Zen and the art of stuff

Ending materialism doesn’t mean forsaking all your possessions. Ridding yourself of everything you own would only prove you are still too preoccupied with possessions themselves. Someone who has developed a healthy inner world would see possessions as neutral. This shift is more about attitude than specific actions. ~ Scott H Young

Growing up, I moved every few years because my dad was in the military.  Each time we moved, we had a big moving sale.  While over time I slowly purged most of my old things, I always felt it was important to hold on to certain things from my past. This weekend I helped my mom clean out my old room before she moves.  When I moved to Virginia Beach two years ago, I knew I didn’t have room for all my belongings.  I boxed up everything I couldn’t use at the time and my mom stored all of it in my old closet.

I’ve mentioned before on my blog that I moved six times between 2000 and 2008.  I was never one to stay in one place very long.  Now that I am in a good place in life and love my location, I plan to move into a new place and stay as long as possible.  This new space requires some major downsizing on my part.  It’s time to simplify on a whole new level.

Minimalism vs. Materialism

My Google Reader is filled with great posts about Minimalism. It is a huge movement in our generation.  Rightly so.  Sometimes we become attached to stuff and we allow the stuff to control us. As Chuck Palahniuk wrote in Fight Club: “[…] you’re trapped in your lovely nest, and the things that you used to own, now they own you.”  I think some of us see our friends and family struggle with needless debt while they keep up with the Joneses and we don’t want to be there in ten years. Sometimes we also hold on to old things because we do not want to let go of the past. We grip tightly to that book or toy or outfit or whatever it is because we cannot allow ourselves to move on.

As I get older, my values change and evolve. What I valued at 10 is not at all what I value at 27; therefore, the things I value now are not the things I valued at 10.  I am also a Pisces.  I am sentimental sometimes to a fault.  I sometimes feel that when I let go of the thing, I will leave part of myself behind. I know memory is often fallible. I feel if I give away a gift from a friend of family member, I will forget those memories created around the object. I will no longer have a salient cue to remind me of those experiences I had with those people who are so important to me.

I believe moving from one end of a spectrum to the opposite side of the spectrum can become a form of attachment in and of itself because we become obsessed with the idea of not being, doing or owning something. So how can we find the middle ground between Material and Minimalism? I don’t think I will ever be a pure minimalist for various personal reasons.  I do know I have to look inward, reflect and ask myself, “What do I keep and why do I keep it?”

How I simplified and still kept my Pottery Barn dishes


Barrie Davenport from Love Bold and Bloom wrote an excellent guest post on this topic at Zen Habits: How to Simplify When You Love Your Stuff. She says to consider some “parameters” when thinking about things and to ask yourself if:

  • It brings beauty into your life and stirs your soul.
  • It supports a passion or hobby.
  • It helps bring family and friends together in a creative, meaningful way.
  • It educates and enlightens.
  • It makes life profoundly simpler so that you can pursue more meaningful things.
  • It helps someone who is sick or incapacitated.
  • It is useful and necessary for day-to-day life.
  • It’s part of a meaningful tradition or a reminder of a special event.

Spot. On.  Thinking about my belongings in the context of those parameters makes perfect sense to me.  After some deep breathes, tears, smiles, laughs and long talks with my mom, I decided to keep about 1/4 of the stuff in that old room.

  • I kept my nice Pottery Barn dishes because I will use them for the dinner parties I plan to host in the future with my friends and family.
  • I kept a set of gorgeous pottery someone very special to me brought back from Japan.
  • I kept some of my old books I cannot imagine leaving behind yet.  Most of these books were gifts from loved ones.  Each book represents how much I value relationships, education, learning and growth of mind, body and spirit.
  • I kept a small box of love letters, cards and notes I’ve collected since 1997.  They stir my soul and will always be beautiful reminders of the incredible love in my life.  An old card from my grandmother saying she is proud of me, a letter from my Dad signed with Love when I was in middle school, five handwritten pages from my mother before I went to college and a love letter from someone I almost married are worth more than gold.
  • I kept this Mr. Punch poster that Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean autographed.  It is a beautiful piece of art to me because Neil Gaiman is my favorite writer, Dave McKean is one of my favorite artists and The Tragical Comedy or Comical Tragedy of Mr. Punch was one of the first graphic novels I loved as a teenager.
  • I also picked out a few stuffed animals that carry with them cherished memories of times with my family and friends.

