Stuff, it sometimes seems, is who we are. We produce it and measure our worth in its production. We buy and sell it and measure our success in its exchange. We own it, use it and replace it, and measure our happiness in its possession and acquisition. We often confuse obtaining more stuff with bettering ourselves, so new stuff becomes equated with self-improvement.
And yet, if all that is true, we seem to be ignoring some important parts of ourselves. What does it say, for example, that so much of our stuff is disposable? Having no longevity, no staying power, sacrificing quality for convenience.
What does it say that we have so much stuff built for one and only one purpose? Our kitchens and closets are cluttered with highly specialized gadgets, many of which are used only once a month, or even once a year. I don't doubt the convenience of a food processor, but do we need a blender, an immersion blender, a food processor, a juicer, a mortar and pestle, a mandolin, spice grinder, coffee grinder, and a Magic Bullet? Every house has an oven, yet we feel the need to augment this with a toaster oven, microwave, bread maker, crock pot, and pressure cooker. Any one of these items is perfectly reasonable, but is it reasonable to have all of them?
What does it say about us that we always want everything to be brand new? As soon as something develops its first nick or mar, it begins to bother us, to weigh heavily on our subconscious as if the mar were a blemish on our very souls. Nothing we own is allowed to have any history, any meaning beyond itself. Nothing is allowed the taint of a previous owner, nor any significance beyond its immediate purpose.
In the last month, I have come to realize that it is exceedingly rare that we actually need new stuff. When we challenge our selves just a little, we find that we can use things which are marred, we can fix things which are broken, we can buy things which have been owned by a stranger before us, and we can even make smoothies and pesto without a Magic Bullet. Most amazing of all, when we challenge ourselves, we find that sometimes, we can even do without.
Just as I have been dreaming of less for so many other things, I have been dreaming of less stuff. Less clutter, less trash, less hassle, less mess. I have been dreaming of things which serve many purposes, eliminating the need for other stuff.
I have been dreaming of buying everything used which can be bought used. I dream not just of less stuff in my home, but in the human world as a whole, and second hand goods eliminate the need for more new stuff. In a sense, an item can be divided by the number of people who have owned it, so that I own 1/5 of a couch, 1/4 of a dining set, 1/3 of a coffee table, 1/6 of an armchair.
I have been dreaming, longingly, of storage spaces that are clearly organized, free of clutter, full without being stuffed. I dream of all my spaces being clear of stuff, the surfaces in my house being almost empty when not in use. I dream of having one of everything I need and none of anything I don't.
I dream of a life which is occupied by a small amount of highly useful, durable, beautiful stuff that I love to use, to look at, to care for. I dream of meeting my every need with as little material as possible, and not coveting that which I do not need. I dream of a home in which all of my stuff improves my quality of life, and anything which does not is banished forever from my home.
Courtney and I have been moving actively toward this dream for some time now, and after many purges of stuff followed by periods of buying nothing new, we have achieved a level of stuff which is well bellow average, but there is much work left to be done before we are living the dream that we are dreaming. The journey, so far at least, has been liberating and joyous, and the less we use to meet our needs (both real and invented) the better we feel about our stuff.