Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Where Will I Put All My Stuff?

If you're a Tiny House Enthusiast, you have no doubt heard about all the benefits of downsizing.  And if you think about it purely from a logical standpoint, having less stuff means having less stuff to worry about, store, clean, pay for, and maintain.  And that makes sense, right?

Have you ever considered the other things that clutter our lives?  Like relationships?  If you think about it, our lives start out pretty simple and then get increasingly complex as we mature.  With maturity comes relationships and, literally, the same logic can be applied to those as well.  The more relationships you have the more people you have to worry about, store (keep a roof over their heads) clean (or, rather, clean up after) pay for, and maintain. (can you say "New shoes for my growing son, every three months!?)

Question: So, why is downsizing our possessions touted as one of the first steps towards an increased emphasis on relationships; if they both yield the same end result? 

Answer:  Our emotions.

Relationships pay us back by enriching our lives.  We share with others, and they share with us.  We teach others, and they teach us.  We love others, and if all goes well, they love us back.  Good relationships feed our soul, give us solace, teach us how to be patient, and how to be empathetic. 

Does our stuff provide us with peace, solace, and love?

As people enter our lives they bring, stuff.  We then start to correlate stuff, to people; we assign emotional value to possessions. For instance, we become sentimental about a painting done by our first grade daughter, and we remember an important life event from a printed program or memorabilia.  (This is not a bad thing, by the way.) It's actually an easy and efficient way for our brains to recall that event.  The "bad" part, is that we tend to then become indiscriminate about what possessions we assign value to.  Perhaps we don't trust our brains to remember the "important" events? Or perhaps we want to surround ourselves with things to remind us that we are living a fulfilling life?

Wow!  My Tiny House really IS TINY!! 

The key here is not to assign any value to any things.  They key is to do so, discriminately.  And that leads us back to the difficult process of downsizing. 

Question: If assigning discriminate value to our stuff makes so much sense, logically, then why is it so difficult?

Answer:  Because we are forcing ourselves to re-learn, to what and whom, we should assign value to.

So, how exactly do you decide what goes, and what stays; when you're trying to downsize into a Tiny House?

Frankly, I don't know how it will work for you.  After all, downsizing is so personal.  It's an entirely different event for each person, bringing with it an entirely new set of baggage.  (mine is in a bin, marked "LUGGAGE") I don't have the answers for you but here are a few examples of the thought processes that have been playing, over and over in my head, for the last few months.  Maybe they'll inspire you to begin your own....

I had two small, handmade, clay bowls.  They were both pretty, and earthy, and made by the students of someone with whom I once had a close relationship.  I attended a fund raising event where I paid $10, per bowl, to fill it with soup and then got to take home the bowls.  One, I used for pencils.  The other one sat in the cupboard waiting for a purpose that it never ended up serving.  As I looked at the bowls I realized I was keeping them because they reminded me of how giving I was.  As I contemplated them further, however, I also realized they entered my life as a result of a relationship which was now a painful life lesson.  Not wanting to be reminded of that pain, they were both recently donated to charity. 

Only two bins of the original four, are left.
(and 3 bags of donations!)

Good feelings return, lesson learned, now moving on.......

I was raised in a less than affluent family.  I did not have nice, or trendy clothes.  I got by with the basics but, as a foster child, I was happy to have any at all.  As I matured (there's that word again) and earned my own money I spent a LOT of it in my early 20's on clothes and shoes.  Even if I didn't need yet another white button town oversized shirt, I bought one because it was on sale, or because I COULD.   In retrospect, I believe that the difference between age and maturity is understanding the difference between things you CAN do and things you SHOULD do.  Nowadays, I don't have nearly the stuffed closet and dresser as I used to; but the feelings still challenge me when I shop.  "I deserve it"  "I work so hard" "I want to look good, so I'll feel good about myself"  These are all tough life lessons that reveal themselves in how we view our stuff. 

These are the same tough life lessons that we are forced to re-learn as we downsize.

Is your stuff a reflection of who you are?  A parent, a builder, a daughter, a son, a mentor, a gardener, or a philanthropic traveler?  To what extent do you rely on things to remind you of who you are, or are your things on display so others will believe that you are, who you want them to believe you are?

Think about it this way.  If you have a 12 foot long wall, full of pictures of your children and grandchildren, does this make you a stellar parent?  Or does it reflect more on how you wish others to see you?  If you have exercise equipment gathering dust, is this a reflection of the healthy person you want to see yourself as?  Can and should you, instead, assign that same sense of identity to a pair of running shoes?

Downsizing is really, really, really, difficult.  It is sometimes not quite as easy as the "one bin for donations, one bin for keeps, and one bin for garbage" process.  The process of even deciding that you want to, and need to get rid of, the emotions you assign to your stuff, and embracing the mental roadblocks; is what keeps most people from even considering a Tiny House.

After all, where would they (or you) put all their (or your) stuff?

My "stuff" (which is a rather thoughtless and crass description of the treasures that will be left) will be creatively and proudly displayed, and some of it may be stored.  But in either case, they will be cherished and/or cared for, and a far more clear reflection of both myself and the relationships I have built along the way of building My Empty Nest.

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