Sunday, October 13, 2013

Seeking Freedom from Too Much

Things can have a terrible power in our lives. Acquiring them, taking care of them, holding on to them, worrying about them can become consuming. It can turn us into people who seem shallow, or it can become an obsession that takes over our lives.

If you've ever tuned into one of the shows about hoarding, it's easy to see how completely things can wreck a person's life. Those people who typically suffer from an obsessive compulsive disorder, or who are compensating for some loss in their lives, may be extreme collectors, compulsive shoppers, or people who hang onto everything -- even items that have no value. Using things to fill their lives drives away family and friends, leaves them in debt, and sometimes forces them from their homes.

The ways that things wreck the lives of healthy people are more subtle. We have to buy the latest fashions, the "in" bags, the latest tech gadgets, or a new car on a regular basis. Keeping up with which of these things we "need," finding the money to buy them, keeping them safe and paying for them can be almost as overwhelming as the things that take over a hoarder's life. The fact that we don't make our homes unlivable (usually) or wind up on the streets doesn't make the things a lot less powerful.

Or we hold on to the treasures or our past -- toys we played with as children, items from the homes of our grandparents or parents, souvenirs from past vacations. We feel like those items keep the past alive or help us hold on to loved ones who live only in our memories. They are things to be looked at and protected, no matter if their intrinsic value is lost in doing so. They are time capsules of the past littering our lives.

While most people see a house fire as a tragedy, I've occasionally reflected that if a person had their pets, and kept their insurance paid, it might be a blessing.
Although I don't want my home to burn, I have imagined the freedom of starting over free from all the things I've accumulated over a lifetime. Like anyone else, I have my treasures, the antique dolls, the knick knacks, the crocheted afghans, even the old shoes and sweaters; and the newer things like my boots (I love boots), my favorite jeans, the air sleep system, the DVDs and the big screen TV.

When it comes down to it, however, if there were no lives lost, I could do without the things I could not replace. What makes old toys and handed down treasures special isn't the items themselves, but the attached memories, and losing those items would not take the memories away. The only treasure I'd really hate to give up would be the photo albums because those literal snapshots of treasured memories would be irreplaceable, although I could go on without them.

Not long ago I had a discussion with someone who held the other point of view. I said if I could sell most of my old treasures, I would do so. He pointed out he felt the money would quickly be gone and he would have neither money or treasure and that he would hold on to the things he had.

I'm not sure which view is more materialistic. Mine which reduces a lot of memories to money to be reused, or his that simply hangs on to the memory. I do know that my view would leave me with less to drag around.

Instead I've tried to strike a balance between the two. While I'm not selling all of my old toys, I've begun to turn them over to a pair of eager preschoolers, not whincing when they pull the paper finish off the sides of a wooden train or drag an old stuffed toy around lovingly. They're having fun and the memories of those new good times are much more valuable than anything I might recall from the past. Instead of sitting the old toys on a shelf to collect dust (which is where they were until recently), I've surrendered them to the tender mercies of the children who are likely to love them to death. If will be a good way to go.

I do not need the things to hold onto the memories, and instead I hope the things can make new memories for me and the little ones into whose hands they fall. It will be a gradual transition and if we stumble across an item that seems to have a high value, we may sell it instead and trade it for new things to enjoy.

My goal is not to leave my children or grandchildren with a lot of things to burden their lives. I'd prefer the freedom of carrying all I need in a backpack or dragging it along in a suitcase to leaving buildings crammed full of stuff for my children and grandchildren to filter through. Instead I hope there will be only things they remember for a reason, and that they will be handed down or worn out before I'm gone.

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