Breaking The Cycle of Stuff

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When I was young, we spent our Sunday afternoons shopping. We would buy tops, rugs, slipper socks, mixed nuts -- anything that tickled our fancy. We would make layaways and then wring our hands in anticipation of the day we would rip open the bald cardboard box, emblazoned with our handwritten last name, to expose its treasures.

We bought a lot of things.

For a family with an apartment in the city, we seemed to have a lot, too -- things in bags behind bedroom doors, things packed neatly, in closets, and things that, to this day, remain unopened.

Valentine towel

Credit Image: Elin B on Flickr

On alternating Sundays, or so it seemed, we'd purge ourselves of the things. Of the seven bags we'd have brought home the week before, five would be returned. I didn't mind much. The store had a snack bar with cheese pizza, Icees, and Galaga, and I always had quarters in my pocket.

These Sundays continued through my youth and into my adolescence, until I became "old enough to stay home alone," where I'd tend to my underdeveloped fantasies of Zack from Saved by the Bell whilst entwined in the ample cord of my touch-tone phone.

I'd beg for Nikes, LL Bean backpacks (which, I argued, wouldn't need to be replaced mid-year), brand-name clothes, and never got any. My First Communion dress was a hand-me-down from a cousin, with an unmended seam down the left side and a rip in the veil.

Despite all the items (coordinating kitchen towels, frying pans, potholders, and kitchen valances) we amassed during my youth, I still didn't have much. There was a definite inequity. We had all this stuff, but still I had nothing. Nothing I wanted, at least. Or so I thought.

All of my friends sported robust Doc Martins. I tried to stifle my jealousy as I winced in pain from my Parade of Shoes knockoffs, stuffed with two layers of Dr. Scholls inserts. Once I'd earned enough to score a sweet pair of John Fleuvog Angels via my part-time job, I had already moved on to heels.

I felt much of the buying over the course of my life wasn't for me, wasn't even for my family. It was just ... a hobby. A compulsion. A diversion.

When I turned twenty-five, I decided I'd have all I'd ever dreamed of having. And I did, courtesy of eBay. I would sell what I no longer needed, then purchase the items after which I lusted. It worked out quite well for a time, scoring small profits here and there, until I became wrapped up in my career, education, friends, and, eventually, marriage and children.

When we bought our first house, my husband and I were compelled to improve it, continually improve it. The walls would bleed (figuratively, of course), and we'd scramble to paint them over. The wind would blow in, and we'd scramble to patch it. The town would come to complain, and we'd scramble to put them at ease. The malaise never ended. We bought, we fixed, we modified, and never gained any measure of peace.

When we finally got out of there (the process of which straddled a thin line between miracle and nightmare), we were scarred. We spent two weeks in a hotel, decompressing, waiting for our next adventure to begin.

We've got a new house that (knock wood) is fully functional on its own. No major (again, knock wood) work has been required to provide a livable environment for us or our kids. There are rugs, but they're not biting my children (yes, that happened), there are doors, but they're not rotted through to the world outside, and there's a basement, but it's not full of partially hidden lies.

During our experience with the last house, I took up Buddhism, recreationally, at least, in an attempt to make sense of our world. I've learned a few things. But the suggestion that's stuck with me the most, is one that we let go of material things to further us on the path to enlightenment. I'm not saying I'm doing that, I'm just saying I'm thinking about it

I'd probably be a lousy Buddhist. But I'm also a mediocre Christian, and a downright terrible Catholic. I'm learning as I go, so you'll have to bear with me.

In our current situation, we truly need nothing. But I must admit it's been hard to temper the "need" for Valentine's Day kitchen towels, Italian Cyprus lined blackout panels with decorative grommets, and wall art depicting bathtubs and the word Savon written in sexy black script.

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