Thursday, July 10, 2014

Me vs. Stuff

Last weekend, I was browsing through Netflix and came across a wonderful little documentary called "Tiny: A Story About Living Small." It follows one couple's journey to build a less than 200 sqft. home, as part of a larger movement of people who intentionally choose to live in tiny houses, challenging traditional home design and the standard of home ownership as a part of the American Dream.

I found the entire premise fascinating, the idea of people (sometimes entire families, with pets!) living in homes the size of a parking spot is simply amazing. Can you imagine the amount of ingenuity and efficiency that would be required? But what really touched a chord with me was the bigger questions raised by the film in regards to sustainability and our consumerist culture, two topics that have been on my mind a lot recently.

This past spring, my little family of four (two humans, two canines) moved to a new home. We had previously been living in a one-bedroom condo I've had since my single days. After our wedding, Ethan had moved in, I started working from home, and over the course of a year and a half it started to feel like the walls were closing in on us.

I was always complaining about the dogs getting in the way, especially when I'm working (they are large and one of them have a particular tendency of standing/laying down directly in your path). My work stuff was constantly spilling over and adding to the piles of my "other" stuff, i.e. clothes. And the mental and physical energy required to keep all this stuff and clutter at bay was exhausting. So we moved.

We moved from a 722 sqft. condo to a more than 2000 sqft. house. Finally, I thought, more space! No more clutter! But now three months in, I still feel cluttered. There is still too much stuff. I still have piles of clothes on top of the dresser and in storage bins because I've maxed out the closet. I [finally] realized, the problem is not with the size of our dwelling--after all, there are people all over the world living just fine with less square footage--the problem is us and our mindless accumulation of stuff.

The ironic thing about having more space is that you immediately want to fill that space with something. Perhaps we've grown so accustomed to all our stuff that we're not used to having, accepting, and enjoying empty space. I have to remind myself that even from an interior design point of view, negative space (the term for unoccupied space) is not only good but necessary.

Going back to the documentary, living small challenges consumerism and the idea that the more stuff you have, the bigger property you own, the happier you will be. When you think about it, our culture of consumerism is not accidental, it's intentional and purposefully orchestrated by industries whose goal is to maximize profits by selling us the idea that stuff = happiness.

Don't get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with owning a home, or having an iphone, or buying clothes. I think the right question to ask is are we still exercising our consumerism with intentionality? Are we owning more things to address our needs or to simply satisfy our wants? After all, does a family of three need to live in a five-bedroom house? Do we need to upgrade our iphones every single year if they're working just fine? Do I need to buy this shirt/dress/shoes if I'm only shopping because I'm bored?

I am on a mission, I had ceremoniously announced to Ethan weeks ago, to get rid of all the clutter and stuff that we don't need. Watching this documentary reinforced my sense of purpose. The thing is, I'm not on some anti-consumerism high. At the risk of sounding melodramatic, I do believe getting rid of stuff is necessary for our sanity. When you have too much stuff, eventually it all begins to weigh you down, literally and metaphorically. There is truth to the saying "a cluttered desk is a cluttered mind."

So I have begun with the largest beast: my clothes and shoes. It's daunting, yet already quite liberating. Will report back, so wish me luck!

1 comment:

  1. omg please let me help you declutter!!!