obnoxiously high on the selfishness meter. And I would never self-confess to have arrived fully in any of the categories listed above.

But I do believe with all my heart that the intentional rejection of possessions does allow greater opportunity for these positive heart habits to emerge. What you do with that opportunity is up to you.

Photo by 55Laney69, via Flickr

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Some Reflections on the 100 Thing Challenge

Dave Bruno is an author and advocate of simple living, though he sometimes describes himself as ‘a restless wanderer on the way home’. Through his book, The 100 Thing Challenge, he gave rise to a movement focussed on breaking free from consumerism and materialism – breaking free from the sense of being stuck in stuff.

In the guest post below Dave reflects on the publication of The 100 Thing Challenge, just over a year ago, and the lessons learnt.

Readers of my The 100 Thing Challenge book have had at least one positive reaction, I think. Many readers have commented online or contacted me directly thanking me for my honesty. In the book and on my blog and as often as my courage does not fail me in person, I attempt to be honest about my experiences with stuff. It has not been only a story of victory over consumerism and rallying the world to a simpler way of life. We all are a work in progress and I insist on making that point in my writing and in my advocacy for simple living. Simple living is not a way of life that leads to perfection. Simple living is a way of life because we are not perfect and never will be this side of eternity.

I hope my short introduction is not just justification for any complaining I might do while reflecting on the 100 Thing Challenge experience. I do not intend to complain only. The one-year anniversary of the publication of The 100 Thing Challenge is drawing near. That prompted me to write about it. Maybe this will be interesting to those who have followed my journey. Maybe it will be interesting for those who want to publish a book about their experiences.

The truth is that I did not want to write about the 100 Thing Challenge, at least not in a book. I have mentioned this before. The oddity of the worldwide interest in my 100 Thing Challenge has never normalized in my mind. Why is an exceedingly average middle-aged man who is living a comfortable life in the earthly paradise of San Diego but without much stuff interesting to so many people? The fear I had about writing a book detailing the 100 Thing Challenge was that it seemed almost impossible to avoid patronizing my readers. People are fascinated by living with less. Why? I believe it is not because they are interested in what things I kept and what things I got rid of. Sure, there is some curiosity about that. But the real reason, I think, so many people were drawn to the 100 Thing Challenge was because they were hurting after years and years, even generations of being let down by consumerism. I hurt. And I was frustrated nearly to tears about being stuck in the cycle of endless consumerism. And I do not cry much. (Though as an aside, now that my daughters are growing older I find myself tearing up more often. And my hair is thinning. But I digress.) So I took this stand to live simply, and people paid attention to it. I agreed to write a book about it.

The moment my squiggly signature raced across the dotted line of the very long book contract, a new challenge began. As I tried to reach below what appeared to some to be the shallow gimmick of the 100 Thing Challenge and unearth my readers’ grief over bad consumer choices, my hands were switched by the editorial ruler.

Hold on. I want to make something exceedingly clear. Editors are absolutely necessary. Not just to find all the typos and misplaced punctuation and sentence fragments and the overuse of polysyndeton. Editors help shape a book. Writers should have editors. I truly believe my book was better because of my editors.

The challenge I had with the editorial ruler was not that my editors were bad editors. Hardly. It was that they had a different vision for the book. So my hands got slapped each time I reached below the surface of the 100 Thing Challenge. In the end my knuckles were bruised and probably the book was a little beaten up, too.

Now this does not mean that I would have succeeded in writing a book about simplicity on a deeper level than the spectacle of the 100 Thing Challenge, if I had no editorial intervention. Personally, I feel satisfied that I came near the goal of avoiding fluff in chapters like “Purging Things and ‘Things Past’” and “Imprecise Goods.” Both are better for the work of my editors. Yet both of those chapters and a few others were not really what my editors wanted. And we only worked through them while misunderstanding each other. At one point as we refined “Purging Things and ‘Things Past’” I felt stuck, going back and forth with an editor.

I asked, “What do you think this chapter is about?”

“You got rid of the trains you liked,” was her answer.

The chapter is about faith. It is about what we put our faith in. My publisher wanted a book about what I got rid of. The life I am wholly committed to is about what we all put our faith in. We just cannot keep putting our faith in stuff. It is killing us to do so. It has ruined the American economy and damaged America culturally. It will make the entire world miserable, if American-style consumerism makes its way across the Pacific, as is already happening. We must have faith and we must put our faith in the right things. God rest his soul, but we should never have put our faith in Steve Jobs and the hope that a more colorful iPod would be available for purchase each year. Of course not everyone did that. But too many people did that.

In the end, I suppose it is my fault. The name for my personal living project was thought up on the spur of the moment. I am responsible for that. The “100 Thing Challenge” does not sound very intellectual. It sounds kind of like reality TV. And once I started accepting calls from media, it began to kind of become reality TV.

Leanne and I made a decision a couple weeks back. No more camera crews in our house. A news station wanted to come by to interview me and film our closets. (Our house, by the way, does not look anything like the way TV reporters think the “100 Thing Challenge” looks, which is why Inside Edition never aired the segment they filmed. He says with a hint of bitterness.) But we are done with the looky-loos. The 100 Thing Challenge was never about the stuff.

I would like to invite people into our home over the years. People who want a safe place to talk about what they have been putting their faith in. People who want to talk about not being stuck in stuff – who want to break free from consumerism. We will not spend our time looking at all the things I own, less than most Americans though far more than most people on earth. But we will look honestly at our hearts. That is where the best stuff can be found.


Photo by Puuikibeach via Flickr

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