Like most people who live comfortably, we stuff ourselves in our home with too much excess. Some of it is a natural accrual over a few decades worth of living, and some of it comes from not “making do” enough. So, what if we “made do” a little more and gave up more of what we don’t need? What if I could trim the excess of my objects in much the same way I have spent the last two years trimming the excess of my physical body and the excess of my food consumption? Perhaps in living a life of less excess, I could leave less of a footprint on the Earth and more of an ideologically humanistic influence.

Keeping our bonds to material objects in check is not easy, yet this is a lesson that becomes more and more crucial for my kiddos to understand, especially my daughter. It is natural at her age, I suppose, to want almost everything she sees. When we go to Target to buy a present for a cousin, Katie wants dolls of her own. Katie is the child who asks for everything. Eric never does, which is how I am, too. I’d rather die than ask my parents for more than they already give—and I have always felt this way. Sometimes they offer things, and I have had to say no in order to keep them from going overboard—it is a matter of ethics. When you have people who are vulnerable to giving all the time (such as my parents), and when you are smart enough to know that it is their vulnerability, then you have an extra degree of responsibility never to exploit that vulnerability and, in fact, to protect it. But Katie’s not quite there, yet, which makes her normal.

Yet I have also seen her take this too far, where the desire gives way to moments of anxiety if and when we deny her—and I can relate to that. That dress I just cannot get out of my mind? If I buy one more book, it won’t hurt, right? I need to try this new color of nail polish! Sometimes when we crave some new thing, there are moments of flutteriness in the stomach. Often, if we just remove ourselves from the object we desire, that flutteriness subsides, and we realize the craving was just a passing moment of infatuation. I think the easy access to objects of desire make this era of online commerce especially dangerous: removing ourselves from material inundation grows more difficult every day.

Although I am not a hoarder, I am a pack rat. I tend to keep my material objects far too long. Generally I keep them for three reasons:

1) Sentimentality

2) Potential repurposing: I see multiple uses for any object and anticipate needing it for future problem solving

3) Worry of regret in letting it go

The first two reasons may actually be legitimate reasons for keeping various objects. I do not get rid of sentimental objects, though as I have grown older I have realized that I have to be careful about what I allow to become sentimental in the first place. Potential repurposing is also a valid reason to squirrel away parts and pieces of things. What could I make out of this? What if I could use that during a big disaster? There’s nothing amiss with thinking ahead, but I also do need to stay realistic. Am I really going to jerry-rig old lamps and radios and doorhandles and vacuum cleaner parts? I might!

But worry of regret? That’s emotion talking. It’s quite a bit like sentimentality, I suppose, but not quite the same thing. Am I going to regret giving away a pair of heels I have worn maybe twice? Should I have even bought them in first place? Letting things of little use go is, I realize now, a bit like investing in the trust and confidence of my future self. Do I know myself well enough at this point not to keep what I don’t think I will use? And will that be okay? Will I regret letting go of old Martha Stewart magazines (so full of information!! I hate to let go of information!!!), or will I trust my abilities to be able to find the information again when I need it from a new and different source?

So often we bond to material objects out of fear. As if our clothes and magazines and old toys can form enough of a wall between us and really living…

Summer Bucket List item #3: Clean out and donate excess to the Assistance League of Temecula Valley. They sell the items at their thrift shop, Castaways, and the proceeds go to fund their philanthropy Operation School Bell. My mom served in the Assistance League here for years, and I was President of the Temecula Assisteens at one point, also, in high school. Our crew of girls (the ones with whom I served from 8th to 12th grade) actually started the current Assisteens of Temecula philanthropy: Operation Book Worm. It’s cool that our philanthropy is still thriving all these years later. The Assistance League has clothed in new clothes and given backpacks with school supplies to over 25, o00 children in the past 20 or so years. Operation Book Worm supplies books for the backpacks.

In cleaning out our closests, Katie and Eric and I talked about consciously severing the bonds to the things that are “ours.” I would so much rather have them bonded to an abstract ideal—love, goal-setting, kindness, learning, etc—than to things. Things come and go, and they may provide a momentary flash of happiness to procure…and than that’s it, the procurement is done, things idle on shelves or in closets barely getting use. If we bond our happiness to material items, we will never be satisfied or filled. But bonding our happiness to our ideals? Those big universal ideas? We can choose to make those the guides by which we live, and those ideals never have to idle or be shelved. We can live and breathe “passionate living” any moment of the day. We can embrace our freedom, and our joy.

