Is More Better?

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. 

Limited Resources

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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surrendering-control

Surrendering Control

As a child, I heard about the importance of surrendering control, especially how it pertained to a higher power. While I spoke a bit on Monday about the importance of giving up control, this post is for those of us who cannot stand the idea of giving up control. When I heard the words “surrender control” growing up, I found that I would internally shudder at the thought. The word “surrender” in this particular context still irritates me years later.

I still haven’t quite identified why I hated the thought of surrendering control, even as a child. I suspect it has something to do with the abject vulnerability that comes from giving up control. I saw that the moments I was most vulnerable, I was also treated as though I was weak. So any display of vulnerability was a display of weakness. Surrendering was the ultimate sign of weakness.

Additionally, growing up, you are beginning to assert your independence. Being told to give up control, just as you are starting to come into control of your own life, feels like so many steps backward. I learned to associate giving up control as infantilizing. I could not differentiate between the “positive” forms of giving up control like going with the flow, and the “negative,” which was micromanaging all aspects of my life.

And so I became a control freak.

How to Give Up Control when You Can’t

It’s all well and good to be told to give up control. It’s one of those “easier said than done” situations.

But when it comes time actually to try and give up control, it can be difficult. I think for those of us who need to be in control are keenly aware of how out of control the world is, so we cling to whatever means to maintain a sense of order. We find areas in our lives we can manage, and even if we manage it poorly, there is some stability in the belief we are in control. 

Humans are masters of deception. Especially self-deception.

So, how do you surrender control?

Not easily, and I wish I were joking about that. This would be one of those areas where, if we could snap our fingers and fix everything, we would do it. I thought if I reflected on it hard enough, it would happen.

But it doesn’t work that way. Giving up control isn’t just a thought-based exercise. It requires active participation. I was seeking for something else to take control from me, even though it wasn’t for it to take, nor was I willing actually to give it. I couldn’t expect anyone, or thing, to take control. 

I, and I alone, could give up the control in my life. But I am like an addict, and to be sure, control is addictive, and addicts struggle to give up their drug of choice. While micromanaging my life brought on only stress, frustration, and health problems, I was unwilling to give up my “drug.”

Once I realized that I was responsible for my own burden, that the only way I would regain control in my life is to let it go, was I able to make a choice needed in the situation.

Now, if you have a higher power, you might say this: my teachings tell me to give up control. Many allegories teach to give to your higher power. Yes, but make sure you are actively giving up control and not expecting your higher power to take control from you. This is the trap I fell into. Make them your focal point, but remember that only you can say “I am going to give up control in this area of my life.”

Often, meditating or praying to that higher power or the universe can give you the strength you need to do so, so keep that in mind as well.

But it really has to be your decision to let go. Acknowledge that you are not in complete control of your life, that you are going to go with the flow, and accept whatever life hands you as graciously as possible.

Clear Head; Healthy Decisions

Control freaks: do you find that your head gets so cluttered with all that you have to do? All that you have to remember? All that you didn’t do, and now you feel frustrated?

The advantage of surrendering control is that it gives you a clearer head. No longer do you have to think about all the parts of your life you need to manage. You get a chance to prioritize what you can control and what you can’t. It allows you to reflect on your life more objectively.

Remember when I talked about not having expectations and accepting everything? No longer do you place expectations on your higher power or life to take control from you (you’ve given it over freely), and therefore, you can accept anything that comes your way. Often we get so wrapped up in controlling everything that we miss out. We might miss an answer we were waiting for, or an opportunity we’ve been wanting because it does not fit into the framework we’ve set up for ourselves.

We can make healthier decisions when we are in an objective head space. We can see what we need when we need it, and why we need it when we aren’t so focused on the minutiae.

Deeper Connections

Seeking a deeper spiritual connection with your higher power, the universe, or life? I found that once I gave up control in my life, truly gave it up, I had a deeper spiritual connection to those around me and the world at large.

I used to get so focused on the minutiae, but each time I slowed down, took the time to relax and go with the flow, I felt more at ease with myself and my placement in the world.

I also find that my compassion deepens for others and myself. My resiliency increases, and I am more accepting of what happens to me and around me. I am more willing to stand up for myself where I never could before, and be selfish in healthy ways.

Once I gave up control, I felt freer and in control, rather than out of control like I assumed I would feel.

Taking the Right Amount of Responsibility

Just as a reminder, when you give up control, you are still responsible for what happens in your life. You might be waiting for an answer, so what happens between asking the question and receiving that answer is your responsibility. We sometimes use giving up control as an excuse to sit around and be inactive. Instead, we should continue to be proactive in our lives. Seek other answers while waiting for a specific one.

Sometimes we don’t get an answer, or it’s not the one we want, and that’s okay. Consider the timing wrong, and ask again later. Look at it as a roadblock, and find a way to adapt around it.

Whatever you do, when you surrender control, view it as a chance to be more free and active in your life.


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