The rest of my things are going in a yard sale, on ebay, to a shelter for victims of domestic violence, to the library and to the local fire station.*

It feels good to know more about what I value as an adult.  It feels good to leave certain aspects of the past behind me.  It feels even better knowing my mom only has five boxes to move from that room instead of twenty.  I know I need to let go of certain things so I can move on.  It is OK to have stuff when I understand why I have that stuff.  I can hold on to a thing that makes my soul shine a little brighter, when it makes me smile, when I can share it with my friends and family or when it reminds me of the most important people in my life.

It’s all about balance and introspection, isn’t it?  It’s all about Zen and the art of everything.


Not sure what to do with your old toys?  Call your local police department, fire department, domestic violence shelter and children’s hospital to see if they accept toy donations.  You never know when a child or teenager might end up in a tough situation without something to comfort him.  You can also check out these great charities: Project Night Night and Stuffed Animals for Emergencies (SAFE).  And a quick tip: Your kids aren’t going to want your toys from the 80s.  Have you seen the bad ass toys kids have now?  Right.  I promise your Barbies will be happier if they end up in the hands of a child who just lost all her things in a fire and your own child will be happier with a newer, more anatomically correct Barbie.

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13 thoughts on “Zen and the art of stuff

  1. I have been going through boxes lately and relate to so many points you brought up. But you sound so eloquent compared to the thought process I’ve been going through for each item! :)
    I’m truly relating to your blog topics – you have a new fan. Thank you.

    1. Well welcome to my blog! Look forward to getting to know you more. Sadly, I’m taking a bit of a break this semester, but will have some guest posts and end of the month review posts to tide people over. :)

  2. Hey, just wanted to say nice post. Really enjoyed it.

    Funny thing was that today, I was packing up some stuff for storage to place it out of my daily life. Sooner or later, I’ll get rid of it. Keeping my daily life free of clutter is more important to me than keeping my storage places free of clutter.

    I’d like to say I hold a minimalist view but my storage places would say otherwise. I’m not nearly as bad as my parents and some of my friends though.

  3. I’m a horder because I like to keep small keepsakes and memories. Growing up, my mom would throw away everything. Nothing was ever mine and anything that was worth remember was either gone or not in my possession.

    I keep things to remember the good times. But I also know that I should throw out things too to make room for great times to come.

  4. I LOVE your perspective and approach, and love the value you place on things of beauty. It’s important to recognize those “things” that bring us joy and help connect us to the people in our lives, even if it is a part of that group of things we just call “stuff” – I love this perspective, thanks for sharing this and for the reminder that there’s a way to do everything that’s right for each person and that taking that liberty is important to honor :)

  5. I was a pack rat growing up, and those tendencies have followed me into my adult life. Now it’s an annoying trait that I constantly battle. I’m getting much better at purging – I just need to cease with the stockpiling of anything and everything.

  6. Is it possible to be the dead opposite of a hoarder? Because I feel like I compulsively PURGE my things. I have a theory on why this started, whereas I used to hold onto everything. Perhaps I should blog about it?

    My husband, on the other hand, holds onto everything and anything. Perhaps I’ll print off your post and give it to him for his own keep or purge parameters!

  7. :) This reminds me of my grandpa’s garage. He swears it’s perfectly organized, but I have no idea how he finds anything. Storage space is good in that you can hold on to things you might use later on when you have more room. I think the key is to do what is right for you. We are all different. Thanks for stopping by!

  8. I loved your post inspired by this one… and by Doni’s. I think we all have different paths in life and sometimes it’s good to know that what is important to one person may not be important to another. :) Finding a happy medium between attachment and detachment is what I’m trying to do now. It’s not easy though!

  9. I started making scrapbooks to help me purge certain things like movie tickets, magazines, concert tickets, etc. I end up collecting every freaking thing because it is sentimental, but the last five years or so I’ve taken my favorite things like that and made scrapbooks which take up less space. I also stopped telling people I “collect” anything so they would stop buying me stuff. Hehe. It’s tough though!

  10. It’s true that we all have different needs and desires. We all have to figure out what is healthy for us and what is right for us, like you said. :) Maybe one day I’ll look back on this post and have a completely new perspective. We change. And I love that we change! I am just glad that today, in this moment, I figured out what “stuff” is most important to me. I’m also happy that I figured out the love I have for certain belongings is really more about my relationships with people.

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