Make space for what matters

I have written before about how many Americans are conditioned to want more and more things. Besides being a waste of money, a misguided focusing of energy, and potentially detrimental to the environment, there is another negative consequence: clutter.

When you have a big house with lots of space, shelves and closets, it’s not so bad (until you move and have to deal with three enormous U-Hauls of crap). Many people stuff their garages to the brim, while others have to overflow into spare rooms or storage units.

This MSN Money article discusses the phenomenon of the storage industry, as does this longer but fascinating New York Times feature. It’s interesting to note that people with a small to average-sized storage unit can end up paying tens of thousands of dollars on a long-term basis [monthly unity cost ($120) x 7 years = $10,080].

Some things are priceless: old photos and nostalgic, sentiment-saturated mementos. We can’t throw everything away. We can give some things away. We can go years without coming into contact with many of these things, often forgetting just what is lying around in all those cardboard boxes. Yet we are comforted that they are there, safe and sound.

It turns into love-hate. We feel burdened by all our things, yet we don’t want to part with them. We are overwhelmed with the task of organizing and cataloguing them. If there are too many things, we lose them and can spend anxious hours searching. Once high-priced items rapidly depreciate; last year’s showroom furniture can turn into tomorrow’s Craigslist ad or garage sale.

And we keep buying more.

Of course, the question of how much is too much depends on who you are and what you value. I found a recent summary of a TEDTalk inspiring and enlightening. It discusses how to “edit your life” down to what really matters. It concludes with this:

“2012 is the time to edit. We edit for the sake of the planet, for the sake of our pocketbooks, for the sake of our happiness.

Your personal edit might be buying a smaller home, participating in a car share, or buying one less pair of jeans. The specifics are not important. Simply remember that everything you add to your life that is not important, detracts from everything that is.”

You can read the rest of the article and watch the original TEDTalk here.

This Mother Jones article (which they shamelessly recycled from 2007, but hey, it’s still relevant) has some crazy statistics related to Americans’ pathological accumulation tendencies.

I’m no saint. I’ve definitely down-sized, yet I still love to get a new pair of high heels every now and then. I couldn’t throw my life into a backpack and travel the world — not unless I moved everything into a relative’s attic or a storage unit. But I do plan to think about editing my life in 2012 — making space, time and money for what matters, and getting rid of everything else.

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