June 15th is an anniversary date for our family.
It marks one year from the day our family moved away from our four bedroom, two story home. Our destination was the ranch style, two bedroom parsonage provided by Brian’s first call church. Our functional living space would be halved. Brian and I would be converting a mid-sized den into our new bedroom and installing the kids in the two smaller bedrooms. Downsizing was unavoidable. There would be not only fewer rooms for our belongings, but those rooms would also be smaller. There was simply no way that everything we owned was going to fit into the reduced space.
I began donating, selling or throwing items away months before the move. At first, it was small things. I gave away clothes that were rarely worn, tossed out games and puzzles with missing pieces, recycled old magazines, and trashed broken toys. The effect was unnoticeable, so I dove into kitchen drawers and pulled out cooking implements that had never been used and stacked up piles of cookbooks that had never been opened. I pulled everything off our bookshelves and filled bags with forgotten paperback novels, picture books that our children no longer read, and college textbooks that had not been opened since the 1990’s. The office filing cabinet was dumped on the floor and I weeded out boxes of forms and files that were over ten years old.
In the final weeks before the Big Move, I began eliminating items with stringent determination. Many pieces of living room furniture and all of our dining room set went on to new owners. If I couldn’t find a buyer, I gave it away. It was as simple as hauling it to the curb. Within minutes, we would hear a knock at the door and open it to find someone eager to take possession.
We had three old bikes, still serviceable, but long outgrown by our rapidly maturing children. Brian fixed them up and paired them with the now too small bike helmets still hanging on their pegs in the garage. After checking with their parents, we offered them for free to neighborhood kids who received them with joy.
I was amazed by the crazy volume of STUFF that we owned. We are not affluent, at least not by American standards. As a one income family, we frequently said ‘No’ to our children’s desires and requests. They don’t have cell phones, name brand clothes, karate or dance lessons. Our vehicles were used and had been so when we bought them. I shopped regularly at thrift shops and discount stores. Most of our furniture came to us second hand. Many of our belongings, both personal and household, were hand-me-downs from family and friends.
It was easy to allow myself to feel deprived. I’d look at our mismatched bed sheets or my eyes would wander over a stain on the furniture and I’d feel frustrated. Our tableware was a mish mash of patterns, and so were our dinner plates. The rungs of the dining room chairs had been chewed up by our teething puppy. Our kids would return home from a day spent playing with friends and talk about their multiple video gaming systems, their swimming pools, and slick new smart phones. Other families vacationed at the Outer Banks while we took trips to museums in Pittsburgh.
It was all too easy to worry about what we did not have, even while we were swimming in excess. No matter how much we had – bikes, games, clothes, vacations – we could always point to someone who had better or find people who had more.
The problem with more is that it’s not quantifiable. I can always get more, want more, need more. But no matter how much more I acquire, there’s always someone else who has more than that.
Packing up our belongings and moving to a smaller space gave me the gift of a new perspective. Even after releasing so much before the move, I still found that we had more than could comfortably fit in our new home. Boxes of kitchen items were sent to the basement because they did not fit in the cupboards. They were joined by shelves of board games and toys that overflowed from the kids’ rooms.
Again and again, we were forced to make the same call, and we had to decide what should remain and what should be stored, or better yet, given away.
It’s been a year. We are happy in our new living space. There was an adjustment period, to be sure. We are closer, in both a physical and an emotional sense. It’s harder to isolate from the rest of the family when all the rooms are on a single level. Personal boundaries are more permeable than they used to be. I’m not going to lie – sometimes it’s a pain. But we have learned how to live together; we are more present in each other’s lives simply because there’s nowhere else to be. It has changed our family dynamic in ways that all the planned quality time of past years never did.
Do I still want stuff I can’t have? Yes. Do I sometimes buy useless items, or find myself envying affluent friends or neighbors? Yes and yes. I’m human. I haven’t reached a transcendent state where I don’t desire anything. I say “I want” far too often. I confuse needs with desires. Often, if I resist purchasing an item, it’s simply because I don’t have a spot to place it in.
In all honesty, this house is not that small. It’s only smaller than the old one.
What about all those boxes of extra stuff – the ones that didn’t fit into the cupboards or closets? They are still sitting there, unopened, unused, unwanted. I haven’t had a single moment in the last year where I felt the need to go looking for any item I’d squirreled away in the dark recesses of the basement.
I have been thinking about those boxes and about how I should pull those items out, give them away or hold a yard sale. I’m resisting doing that, even though I know it needs to be done. I’m hesitant to part with them, but not because I think I need anything in them or because it hurts to divest myself of any of the accumulated items. It’s because when I see them stacked there, it reminds me.
I have enough.