Unfilling the Landfill
I frequently struggle to find bits and pieces of me that are like my mom, as we have few personality traits in common. But one thing I inherited from her is her adherence to minimalist living. My mom just doesn’t accumulate *things *. She doesn’t really shop unless it’s to buy something she truly needs, and she thinks long and hard about whether she needs it. Sometimes for weeks, or months, or even years.
As her only biological child, I am so incredibly grateful for this. Even though I never want to think that someday she’ll be gone, I realize what a gift it will be to me that she will have left me with so little to do. And I’m grateful that, either by nature or nurture, I’ve become ruthless about not accumulating things as well.
I have spent the last two days helping my paternal grandmother unpack from her most recent move. I was overwhelmed by the accumulation of decades of indulging in purchases. Unlike my mother, my paternal grandmother is a borderline hoarder, with a depression-era mentality. I felt almost suffocated as I went through hundreds of boxes today trying to help her sort through a life filled with buying.
I won’t go into my grandmother’s backstory, but I will say this, it’s clear that she buys to fill a hole in her life. When you buy big houses (as she does) and you buy things to fill it (as many do), what you’re really buying is ‘pain medication’, something to take the place of the emotional pain that you carry with you, often from childhood.
I’ve had my own struggles from childhood. Abuse, immediate family members with mental illness, divorces, custody battles – it’s all been there. And I realized in my early 20s that if I didn’t start spending some significant time in therapy, I would catapult my own life into that of excess. I would seek to impress others (because of my own insecurities and lack of self-worth) and fill voids in myself by 'over accumulating' things.
We can all justify purchases – but actually really and truly *needing* something is rare. And it takes a lot of work and will-power to really live within your needs, not your wants. And it takes a tremendous amount of grace and self-assurance about who you are to live small and with just enough to meet your immediate needs. I’m still not there yet. But I strive to be.
And two days of physically working for hours upon hours because someone never chose to be present about what they really needed, which was therapy – and not the retail kind – made me realize something: that when we don’t truly tend to our emotional needs, we burden others – sometimes many generations down – with our chaos.
I didn’t mind helping my grandmother unpack today, because I love her. But I couldn’t help but feel frustrated that I could have spent today taking her somewhere fun, like the museum, if I weren’t slicing open boxes looking for her dishes so she didn’t have to eat on paper plates.
And let me tell you, I went through hundreds of boxes and I never found those dishes. Not even close. And there were probably (and trust me when I say, I’m not exaggerating) several thousand more boxes to go.
Live smaller. Buy less. Scale down. Collect experiences, not things.
Every single thing you buy, someone will have to eventually discard – you, your kids, your grandkids, your spouse. It’s just stuff. It will wind up in a landfill. So stop filling it.
And when you want to go to the mall, or go buy something at some big box store – detour instead to take a walk in the park, or go to the movies, go to a museum, take a painting class. If you still need what you needed today two months from now, you might actually need it.
Today, collecting less and experiencing more,