Prior to August 2018, if anyone had asked me if I had a lot of ‘stuff’ I would have said no. However, when we started packing up our house in earnest in August, I realised that would have been a lie. When we took things out of drawers, cupboards, and closets etc. there was ‘stuff’ everywhere. Somehow in the five and a half years, my husband and I lived in our house we had accumulated a lot of ‘stuff.’ Hubby would say most of it was mine. The thing is, I was constantly throwing out and giving away stuff on one hand but on the other hand I was consuming and bringing home stuff too.
I am using the word ‘stuff’ intentionally. Stuff for me is an accumulation of materials, items, articles, things that you have, possibly seldom use and often times it barely registers that you have it. When we moved from Anguilla to Cambridge, we threw away bags and bags of ‘stuff’ from our home and gave away countless bags of ‘stuff’ to persons who needed it more than we did.
Most of our remaining things are packed away and stored. I strongly suspect that when we get back to Anguilla God willing in a few years, that I am going to choose to throw or give away a lot of what is remaining. Time and distance away from these things would have shown me that I don’t need them.
Hurricane Irma made a lot of people think about the ‘stuff’ in their lives. Persons lost roofs, doors and windows and with it many things in their homes. Many persons said they realised that they don’t need as much as they thought they did or things they thought they could never let go of, they realised that they could.
We sustained no damage to our home during the hurricane but as we packed, I comprehended that so much of the stuff that I had was unnecessary.
Moving from Anguilla to Cambridge, United Kingdom
In fact, we moved 3500 miles away and we only traveled with what could fit into a few suitcases. In terms of personal items other than clothes and accessories, I only chose to walk with my bible, a journal, two photo albums and a small print which was a gift from my sister. These are all tangible items (which mean something to me) but of course with technology, a bible, a journal and thousands of our photos are only an app way.
When we moved to Cambridge, England I decided to be more intentional about what I bought or brought into our home. Here are five of the lessons I have learned so far.
1. Insight – Children can be content with a lot less than we give them credit for
At home my son had loads of toys and in all fairness he didn’t use a lot of them. However, I still felt guilty when we got here as he only had a few things that I packed. My first instinct was to go to the store and get him some stuff or to go on Amazon and order toys. Surprisingly I restrained myself and within the first weeks I only bought him a bowling set, a soccer ball and a bubble maker. Then I grasped that he would play with whatever he had and he would be content. I gave him 6 rolls of toilet paper and two rolls of napkins to play with and he was happy for an extended period as he built towers, integrated his other toys and used his creativity. I accepted then that I was the one that wanted him to have stuff and that he wasn’t the one requesting stuff.
Of course children today also have technology and this little boy loves his tablet but even when I limit his access to technology he just goes and plays with something else. This article which describes why few toys are a better option for children is interesting. I can definitely agree with a lot of it. Because my son has less things to play with indoors we are also spending more time outdoors which also has tremendous benefits.
2. Resourcefulness -Other people and organisations have ‘stuff’ that you can borrow and then return when you no longer need it.
We live in a culture where we feel that we have to own everything. We don’t like hand me downs and new is always better. These beliefs result in us constantly consuming and constantly accumulating stuff. Children Centres for early years (0-5) are in every community in the United Kingdom. Our children’s Centre carries story sacks which I think are so awesome. You can borrow a story sack for up to two weeks and they have about 30 or 40 to choose from.
So I borrowed a story sack. This is what is in it. We have been having fun with the puppets and the good news is that when we are bored with it, we will simply return it and get a different bag with different goodies and toys to play with. It is like having new toys every week. Am I worried about the fact that so many others have played with the toys. Nope, I am not.
I am also putting our library cards to good use here and we borrow new books regularly to keep us both entertained. There are also services I haven’t tried yet but I might. These include a weekly playgroup where they do toy swapping and twice a month there are sessions for clothing swaps for children 0-8.
3.Wisdom – The more stuff we have the harder it is to leave it behind
When we bought our home almost 6 years ago, I figured it could be like a starter home or that we could expand as our family grew. We may expand our home at some point but the decision so many years ago to get a home with a mortgage that was easily and comfortably within our budget was a game changer. It gave me the freedom to not be forever tied to a job or a country because my mortgage was low enough that with health and strength I could find ways to make the payments. The decision to forego a bigger house and a bigger mortgage meant I could leave Anguilla and travel to a new country with my husband and that type of freedom to be with my family makes me happy.
Everyone’s happiness is driven by something different. The important thing is to know what makes you happy and think about the long term. Resist the urge to compare or to compete. Life changes and new opportunities arise. Give yourself space and room and freedom to be able to change with it.
4. Empathy – Never let stuff define who you are or how you treat others
I currently have a lot less things than I did in Anguilla. We rent. I walk and take the bus. My winter wardrobe is basic. No one knows me here. Sometimes I think of and pray for refugees and all who have to flee their homes with nothing and of all who rebuild their lives one step at a time and one day at a time. Don’t let stuff define who you are or how you treat others. Stuff can disappear in a second but as long as you have life, the characteristics that make you who you are, that make you beautiful and unique will always be able to carry you. Don’t put your trust in stuff ever and don’t put others on pedestals because they have more stuff. Look deeper. It will be worth it.
5. Gratitude – If you have a lot of stuff you have been blessed. Give.
The other day I was in church and the collection plate was coming around. I only had large bills and I contemplated letting it pass. This is pounds we are talking about here after all! Then I remembered how completely and utterly blessed I am and I gave generously. Sometimes when we have a lot of stuff, we want to hold on to it. We want to accumulate more. The thing is though we have been blessed so we can be a blessing to others. Most of us reading have more of everything than we need. Why not find a way to give back. At the end of the day, it is one of the most meaningful things we can do with our lives.
Truth is, I still have a whole lot of growing to do in this area and chances are I will not be able to always resist a great ‘deal’ but being more intentional about what I consume and purchase is changing me bit by bit every day.
What about you? Which point resonated most with you or what do you disagree with? Let me know in the comments below.
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Shelli, I really loved this whole article, I too have way too much “stuff”, accumulated over many years. When my husband passed, I started downsizing, but I have a long ways to go, and I am in no rush. I just wish I had learned at your age, that it is not necessary to have a different outfit for every day of the month, just to impress people. At the time, that was important to me, it no longer has any meaning. I am on a fixed income, and I give what I can, to charities, mostly shelters, homeless, food banks, things of that nature, I feel it is important to give back.
I admire your great attitude, and your uplifting posts, thank you very much for your time, I look forward to hearing more about your life “across the pond”.
Best to you always,
Thanks so much for continuing to read even though some of my posts will no longer be directly about Anguilla. I am enjoying branching out into different topics though. For a long time I felt the same that I could not wear the same outfit twice within a certain time frame but I have definitely let that go. In life it is true that we just accumulate without even fully realizing it. I am sure you and your husband collected tons of memories in the form of things over the years and those would be hard to part with. I agree, take your time and I hope your stuff eventually finds a home with others who will value it as much as you do. I love the charities and causes you have chosen to give back to. That is also where my heart lies. Thanks as always for your kind words. They always give me an extra boost. Love Shelly
Very good read. Sometimes we get so consumed by the need to have “stuff” that we lose sight of the things that are truly valuable in life.
Love the article, I’ve realized these five truths a while back when I moved into a small apartment about 15 years ago. When I moved into a bigger space I decided I’m not going to accumulate stuff I don’t need to or don’t use, its still a work in progress but I believe it’s a better way to live for me.
Continue to enjoy life with your family and God bless
Thank you. That is it exactly. When we choose to or when we are forced to give up stuff a new perspective usually emerges. Thanks for reading!