Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Living With Less Stuff

10 days left in Fresno. One month in Oregon and Idaho.  My thoughts and emotions are mixed. I am focused on all the “to do” details-doctor appointments, paperwork, more sorting and packing, saying goodbyes-and not sure when reality will hit. 

We had two yard sales. Selling almost everything a family of four owns takes time. The night before our first sale our garage was filled to the brim, our possessions shoved in boxes and bags stacked to the ceiling, taking up every empty space. Our living room was crowded with more boxes and tables of items. We advertised well and had a consistent flow of people all morning, and the sales were steady.

I watched as our belongings that have made up much of our life together get carted off: lamps, bookshelves, kitchen appliances, toys, clothes, tools…slowly our lawn and driveway emptied.

The second weekend our garage was full of tables with things already priced and ready to go, the leftovers from our first week’s sale. Most of the furniture was gone but we had enough for a decent sale and did well. By the end of the second weekend our household had been reduced to a couple bags of a few knick knacks and clothes. Our garage was empty.

Our yard sale leftovers taken to MCC's thrift shop in Reedley..
I sold most of our furniture online. The only major items left to sell are our refrigerator, which we’ll do next week, and our car, which we’ll do up in Oregon. We are sleeping on a borrowed air mattress and our clothes are in stacks lining our bedroom walls. We have a borrowed couch in the living room, a borrowed card table and chairs, and a borrowed TV. The girls’ toys are in a cardboard box in the living room and scattered around on the floor. Bare essentials, yet we live in abundance.

People keep asking me about this process of reducing our possessions. In many ways it’s cathartic and freeing. We are loosening our hold on owning things. Many Christians espouse the view that our earthen things don’t matter, yet few of us live that way. We are instructed to not store up earthly treasures, to give away our possessions to the poor, to abandon all those people and things that block us from knowing Christ. We are told that our money and possessions are the most difficult block for us in our relationship with Christ. Yet we accumulate. 

Our personal journey includes the realization that it’s our relationship with Christ and how that connects us to people and the way we live our life that matters. To live simply is to live free. 

We Americans think we need MUCH more than we do. A bedroom for every person in the house, toys and books and gadgets and lots of space so we can keep to ourselves, several outfits so that we aren’t caught in the same clothes too often, shoes for every occasion and outfit, phones and internet to watch videos of cats and share them with our acquaintances online.

We consume and fill our garbage cans with trash, yet we have a tendency to hang on to stuff because we can’t bear the thought of letting go. Our stuff has a hold on us even as it sits gathering dust in the garage or the attic or basement. We don’t even know what’s in all of those boxes, but we keep them. We tell ourselves we might need them someday. And it gives us a sense of security to hold on. Then there's the stuff we can see, spread out throughout our home. Homes have a way of filling up with stuff, regardless of the size of the house or the number of inhabitants. We found this to be true when we lived both in a four bedroom house and in a studio apartment. 

I’m a sentimentalist. It is natural to attach meaning and memories to objects. There were brief moments of hesitation and sadness as a few items disappeared during our yard sale, mainly, toys and clothes for the girls. We have been blessed with a bountiful of gifts and hand-me-downs that are more than we can carry with us to Guatemala. We are taking toys and books and based our decisions on size and frequency of use. I’m pleased with how many we are keeping (I’m not totally depriving my children) and don’t feel like the girls are going to miss most of what we sold, but I know what they’re missing. Despite the knowledge that they can get more and that toys are just toys, and despite our intentional efforts to acknowledge that it's just "stuff," it’s still hard. We are consumers and creatures of habit.

I am thankful that I still have piles of clothes and books and toys to take with us to Guatemala. We have several boxes we are putting in long-term storage that include mementos and books and household items we may want when we return to the States in 5+ years. Though everything we own will soon fit in a small trailer or U-Haul next week, I know we are still in a state of abundance. We are not impoverished. We have choices of what to wear and what to eat and toys to play with. We are wealthy, both in things and in relationships. I won’t be looking back on our time in Fresno and reminiscing about the toaster oven I sold but rather, the friends who have reached out and blessed us in generosity and love. 


The Isaacs said...

This post reeeeaally moved me and convicted me... I don't think our family lives "extravagantly," but we certainly have way more than we could possibly ever need. Definitely will be processing all of this! Thanks for sharing!

Krista said...

I am SUCH a sentimentalist too! It's fun that my children have toys and books that I had as a child.
But really, right now, I just have no mental energy or time to purge. I want to, oh, I want to so badly because we are bursting at the seams. But it takes time, and someone to want to buy it! ;)
I am trying to be much more intentional about the things I bring into the house these days, and I hope in the long run that this will help as well!

Mrs. Chappy said...

Jane, I'm glad to help jump start some processing/thinking for you. Believe me, we are still processing too. Krista, I definitely have kept toys and books and dolls that I had as a child that I've given to my girls. I also kept a few of my girls' things so hopefully they can do the same someday. I understand the desire to purge. I wouldn't have the energy with 4 kids! I do think that being intentional about what we bring in the home helps a lot.

Chad said...

This is beautifully written and, whether you were shooting for it or not, inspiring. I look forward to reading more posts. Your family is in my prayers.

Day-Lee Life said...

Beautiful post and convicting! While you mention a mix of emotions, it is evident you also have a peace that comes only from God. Blessings to your whole family on your new journey.

Amy Widmer said...

Melissa, have you read the book "Enough" by Will David Jr? It's a great book about finding out just what is enough? We were given it when we were in Guatemala.