Less is More

modern anatomy

Lately, I've been on a purging spree. It’s not uncommon for my refrain to be “Get rid of it!” when asked about just any item in the house. I might have a problem. I have recently been looking at all manner of things I use on a daily basis and really quizzing myself, “Do I NEED that?” The extra stuff is really getting to me. It seemed that as soon as we moved into a big house (2500+sq.ft.) eighteen months ago, we have acquired all manner of extra junk. It just shows up---donations, presents, hobbies we hoped we would have---all over, gathering dust in corners, and overtaking the garage. Maybe we just have trouble saying no? Do you have this problem? If someone gives us a gift, we are thrilled and grateful they thought of us. And we (sort of) like DIY projects, so we end up with extra furniture that needs to be refinished and two clawfoot tubs. Perhaps we like to revel in the possibility of it all. We don't buy the golf clubs and tennis rackets because we WANT them to sit in our garage. We think that they will make us happy. We buy our kid even more toys because of course, more is more, and that will make him happy.

But is it? Instead I feel stressed by all the projects yet to be finished, the renovations that aren’t complete, and all the hobbies I never pursued. Instead of feeling like I am living up to my potential, I feel the opposite, like I am failing at doing it all.

Jordan, from Oh Happy Day, had a great quote the other day about purging:

"I’m by no means a minimalist but I’ve realized lately that everything

we own just takes up space and that it takes time to manage it all.

The less stuff you have, the more time you have. "

That's the element that is missing in all the forgotten hobbies in our 'Closet of Broken Dreams' (Literally, our master closet is where we hide all the things we used to enjoy, including but not limited to musical instruments, cameras, darkroom equipment, snowboards, and broken bicycles.) We never made the time for all those interests; merely just buying the item doesn't give you the time.

I was trying to describe to my husband the other day the happiness derived from small pleasures when I lived in my little (less than 500 sq.ft) apartment in Wicker Park. I can remember buying flowers one afternoon at the farmer's market. They were yellow daisies, and I put them in the middle of my tiny two-person kitchen table. And every day when I walked by them, I smiled. Once I bought a poster from a sale at the Art Institute downtown, and that poster, in my hallway, gave me more pleasure than most of the things currently in my house. Those two items, the flowers and the poster, I interacted with more on a daily basis since they made a big impact in my small space. Now, even when I go through the effort of framing a photograph, say of Charley and I, it gets lost in all the space we have. Sometimes I even forget I have it. We have rooms that are sitting empty, and bathrooms we don't even use, and after eighteen months, I am starting to feel that more isn't more, and you can really buy a house that's too big.

It seems I have become an over-buyer of sorts. I don’t buy thirty boxes of tissue, and actually Costco makes me nervous, but I tend to purchase things I think I will need for the future. Those items could be a bathtub for future renovations that haven’t happen or a fancy stroller for when we move to a city. Except we never moved to a city, and we still haven’t renovated that bathroom. Even today, I found myself thinking about buying another bike for when I’ll be cruising the streets of D.C. or Brooklyn, and I had to step back and think, but when will that even be? You could say I have trouble living in the moment. I constantly have that feeling of ‘my life will start when’ ______. When I move, get a job, have another kid (or not). I struggle to recognize and appreciate the moment as it is.

In an effort to slow down and appreciate life, I have to realize I can’t do all those different hobbies. So what am I really passionate about? I’ve been reading “The Happiness Project” by Gretchen Rubin and she has a great simple quote (adapted here to reflect the writer, er, me). “Be Shannon." A huge part of that is realizing my interests are not everyone else’s. I’ve never been much into sports; I would love to play tennis again one day, but the last time was over seven years ago. I truly love photography, but I no longer have the time available to do photography how I wanted to, processing the film, carefully weighing each decision and step. Instead I keep that hobby in a small way. I try to capture the little everyday moments with my son that might otherwise get lost in the cracks. I loathe staged family portraits and would much prefer to remember that on a random Wednesday afternoon he played trains at seven A.M. in his pajamas and the pajamas were red and had fire trucks on them; they were his favorite.

There's a part in the book where she talks about the too much stuff phenomenon. A little boy plays with his blue car everyday, takes it everywhere, and loves it to pieces. His grandmother comes to visit and sees how much joy is derived from this one car, so she goes out and buys him ten more little blue cars. He immediately stops playing with any of them. When she asks him why he replies, "It's because I can't love all the cars."