OFF THE CUFF

We Americans are well known for our love of excess.

From much of the world’s viewpoint, we have more than we need of pretty much everything. TV shows like “American Pickers” highlight that fact and even glorify it to some extent, because having a lot of “stuff” is, well, interesting in a weird sort of way.

While my wife Wendy and I don’t have outbuildings packed to the rafters with things we’ve “collected” for decades (like the folks pickers Mike Wolf and Frank Fritz regularly deal with on their popular show), we also haven’t entirely been exceptions to the “stuff” dilemma. But rather than blindly clinging to tons of stuff that does little other than occupy space, we’ve truly come to enjoy avoiding having more stuff than we need, and have taken action to promote a sustainable version of that idea.

The bottom line is, we have over the years become big fans of the concept of less-is-more, and we now don’t feel comfortable with too much.

Incidentally, I recently heard a home construction expert say that the people often build or buy their first home for “an enemy,” their second for “a friend” and their third for themselves. Roger that. We’ve gone through those early stages and come out the other side, and we now live in a small, single-level dwelling that doesn’t even have enough room for “too much” stuff.

Not that there isn’t still a challenge involved to fend off backsliding in the stuff realm. Since we’ve downsized the space significantly, it’s now more crucial than ever to be aware of the stuff quotient in our lives.

In other words, we simply must make sure that unnecessary items of clothing or kitchenware don’t weasel their way into our space, and we have to constantly be wary of those clever knickknack gnomes who thrive on sneaking things onto shelves and into drawers with total disregard for common sense and logic.

But really, back when we were in major stuff-removal mode, each and every time we put together another bag or box of stuff to go away, we couldn’t help but ponder why much of it existed. It’s like, why again do we have this old lazy Susan or this rusty hood ornament we never use?

That said, I’d like to offer some advice by way of an opinion to anyone who might be victimized by the stuff bug: There is a wondrous freedom in eliminating excess stuff from one’s life. It’s so refreshing to be able to actually see everything that’s inside a cupboard or storage shed, and it feels great to step into a closet and not be thoroughly overwhelmed by its contents.

Of course, I take pondering this issue to the next level and I’ve done a little analysis as to why possessing excess stuff in general is so integral to American society. I guess it’s at least in part because of a more-is-better mindset, and I think “more” is often justified with a number of largely irrational motivations, like status, success and even security.

It’s like, worldly possessions build esteem and assuredness of wellbeing. I think there’s even a wholeness aspect involved – like if a piece of stuff goes away, a portion of someone’s collective entirety goes, too, and there’s a hesitance to face that discomfort.

But I, for one, am calling out the whole “stuff” thing, and taking satisfaction in an ongoing de-stuffing program. My wife and I might never attain “minimalist” status, but we’ve consciously culled, trimmed, pared, diminished and generally reduced in pretty much every way we can think of.

And we’ve done it the only way I believe it can be done: Without hesitation or regret. And let me say that we probably don’t even remember most of the stuff that has gone bye-bye, let alone miss it.  

Anyway, I can truthfully say that as a result of our focus on a strict stuff-reduction program, our home and property feels lighter, airier and less cluttered, and the whole process has proven very rewarding. But I can also say it’s a continuous work in progress, and one that can’t be neglected.

Otherwise, there will suddenly be too many pairs of shorts in the dresser and then the knickknack gnomes will likely seize the opportunity to mount an offensive. And we don’t want that.

Doug Davison is a writer, photographer and newsroom assistant for the Houston Herald.

Email: ddavison@houstonherald.com.

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