Thursday, August 2, 2007

Zen and the Art of Closet Organization

A few of my friends have just moved, or are preparing to move. We are also in the stage of thinking to prepare to move – the plan is that sometime in the near future, we’ll get ourselves together and shop for a house with a yard.

All this packing and moving has got me thinking about STUFF. I touched on this last week a bit, when I was thinking about historical sites it led to reflections on artifacts and heirlooms. I am a person who acquires. I don’t shop too much (I don’t never shop, but it’s not a major form of recreation for me), but I shop enough, and I receive gifts, and I am a pack rat. And the stuff accumulates.

The first issue is gifts. I saw on facebook that Jazz’s birthday is coming up. Since she is a lovely girl, and a member of the extended family, I thought it’d be nice to give her a little something. We won’t be actually seeing her, but we’ll be seeing J and R, and they’ll be seeing her sometime soon, I presume. I like to mark birthdays. I have a bit of a “gift cupboard” of things that we have bought on sale or wherever to give as gifts when the moment seems right. There’s a very cute little picture frame in there that I thought would be perfect. So, I wrapped it up, and was writing a little card, when I paused. I think she’d like it, but I don’t know. And if we start giving them gifts for birthdays (something we haven’t done generally) then they might feel like they should give us gifts. Then this trend gets set, and everyone is trying to think of some token to buy every year, and we end up with more stuff. I think that I’ll just write her a card.

I try to be sensitive in my gift-giving. I have this internal war every year at Christmas between wanting to give something that I think is socially responsible or practical, and giving whatever the person actually asked for. I try to give what they asked for, because we have all received gifs that just aren’t on. There are gifts that are given with such good intent that you feel honoured to receive them, but don’t know when you’ll ever use this item. But then, there it is – and the intent is imbued in the gift, which makes it special, but it ends up being one more thing sitting on a shelf or in a drawer. So, how long do you keep it in the shelf or the drawer? When can you set the item free to someone else who might appreciate it more? I’ve been amazed by the response to some of our Freecycle posts – things that PJ received (people like to give him toys and novelty items) that he doesn’t quite know what to do with – but there are several people who are really excited about these things when we make an offer to pass them on.

The other reason I build up stuff is my pack-ratism. This comes from both an economic and an environmental conservation frame of mind. I want to keep old boxes and gift-wrap to use but somehow, without ever buying gift-wrap, I never manage to make a dent in the supply that I have. There is always more, and there is an overflowing box of it in the closet. I hate to get rid of yogourt tubs, but at the rate that we consume yogourt, we produce way more than we would ever need for a freezer full of leftovers! I don’t like to recycle paper that has a blank side and could still run through the printer – but the paper piles up. It seems like no matter how much I try to control the flow of disposable/reusable products into my house, they always come in at a greater level that I can actually reuse.
For all of these reasons, I have a lot of stuff. And I realize I’m talking about all this accumulation like it’s a bad thing, and I haven’t really explored why. I know that a lot of people think there isn’t really anything wrong with having a lot of stuff. I think that it’s good to keep the stuff under control for a variety of reasons. The first is the obvious – by bringing less stuff into our lives in the first place, we are using fewer resources and having a smaller impact on the environment. However, as I mentioned, a lot of the stuff that fills my house isn’t from us “consuming” in the usual sense of going out and buying things. Some of it is even from my desire to consume less – keep the wrapping paper so I don’t have to buy more.

Regardless of where it originates, I sometimes feel like I am buried in STUFF. I will be sitting at work, out of the house, and have the sense that a pile of papers and odds and ends is waiting to pounce on me when I go home. I really think that someone we are affected spiritually/ psychologically by being surrounded by too much clutter. I don’t know if it’s because a cluttered space leads to a cluttered mind, or what. But I do know there is a great satisfaction in doing the purge. My friends who are moving talk with glee about getting rid of all those class notes that they saved “just in case” and haven’t looked at for 5 years, and I’ve felt it in when I’ve handed off clothes, books, or CDs to someone who’s ready to put them to use.

I waver back and forth on the issue of the stuff. The “but it was a gift,” the “just in case” and the “it’d be a shame to waste it” impulses run deep in me. But then I get the urge to simplify, to declutter, and to downsize. I try to take advantages of these urges to purge, I try to actually use the things that I am carefully saving for just in case, and I try to control the amount of stuff that comes into my life. But there’s always more, and I worry that if we move to that house with a yard, we’ll just fill up the basement with gift-wrap and yogourt tubs.


Wheatsheaf said...

First off - you have a "gift cupboard". Bad, bad, bad. Giving gifts are great, but accumulating stuff in the hopes of giving it away is bad. (The exception is wine - wine can always be brought to a dinner party and never hurts to have on hand for such occassions).
Secondly, embracing purging. When you own a place, it is natural to start looking for places to store stuff that you do not know what to do with. Be honest with yourself about how often you use it and when you last used it. That shirt that you love, but has not been worn in two years can go on freecycle.
Thirdly, having been the recipient of pots, towels, furnitures, etc from my several moves, I am now at a place where I can be the donator. Having friends and relatives that are moving is often a great way to give away stuff that you no longer need but they do.
Finally, moving is a great way to take note of what you have and purge what you don't need. When you stay in one place it is natural to acquire, but it does not necessarily fit into a new place (and don't just find a place to hide it).

el Maggie said...

Yeah - you're right about the gift cupboard. I don't really put anything into it anymore, but there are things that have never quite found the perfect home that are still there.