Sure, there were some items in these bags that I wonder if I will need again, or miss. But if I give them away, now, they can be put to use by others who will really use them. Those items will have a purpose, beyond serving my ego or my fear of needing them. Plus, in this case, the proceeds from selling them will also be put to immediate use. My bags were money in my closet, money that can go toward promoting education for children whose families are really struggling. I believe in an educated world and the power of education to make a difference.

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The back of our car was stuffed!

And it was time. As I cleaned my closet, I found a bag of maternity clothes I was still keeping. Although I had gotten rid of most of them before now, I still had my favorites. Two years ago, I would have met that bag with more emotion, still in the stages of “what if” with respect to a third child, despite not planning a third child. When I saw my bag this week, I discovered happily that I am all the way free of “what if.” People often ask me if we’re having a third, and we have planned two. I decided my narrative awhile ago, and I embrace it. It is not just a matter of coming to terms with it, but actually an active and enthusiastic ownership. I am eager and excited to move forward with my kiddos into their elementary school years—they are at such a fun age, and at such a fun age gap—and I am equally excited about what that means, yes, for me. It means getting to reclaim a bit of my hobbies and passions, and therefore myself. It means getting to dedicate my body to athleticism and to pursue some difficult goals without accounting for childbearing. It also means moving forward with them, without pining so much for their newborn days. Part of being in the what-if stage, for me, of a third child was not at all about feeling the necessity of a third child but about feeling the nostalgia for my Eric and Katie’s infancies. As soon as I understood what I was truly feeling, I realized I had to make myself go forward with these children and not stay behind wishing for their early years. Enjoy them now! As they are! 

When I had Eric, I knew our family was complete, and I remember distinctly feeling that while first holding him. I think it is natural for women—whether they have had children or not—to enter a what-if stage. At a certain point, be it none, one, two, three, six, or fourteen children, every woman deals with coming to terms with her reproductivity and the end of that phase, by choice or by force. There are a mix of emotions as we go through that phase, maybe. But whatever our lives are going to be, we have to keep moving forward and enjoying the narrative of it, children or no children. Make the most of our time, however it pans out.

So, goodbye maternity clothes. Even my favorites. I have pictures of me in them, and that’s enough. I don’t need the actual object as a symbol of that time—I have the time itself in my memory. And I have new times coming…

Same thing with more baby/toddler clothes. I had already given some way to family and friends, but this time I went for deeper cuts. I have more to do, possibly, too. Are the kiddos really going to want their first Christmas jammies for their children, or are they going to want the joy of picking out their own style of jammies for the own kids someday? And am I really going to let bags of clothes languish in the garage for another two decades before my kiddos have children? What about the children and parents who could use those clothes NOW? Into the bags they went. Be of usefulness: a theme for this year.

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At the Assistance League!

We feel lighter knowing our items can be put to use for a good cause. There is a proper time for sentimentality, but whatever is sentimental to us should not be so out of fear or out of worry of regret. We have to let go of anything that holds us back or keeps us stuck. I also have found myself pondering at length over the past two years how just using my share—of items, of fuel, and certainly of calories—can maybe start making a difference. Imagine: if I just eat the calories I need to sustain myself and do not eat excess, couldn’t that be a way to make a small, tiny dent in world hunger? What if we ALL only took what we needed, and no more? We produce enough food to feed the world many times over, if we don’t hoard it either in our kitchens or on our bodies. There are those who want to legislate good works, charity, and love for humanity, those who want to use politics to redistribute resources. There are people who get aggressive during election seasons about putting politicians from the “correct party” in power who will fix us all by some hand-waving. We have institutions dedicated to telling us how to be decent, good people and offering advice for how to love our fellow men and women. But seriously? If we care? Nothing has to be done by force. We have the power to make a difference if we just monitor our own excess. We all have the power, today, to observe and police ourselves and do our part to make the world a better place by the choices we make.

It took me a long time to begin to start understanding what all of that means and how to live truly with the love of humanity in mind, and I am still working to live a life coherently with philosophy of existence and why we are here. It is not possible to make perfectly informed decisions about what we consume, and I still struggle with the ethics of where some of my products (food and otherwise) come from. These are questions I will be pursuing for many years. I only know: I do not want people to suffer for me. Or for my comfort. I understand that biology and the struggle for resources will always play a role in human nature. But: I want my life to be of use, not of harm.