Friday, August 10, 2012


"The nicest thing you can say to me about my home is that it's homey, and people say it all the time. I like it. And at a certain point, I can't say when, I realized I didn't really give a damn about any of it." 

- Anna Quindlen, Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake

So we moved.

We moved, and it was hard and stressful and exhausting, but you've moved too, so you already knew all of that.

What you may not have known is that prior to the move, I spent hours researching rental homes. I made pro and con lists. I sketched to-scale designs of nearly every living space, picked out paint colors, bought new rugs, and sold a few unnecessary possessions on Craigslist.

In short, I became a bit obsessed, and right in the middle of it all, I heard this sermon and read Anna Quindlen's book.

They came at just the right time.

Don't misunderstand: I don't think there's anything wrong with having pretty things and picking out nice furniture (you've saved up for) and making a house look more like a home.

I love all of those things.

But I sometimes forget it's just stuff.

"I now feel I know the truth about possessions," writes Quindlen, "that they mean or prove or solve nothing. Stuff is not salvation."

We live in an era of Facebook and blogging and Pinterest, and we are bombarded with inspiration and glossy magazines and Photoshopped pictures of immaculate living rooms with sheepskin rugs.

Perfection claims to exist, and that's a difficult standard to meet when the laundry's piling up and chicken noodle soup boiled over in the kitchen. (True story.)

I bought some really cute new things for our cottage, items I'm happy I purchased because we saved for them and because I think they'll last longer than the stuff we brought with us from college.

But it's still stuff, and it doesn't make my life better or worse.

I think that's the biggest lie I've bought into, because I'm a firm proponent of retail therapy, of a rewards-based system in which the occasional "prize" is necessary for a stressful task completed and a job well done. (I wrote about my "prize mentality" here.)

All the prizes in the world, though, won't change my reality. As Quindlen says, we've bought into this idea that  "House Beautiful should be subtitled Life Wonderful."

It's unfortunate, because life is already wonderful, even without Target shopping trips and new red suede shoes. (Yes, I want a pair, even while writing this post.) 

I don't really need anything else, and I think that's what I've got to remember, especially this fall, when our finances change a little bit, and we find ourselves living on slightly less than we lived before.

The thing is, even when we're living on less, we're living so far above what so many people live on each year. It's embarrassing, almost, how much we make and how wealthy we are in the grand scheme, and I think I need to be humbled and realize: We already have what we need, and it's far more than what most people have.

During our move, I was so disappointed in the amount of stuff we had, but weren't even aware of. When you move, you pack up boxes, and they arrive at your new home, and they multiply. Just when you think you've got one thing unpacked, there are other items lurking in another box around the corner, and it's terrifying when you realize just how much -- and I don't use this term lightly -- CRAP you own.

For a lot of reasons, I'm reevaluating what we have. I'm trying to declutter, to only have those things in my home I find useful and beautiful. After my initial house purchases -- all of which are lovely and which I'm glad I bought -- I'm taking a break from spending. The pullout sofa? We'll save for it, and maybe buy it in time for Christmas. Anything else? It will come in time, maybe, after we purge a little bit and make sure we're not hoarding things no person should ever have.

And for the things we do wind up purchasing this fall, I'm thinking, too, of implementing a "one for one" rule: When I buy a new something -- whether it's a shirt or a pair of shoes or a handtowel or a book -- I get rid of something else.

"When I fall back into the old ways," says Quindlen, "I remember Willem saying on Christmas morning, 'But I already have one.' That's my new mantra, and it applies to almost everything."

I couldn't agree more.


Mel said...

Very well said. I recently moved at the beginning of this month, and I had that exact same reaction to the piles of stuff and boxes in my living room and kitchen and bedroom: embarrassed at having so much that I didn't even realize I had.

Elizabeth Dean said...

It's brave to want less in today's culture. Not only because so much of America (Western culture, really) puts identity in accumulation of things but also because by saying 'I have enough' or 'one for one,' you are simultaneously saying 'I trust God to give me what I need, nothing less but also nothing more.'

It's courageous.

Erin said...

Yes yes yes.
I have been feeling the pressure of having too much "stuff" recently, too. And not really that we have things we don't need, but that I am tempted to buy things I could perhaps do without. Especially clothes: I have never loved shopping before, but I am getting to a place in life where I finally enjoy it. But that means it is also tempting to buy things I don't need.

Leslie Lee said...

Beautiful post, Annie. I love your honesty. I have that same mentality too often, too - that if we've just gotten through a long month, then when pay day rolls around I "deserve" a trip to Target. Ugh.

Jules said...

Wonderful post, Annie. And just when I was going to say that, the comments just blew me away, especially Elizabeth's.

Tiffany said...

I'm in the same situation right now. I'm getting ready to move overseas and I have to fit everything I want for the next 10 months in 2 suitcases. I'm amazed at the amount of stuff I've accumulated that will be sitting in my parents' home until next July. Thanks for sharing!

Melanie said...

annie, your writing is beautiful, the words just flow and dance until they become something great.

Megan Stilley said...

Good post. I am coming to the same realization lately. And it is so freeing.

Chantel Klassen said...

Mmm, this is so where I'm at. We've been at our current place for 2.5 years and I can't believe how much stuff we have acquired. I've been purging a lot in the last few months but it hardly feels like I am getting anywhere. I like the one-for-one rule, I'm implementing that now!

Sierra said...

Yes, I needed to read this post. Thank you.
After living in Africa, I told myself I was going to stop having so much "Crap" --because that is what it is-- and then months later, I found that I started accumulating it again. I am in the process of moving right now too and this same exact thing went through my head yesterday! If it makes you feel any better, I can definitely relate!