One good reason for having a good clear out is space. Most people have too much “stuff” and, so they believe, not enough space. As the average house size has increased, so has consumption. Anywhere there is space, it gets filled. But to what end? How much do we actually use and how much is it more of a burden to hold onto it than it is to get rid of it?
Nowhere is this more obvious than in the proliferation in more recent decades of public storage. Now we not only fill our homes and garages with mounds and mounds of stuff, we pay to rent a space for our stuff! Often, it is thought this will be temporary, but it isn’t long until enough time goes by that you’ve paid more to store the stuff than it’s worth. At this point we have truly become slaves to our stuff, working to house things we don’t need, want, or ultimately really care about.
Part of my story with stuff now is my husband’s stuff. For myself, I have moved so often I’ve been forced to pare down my stuff a fair bit, though it seems to mate and reproduce in the dark somehow. My husband, on the other hand, has not really had to do this. He had his stuff in storage for almost a decade. When we moved recently and bought a storage container (our current housing is very small), we moved his stuff into that along with other stuff that we don’t have space for right now. I have been going through a lot of it and filled the small dumpster a couple of times and we’ve taken several loads to the second hand shop. We have even sold a few things on eBay.
The point is, much of what he had stored was either junk in the first place or had become outdated in one way or another. It would have been better to have got rid of it sooner than spend close to $5K on storing garbage.
There is a sense of clinging with all this hoarding of things. Everything you buy is destined to become garbage, so it’s best to think of it as garbage from the start. Is this something you really need, or simply more future garbage to junk up your life (and the planet) with? Are you merely a consumer, or a mindful inhabitant of the earth?
I think the recent fascination with minimalism is a reaction to this over consumption. People are feeling bloated and over full as any form of gluttony leads to this feeling. While we do not need to go full on minimalist, I think it comes as a kind of relief, like a temporary fast that allows one to come back to the table refreshed, rather than still bloated from the last feast. As a habitual practice, this helps to keep the mind clear and to guard against excess. It isn’t hard to see the application to consumerism as a form of gluttony. The storage unit that serves no other purpose than to hold onto “stuff” is the ever expanding waistline of the glutton. The overflow of stuff has nowhere to go but in some expansion or other.
My husband was (understandably) a little apprehensive at first. It can be difficult enough to let things go, but more so to allow someone else to make those decisions. But as I went through, getting rid of obvious garbage (old bank statements from bank accounts that no longer exist, for example) and making piles of things for him to go through himself, thereby making the job easier for him, I think I can say he started to enjoy the process. I do believe that things can begin to act as an albatross around one’s neck, and that casting it off is a relief. Some burdens are unknown until they are lifted. You never know what physical symptoms might be due to some spiritual burden.
It may sound far-fetched, but if enough people decided to stop being consumer-slaves, to become mindful of what they gather into their lives, and not to bring in so much junk, perhaps people would be less selfish, less greedy, and more peaceful and empathetic. If “the wages of sin is death”, then it would also be true that “the wages of virtue is life”. It is always better to be mindful than to be mindless, whether with regard to ‘big’ things or ‘small’ things. A cliché it may be, but true nonetheless; a giant oak from a small acorn grows.