On Treasure and Clutter; “Stuff” and Soul

Check out this old-school lighter bearing a bas relief image of Mount Rushmore. I bought this a few months ago. What a beautiful lighter. So retro America. So evocative of my childhood. (Even though we never visited Mount Rushmore, we got to visit so many other parks and monuments. So any classic monument/park/Route 66 memorabilia always brings back memories of rich, magical times growing up in a family that took multiple cross-country car trips.)

Yes, a beautiful lighter indeed. And purchased at a local shop. I have loved this lighter for the months I’ve owned it. The only problem is, it doesn’t work properly. It doesn’t hold a fill. So, having unsuccessfully tried to figure out a fix, I am taking this lighter back to the shop owner, not for a refund but so he can put it in the display case and use it to sell other lighters. (You know how it is in a shop: The greater the variety of items, the easier it is to sell one.)

Now, this lighter is small. It’t not BIG clutter. But for me, after a while, it became annoying clutter, because every time I saw it, I’d think about how it doesn’t work, and what a shame that this purchase didn’t accomplish my objective of having a refillable “old school” lighter. So it’s time to let it go.

Now, if you are in possession of a beautiful but non-functional item, you may not consider it clutter and may choose to keep it. And that’d be fine too. Low-footprint life doesn’t mean feeling obligated to get rid of all your stuff. Even a minimalist lifestyle (if you choose to practice that) doesn’t mean getting rid of all your stuff. You want to keep the good pretty things that feed your artistic soul (because really we ARE all artists — artists of living); the things that make your heart smile. Selective minimalism, I call it!

Actually sometimes I call my lifestyle “ornate minimalism.” At one point I owned about 20 pairs of platform shoes, while living in a 19-foot travel trailer lined with colorful Indian print silk curtains and pillows. There were a lot of things I did NOT own, such as an iron and a washer/dryer and any stove other than a single burner. But I owned everything I wanted to own, and that continues to be the case, though I’ve let go of some items and acquired others as the flow of life invites.

Nice synchronicity with the theme of this post: Today’s email newsletter from DailyOM has a great little article by Madisyn Taylor, “Honoring Daily Life.” She talks about the human tendency to try to save things for “special occasions.” For example, buying an item of clothing and never wearing it; saving it for a special occasion that never comes. And meanwhile the item goes out of style!

Something similar happened to me, back when I was living in my little travel trailer, as a matter of fact. I had two beautiful leather jackets. One of them I NEVER ended up wearing, and one day when I finally decided to wear it, I pulled it out of the closet only to see that it had become mildewed to the point of being unwearable. I was touched with sadness at the waste, and vowed to avoid doing that again.

From Madisyn’s piece in DailyOM: “It’s interesting to think of what it would mean to us if we let ourselves wear our nicest clothes and eat off the good china on a daily basis. We might be sending ourselves the message that every day we are alive is a special day and a cause for celebration, and that we are worth it.”

That is one thing I’ve been doing: using my grandmother’s china as my daily dishes. I even bring them out for potlucks. And I always know my grandmother is smiling down from heaven. But what if one breaks, some people might say. Actually, a few teacups DID break, some years back. But look how many there still are! And the plates — I mean, SIXTEEN plates!

As a bonus, using Grandma’s china as my everyday dishes means I don’t need a whole separate set of “everyday” dishes, which would require more cabinet space and also mental energy to keep track of. I do have a couple of sturdier bowls and plates acquired from a friend who was downsizing, but there are only a couple, and I DO use the china regularly even when it’s just me alone.

All of which is to say, I hope you enjoy your deliberate acquisitions, don’t be afraid to let something go when it no longer serves you (even if it’s pretty). But don’t feel obligated to let go of things you treasure. And, finally, don’t be afraid to use your “good stuff” for everyday. Wear your best jewelry; put on that fancy jacket just to go to the store if you feel like it. Every single day is a magnificent occasion, and you deserve it.

This kind of selectivity and refinement in everyday life ends up supporting a low-footprint lifestyle, so it’s a win for the planet as well as for you.