Sunday, November 23, 2008

Mired in Materialism

I feel like I'm in the middle of this maze trying to find my way out to the wide open spaces where I can breathe deeply again. The maze in my life right now consists of all my earthly possessions. After 32 years in this home we are moving. My husband and I realized the other day that this is the first time we've actually moved a typical sized household. When we originally bought this home we were young marrieds with very little materially to our name. I wish I could say that's still true. Oh, don't get me wrong. I'm thankful for the things surrounding me. But I realize I don't really need half of it. And now that we are actually packing, alot of it needs to go. Trying to decide what to keep and what to get rid of is no easy task.

There are things that are difficult to throw out like birthday cards sent a few years ago by my step-mom who has dementia and is now in a care facility. She wrote so eloquently on each card. Or how about the glass plates my mom used when entertaining her friends for lunch in the 50's. The memories associated with my mom using these plates are really vivid. But some of the plates are chipped and I don't use them myself. I now know why people were much slimmer in the 50's. When you went to lunch, you actually ate off an 8 inch lunch-sized plate. Portion control was no problem then.

Then there are the gifts my children made in pre-school like handprints on potholders or Mother's Day cards they made just for me. I think I'll be keeping those. I won't even count the number of CD's we have! Now with ipods, do we really need all these? And how many do we still listen to? Our local library takes donations. Thank goodness!

I keep wondering what would have happened had I not periodically cleaned out closets. At least I went through and got rid of clothes, books, etc. that I didn't need anymore on a fairly regular basis. You hear about people who never throw anything away. A friend of mine actually had to clean out a relative's home who never threw anything away. My friend found a note written by my mother in the 40's...something very insignificant, but this homeowner had saved it along with hundreds of other pieces of paper. I can't imagine having the job of cleaning out a home like that.

My friend, Anne Bauman, a Professional Organizer, reminds me there is a mindset one should have when realizing you need to radically downsize possessions. She says she encourages people to remember they got some use out of the item they are parting with and now someone else will love it and use it too. Somehow it doesn't seem wasteful if you are passing it on to someone else for their benefit.

There is something very freeing about not owning too many things. I'm realizing that in some cases the memories mean more to me than the object. "That was a great book. I remember how much I enjoyed it." Will I read it again? Probably not. I'm feeling the load lightening each day.

Photo: Alexander Rivosh/

Friday, November 21, 2008

Living Beyond Our Circumstances

Our thoughts can swim in two extreme pools, one is fear and the other is gratefulness. We all have a biological instinct of fear. It's what has allowed our species to survive. Fear warns us of eminent danger or reminds us to be cautionary in certain situations. But if allowed to dominate our minds, fear can cripple our lives and limit us. There needs to be a balance between love and fear.

Dan Baker and Cameron Stauth, in their book, What Happy People Know, discuss this concept and observe, "Appreciation is the purest, strongest form of love. It is the outward-bound kind of love that asks for nothing and gives everything. Research now shows that it is physiologically impossible to be in a state of appreciation and a state of fear at the same time. Thus appreciation is the antidote to fear. "

We are living with many unknowns. There is insecurity in the future of our economic system. With seemingly negative news all around us, it can be a challenge to choose to live in appreciation, to look for ways to express love and to be grateful for the aspects of our lives that are in line with our values.

In this season of thanks, what can we choose to appreciate? How can we step out of the chains of fear and find freedom? In the Old Testament in Isaiah 51:3, we read the words,

"The LORD will surely comfort Zion
and will look with compassion on all her ruins;
he will make her deserts like Eden,
her wastelands like the garden of the LORD.
Joy and gladness will be found in her,
thanksgiving and the sound of singing."

In this passage, Jehovah God promises to care for Israel in the midst of the hardships and tragedy they face. Not only is comfort and care promised, but there is an, celebration and thankfulness.

No matter what we are going through, we have the choice to be grateful or to dwell in fear or bitterness over any sorrow we may be experiencing. I hope and pray that you will know the freedom of living beyond your circumstances and dwelling in a place of celebration and joy.

*Baker, Dan and Stauth, Cameron, What Happy People Know, Rodale, Inc., 2003

Photo: Marlene Cabais,