Recently, as I prepare to move to another state for graduate school, I have been cleaning out all of my things, preparing some to sell or donate, boxing up others for storage, and collecting the few, precious items that I will be able to bring with me. This process has made me aware of how many things I own that are entirely unnecessary and perhaps even counterproductive to my happiness.
I realized that in so many ways, I have far too much. Too many pretty nick-knacks that clutter up surfaces and don’t bring anything special to my life, purchased on a whim because I wanted something to brighten up my room. Too many clothes that I bought because I didn’t feel like there was anything nice in my size and I had to snatch up whatever I could find. These were inevitably things I bought out of boredom or desperation. Maybe I wanted a Christmas dress and couldn’t find anything just right, so I bought a boring black sheath and tried to dress it up with a red scarf. Maybe I needed a set of dishes for my apartment, and I grabbed some decent but uninspiring ceramic plates at Wal-Mart because they were cheap and cheerful.
Now I’m sorting all this stuff, and wondering how I ended up with so much waste. All these things taking up both physical and mental space in my life, created who knows where, without either fine craftsmanship or quality materials to recommend them. But the few times I waited patiently for something extraordinary, saving and hunting until I found just the right one of whatever I was searching for—those things I have never stopped treasuring. Because if I was willing to put all that effort into the perfect cocktail ring, the quintessential pair of summer sandals, or a handcrafted wooden spoon, it turns out that the final product was one that I truly love.
So, as I prepare for a new life in a new place, I have made a commitment with myself, to start afresh with only things that bring me utter delight. Because I think one of the causes of American consumption, is not that we want too much, but that we acquire too much that we don’t actually want. At first, it will mean starting slow. I won’t have money for furniture besides maybe a mattress on the floor, and there will be no coordinating sets of fine china. But even if I have to buy one plate at a time from the marked-down corner of a local antique store, or live for a few months with only one set of sheets, those plates will be heirlooms I treasure, and those sheets will be thick and fine.
Because eventually, you realize that you’re still waiting for your life to start. You’re waiting to start throwing parties before you pull out the fine stemware from your grandmother. You’re waiting to get a more prestigious job before you go out and invest in a pair of beautiful trousers. And at that point, you realize that your life has already begun, and you must, must, must start living it now. You come to understand that pleasure is not optional, and beauty is indispensable. And you become more discerning, more exact in the parameters and dispensation of your desires.
And this exactness, this intimate knowledge of what delights you, will allow you to winnow out the chaff of your life—the things that bog you down, filling up the corners of your mind and environment with waste. You will know that you would rather spend your weekends slowly repairing a vintage Karmann Ghia convertible and taking the train to work in the meantime, instead of purchasing the first cheap Geo Metro you can find on Craigslist. Or perhaps you will realize that you love cold water in Mason jars more than wine in cut crystal. But eventually, you will come to know instinctively the things that you love, through experimentation, trial and error, and endless patience. And as Rumi once said, “This turning towards what you deeply love saves you.” And it allows you to live in delight.
Photo by Mariah G. Carrillo.