The Meaning of Stuff – Starting from Scratch

Photo by Lina Trochez on Unsplash

During the Easter holiday I decided to take on some decluttering which I’d been putting off for ages. Life got in the way and by the time I got some much-needed time off work, I noticed that things had built up around me. Impulse purchases I made to deal with the grief of losing my dad, and stuff that even as a minimalist I hadn’t been able to let go of for years.

To give you an update on my life situation, my mum has moved out and currently, our home is undergoing huge renovations including plastering, ceiling skimming, installing new electrical points, ripping out skirting boards, and having new flooring. We’re also moving rooms and repurposing left over space.

In essence, we’re starting from scratch.

My husband works from home so we’re setting up an office in the spare bedroom which I will also be setting up a dedicated writing space. We’re also moving from our long narrow living room into the original living room to better support family time, friendships, and cosy time alone (just a few of the benefits minimalism provides).

But one thing I’ve been experiencing during this process is walking into an empty room. A blank canvas.

Standing in a completely empty room was freeing in ways I can’t even describe. It was also emotionally loaded for me because the room belonged to my parents not so long ago. How could I reform this room, respect the space and honour a good life that would make my dad proud?

Other than the sadness, one thing I will say is that I also felt a deep sense of peace. Physical stuff didn’t matter, and it certainly doesn’t matter or have any use where my dad is now.

I walked around the emptiness for a few minutes and wondered why we burden ourselves so much with stuff that can never make us happy when our time is so limited.

Why do we let friendships shrivel away so we can get our spaces in order, instead of setting up spaces with only what we need to foster our families and relationships?

At the end of it all, so long as we have the basics for survival, stuff doesn’t matter. Yet we use it to project an image of ourselves to others, to chase happiness we’ll never find in a store, and to numb intense emotional pain. Numbing that only lasts for as long as the item takes to leave its packaging!

The first time I experienced emptiness was when I first moved out with my partner (now my husband), but the difference back then was I was looking at how I could fill the space and store my stuff instead of how I could enjoy the space and discover myself. Rather than thinking and learning through experiences, my stuff defined who I was. As a result, I never felt my space was big enough. I always felt like I was bottom of the rung, when in fact, I was living in luxury.

Whenever anyone came to visit, I’d exhaust myself tidying, organising, and cleaning things we never needed in the first place. Energy that could have been better spent on my relationships and doing what I love (reading, writing, gaming, helping others, and actually being with people).

It’s those memories and those feelings which have fuelled me to to get rid of even more stuff, including video game soundtracks I’ve owned since I was a teenager. I thought I loved these things, but the truth was I haven’t loaded a CD in years, and they were just being kept in less-than-ideal conditions in the attic – another space I’m minimising box by box.

Because I still loved the tracks themselves, I bought a cheap CD burner and ripped my favourites to my Macbook. I was surprised to find there were soundtracks I no longer cared about, and that the more I listed for sale, the more the feelings of attachment left me.

It was as if the very act of listing the items severed my connection.

There is a small pile of CD’s I just couldn’t bring myself to part with, but it’s a small fraction compared to what I once owned. I also know that I may feel differently in the future, but because it’s such a small amount, it’s no longer a burden I need to find extra storage for. In fact, I’ve been able to get rid of some boxes.

Another thing I tackled was my memory box because it was too full to store anything else meaningful. The old me would have bought more boxes, but instead, I went through the box and discovered pieces that no longer held much meaning for me, or that I had detached from over time.

The things in my memory box now include a handful of cards with loving messages from people close to me who passed, some sentimental jewellery from when I was a baby, a tiny pair of spotted pants I used to sleep with as a toddler (seriously!) a bracelet from when I was a bridesmaid aged 10, a glass memento of my last job which lasted 13 years, and plenty of space for new memories.

Over the years I’ve learnt that the meaning of what we hold dear can change, and what we think is important is nothing but an illusion, much of it based on fear and a deep-seated need to mean something in our lifetime.

Let me tell you now, you’re far more than anything you could ever pay for in a store. Far more than the most precious material on Earth. You will never find peace or happiness acquiring that stuff, no matter how much it costs or how rare or collectable it is.

The real worth is inside yourself and real happiness lies in accepting yourself for who you are, as well as becoming who you could be without the crazy expectations, the peer pressure, the marketing, and the noise of the modern world.

True peace is in the relationships you forge not just with others but with yourself. Those relationships don’t cost a penny.

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