I fall into the trap of thinking more, newer, shinier is better. When a new phone generation comes out, I am counting down the days when I can trade my working phone in. If I am purchasing a new product, I always check to see when the company plans to release an updated version to avoid buyer’s remorse. One thing I dislike is buying a new gadget and finding out I could have waited a week for a newer one. Buying multiple devices to do one thing in my kitchen happens. I sometimes feel more is better.
Having a child changed my perspective. When the house started to get cluttered with toys, I realized more is not better. Less really is more.
It was at the height of the Kon-Mari craze that I realized clutter was getting in the way of my satisfaction. But it wasn’t just physical clutter; it was mental clutter as well. I spoke about this in my two-part post about toxic relationships.
Sometimes I jam up my physical and mental space with a lot of stuff to feel distracted and in control. Upon reflection, I realize I am more out of control with the more stuff I accumulate.
The Drive For Things
It’s a much longer post to dissect the human drive for “things.” Rather than doing a deep dive into psychological research on a macro-level, I want to reflect on my own experience accumulating “stuff.”
I think I, like many other people, buy into the idea that more is better and better makes me happy. It’s necessary to make that statement in the present tense because it is something I am currently working on. For example, I am attending a wedding soon. I feel a cultural drive to go out and buy a brand new dress for the occasion. I have at least one acceptable dress, yet I still feel this strong urge to get a new one.
Why is that? I honestly can’t explain it, and in light of recent celebrity events, purchasing a new dress isn’t environmentally sustainable.
I can’t help but feel like I am committing a social faux pas if I don’t buy a new dress. The bride doesn’t care; the groom doesn’t care, and no one but myself cares over this relative trifle matter. Yet the drive for more is there.
This drive for things is standard, at least for a person living in America. Our country grounded itself in Manifest Destiny, the journey forward, and for more resources. I do not imagine a cultural push towards accumulation; it is there, telling me I am discontent with what I have. Western culture, at large, thrives on materialism.
Each time I want a newer phone, a newer kitchen gadget, a newer dress, I am engaging in that cultural drive for more stuff. But what happens when I get what I want?
According to science, wanting is all well and good, but our reasons for wanting material goods is problematic. We want things because we think that a new item will make us happy. Often, it does not because it does not solve the core issue: what makes us discontent. My wanting a new dress is stemming from a desire to show off something new. But will that make me happy? Probably not.
Instead, I will feel bad for wasting resources on an article of clothing that I will either wear once or rarely.
With a chronic illness, we are limited in our resources. For some, our financial resources are low due to care costs, and for most of us, our mental resources are little due to the disease.
We do not have the space for clutter. Yet, somehow I can convince myself a second slow cooker will be helpful around the house. Granted, it was an Instant Pot, and it has been beneficial, but now my older slow cooker is taking up precious space.
Having extra things causes me anxiety, and that’s normal. I feel anxious every time I walk into the house and see something out of place. I am not looking for pristine perfection in my house, but not feeling overwhelmed by items would be nice.
It is the same with my mental clutter. When I have too much going on in my mind, too many things “to-do,” worries about social mistakes, or just general messy thoughts, I get anxious.
I believe, for me, accumulating stuff and thoughts are ways to control the environment around me. I’ve talked about my need for control before and how illusive control is in life. If I keep buying stuff, maybe some of those items will make my life easier. Often, they end up collecting dust because I go back to my old way of doing things. I end up wasting time, money, and learn nothing about how I don’t need to fix something that isn’t broken.
If I am looking to be more efficient with something, chances are I don’t need a new item, but can be creative with what I already have. When I am more resourceful, I find pleasure in the challenge and a solution that works.
Likewise, I clutter my mind by distracting myself with reading, gaming, and wasting time online because I don’t want to be alone with some of my thoughts. Occasional distraction is good, but we’re talking about spending days trying to keep my mind so distracted to avoid dealing with an issue.
Reflecting on Moderation
So far, the best solution I’ve found for myself is to begin stripping down my life. I realized this in December 2019, before the Christmas Holiday. A holiday that embraces material excess, I recognized the need to move things out of the house before bringing in new stuff. We never excessively celebrate Christmas, but bringing in two new items is still two new things that need space.
Ash and I started to assess what we needed and what we could live without. Unfortunately, the first section was our books. We have hundreds of books that we don’t read, but take up space. We stripped down most of our collection, and I bought a Kindle PaperWhite. Another item! However, I can access most of the books I purged and utilize the local library online. I traded hundreds of books, hundreds of pounds of items, and multiple shelf spaces for a small, lightweight gadget.
So while I still engaged in materialism, I did so in a smarter way. Rather than buying a new book that I may not read, I can borrow it when I am ready to read it, and it remains in a digital space. Since taking this small step towards moderation, I feel more relaxed. I have more space to store other items, and I no longer feel the need to acquire more physical books.
I am living in one extreme, with too much stuff, and I am taking small steps towards moving towards the middle. I feel more in control because of it. I think because I am decreasing my desire to chase after things and reflecting on an intelligent way to spend my money.
Likewise, with my thoughts, I am forcing myself to confront them more often. I still distract myself, but I make an effort to tackle a “to-do” item or soothe a negative thought at least once a day. The more I do in a day, without feeling overwhelmed, the better I feel.
I am becoming balanced because I am learning to embrace moderation and appreciate the value of “less is more.”
Attention to Chronic Illness Bloggers!
The MS Mommy Blog is looking to collaborate with other chronic illness bloggers for this year. If you have a chronic illness blog and would like an opportunity to tap into the MS Mommy Blog audience, please contact me here. I look forward to hearing from you.
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