Have you ever found a book passage that seemed custom-written for you?
While perusing Slave to Happiness: Why Having an Interesting Life is the New American Dream by Penelope Trunk, I stumbled over this paragraph in the chapter titled “Testing the Meaning of Money and the Value of Stuff”:
So much of what we human beings hold on to is what we wish we were using — aspirational clutter. Objects that commemorate a life we aspire to but do not have.
I’ve had a version of this thought running around in my head for the past two weeks. I’ve expressed my exasperation to the husband that sometimes it feels like our house is simply a museum for stuff, a storage bin for the trappings of suburban life.
There’s a reason they’re called trappings: Get yourself a houseful of stuff and see how much it stresses you out to even CONSIDER packing it all up to move.
We all seem to find ourselves using the “what if” mentality when it comes to belongings. What if I ever have 12 people over for a sit-down dinner? (Note: If I invite 12 people over for a sit-down dinner, call your local psychiatrist because, seriously, 12 people?) What if I decide to take up embroidery again, despite the fact that the activity bored me to no end the first time? What if I decide to make homemade Twinkies with that specialty pan, despite the fact that the only homemade Twinkies I ever made were nearly as atrocious as the real thing?
What if I never saw this stuff again?
People attach artificial value to a lot of things they never use and really wouldn’t miss if they were gone.
We’ve essentially made ourselves immobile. Scale up in home size, scale up in things to fill it. And I don’t mean Hoarders amounts of stuff, I mean bookshelves filled from end to end, cabinets filled with things that rarely see use and plastic boxes — neatly stacked in closets, mind you — filled with decorations and accessories that we’ve either tired of (for now, we tell ourselves) or just don’t work in our current situation (for example, we haven’t had a Christmas tree in 15 years because of the cats, but we do have a box filled with lights and a few ornaments because, you know, one day …).
The funny thing? That rare moment when you DO find that you need the stitch-puller that you remember packing away with the rest of the sewing supplies even though you never sew? You WILL NOT be able to find it because of all the other stuff you’ve got neatly stored, just in case you ever need it.
It’s lunacy, really, the way we stockpile our homes and clutter our lives and minds with physical objects that have little use or meaning. We trap ourselves in suburbia with 2,000 square feet of china cabinets, storage ottomans and under-the-bed sweater boxes, never considering the opportunities we might freely pursue if we didn’t have to worry about the stuff spread all over the house, the tiny apartment in the big city we might move to if we only didn’t have hundreds of books and an inexplicable assortment of old, unused electronics.
Maybe it’s time to refocus our aspirations so that our “aspirational clutter” isn’t clutter at all, but only the things we use, love and enjoy.
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