Most of have shame about something that we haul around with us like excess baggage that won’t fit into the hold. I realised today that major part of my shame centres around stuff. By stuff I mean things, possessions, objects that I’ve acquired along the way…
It is not in vogue to have stuff, have you noticed? The growing movement towards minimalism and decluttering has led stuffaholics like me to take their addiction underground, hiding it from normal, decent people, only daring to speak about it late at night in hushed voices to sympathetic friends.
And yet, at the same time that social disapproval of stuff has reached new heights, demand for self-storage has grown so fast that demand is now outstripping supply. It’s an interesting paradox and I wonder what it indicates about us as a society.
I am currently at a point in my life when I need to tackle my stuff addiction. I confess to having not one but two storage units packed full of stuff, including two full-sized gypsy waggons, currently dismantled. I am behind with the monthly storage payments and, having separated from my husband 18 months ago, I need to start making some plans for my future. The last thing I want to be doing is hauling around container-loads of stuff into whatever future awaits me, so now is the moment.
Alongside wondering what to do on a practical level, I’ve been thinking what the stuff represents to me and why, in spite of everything I’ve just said, the idea of shedding it feels so hard. For me, what is sitting in those storage units is decades of unrealised dreams and fruitless searching for meaning. I don’t do it now, but years ago I worked for clients that I felt uninspired by, writing about things that had no particular relevance to me or that felt unimportant in the grand scheme of things. Like many, I chased the money year after year, prostituting my talents in order to secure a good income.
This came at a cost. Feelings of profound unfulfilment and lack of purpose led me to seek out compensations. I needed to distract myself from the gnawing sense that I was leading a pointless life. I guess some people turn to drink, or drugs, or overeating, or a myriad of other addictions. For me, it was stuff. I banked my future happiness against a growing collection of objects, furniture, paintings, you name it. In my head I began furnishing an imaginary home that I didn’t yet have. I told myself that at the point in the future when I did, finally, reach the nirvana of a perfect home full of perfect stuff I would, of course, be blissfully happy and fulfilled.
I guess you’ve already spotted the flaw in this thinking. Decades on I still haven’t reached nirvana. And, with the wisdom of so much life experience now under my belt, I imagine that, even if I did, it wouldn’t live up to expectations and my life wouldn’t suddenly be transformed into a vision of joy. Over the last few years, I’ve realised that fulfilment is an inside job that has nothing to do with the home you live in, the possessions you have or the money in your bank account.
I know, I know, you could have told me that. But being told it and knowing it in the core of your being are two very different things, don’t you think?
I stopped acquiring stuff two maybe three years ago when things started to go wrong in my marriage. At this point in my life, it really hit me that people are more important to me than any amount of stuff. It also began to occur to me that I might never get my dream home and that I was no longer prepared to keep depositing into my “future happiness” account while leaving the current account empty.
In many ways, I am a recovering stuffaholic, but that doesn’t mean I’ve become a minimalist overnight. I no longer buy stuff to fill the holes in my life because there are no longer so many holes. I have discovered a deeper sense of purpose and fulfilment through the work I do and my greater sense of connectedness and spirituality. I no longer need the compensation of things to make up for what is lacking in my life. But, I still have to tackle the legacy of decades of purposelessness and seeking after meaning.
If you ever watched any of the Life Laundry series with Dawna Walter that aired some years ago, you may have observed how painful it can be for some people to let go of objects that hold symbolic significance. I am one of them.
Many of the objects currently languishing in my storage units represent a particular dream or desire or a hoped-for outcome. Letting them go means letting go of those dreams and desires. It is not easy. In the past, well-meaning friends have chastised me for my stupidity at having acquired such excessive amounts of stuff and told me, bracingly, to get rid of it all and bank the money. They have looked with sympathetic eyes at my ex-husband, as though he were someone to be pitied at being saddled with such a liability as me. Each time this happened, or I guiltily tried to squeeze another box into the storage unit, the sense of shame I felt grew.
Now, finally, I am ready to face up to the stuff, the shame and the legacy of years of unrealised dreams. Any letting go process takes time and this one is likely to take me a while as there is a lot to tackle. But, as with any important journey, the most important step is the first one and I think I’m finally ready to take it. Wish me luck!
In celebration of my new-found sense of purpose, today I wore a sunny silk dress by H&M, with a replica Viking belt by Shieldmaiden and brown warrior boots. After practicing my power pose in preparation for my TED talk, I’ve found I can’t stop, even when I’m in the spiritual setting of Buckfast Abbey. I hope God doesn’t mind. No disrespect intended.
Belt: Shieldmaiden of Glastonbury
Boots: J Shoes