From Stuffluenza to Simplicity: On Overcoming the Overwhelming Overload
Stuff. We just seem to have so much of it these days. Are you or someone you know suffering from ‘Stuffluenza?‘ I thought that I had made up this term, but no, a google search confirms that someone has already thought of this term. Stuffluenza refers to someone who has an abundant supply of material possessions. But before I begin a dialogue about stuff, I should probably start this post with a disclaimer.
Disclaimer: It’s not wrong to have stuff and I’m certainly not wanting to condemn anyone for having stuff. I have stuff. We all do. And after all, who are we to judge the lifestyle of another? I know that people get a little nervous when the subject of money or material possessions is raised. However I’ve always thought that it wasn’t having money or material possessions that was wrong, but our heart attitude toward them.
One might argue that ‘stuffluenza’ has nothing to do with wealth. You don’t have to be ‘well off’ to have stuff. Stuff is just adundantly available these days and often it is cheap, or cheaper than it has been in the past with the emergence of $2 shops and the like. When I read the book ‘Affluenza’ by British sociologist Oliver James some years back, it really resonated with me at the time. I’ve always believed that stuff doesn’t make one happy, most of us probably know that, and there is plenty of research to support this premise. As a society we are materially more well off than previous generations were (although there is a burgeoning problem of poverty in our nation), but perhaps we are relationally poorer. Divorce and suicide rates have increased significantly over the last few decades. And research conducted on people who win lotteries have also confirmed that winning a significant sum of money does not make one happier but actually may complicate one’s life.
But what do you do when you have so much stuff, that it equals more mess, and more mess leads to more stress? Too much clutter can affect us emotionally. Yes I can accept messiness, house keeping is not a matter of godly virtue. Real life is messy and I can find beauty in disorder. I’m not expecting our home or life to be as clean as an operating room (thank goodness, because it’s not!). But it doesn’t surprise me that research has shown that there is a correlation between more clutter and higher rates of depression. Several studies have found a link between high cortisol (stress hormone) levels in female home owners and a high density of household objects. The more stuff, the more stress women feel. Men, on the other hand, don’t seem bothered by mess. Although that is a generalization, as I would say my husband doesn’t like the mess either.
The Sanity of Simplicity
The idea of embracing simplicity as a lifestyle is not a new phenomenon, nor a unique one. It has it’s roots deep in history, and it is a biblical principle too. Many of us have a sneaking suspiscion that life these days may be very different to what it may have been in previous generations, and that the changes we see are perhaps not healthy ones. We live in a culture of excess. Too much food, too many things, and too many activities. Our lives are cluttered. We are pulled in so many directions. And consumerism can consume us if we are not careful. Stuff makes us busy. In ‘A Garden of Simplicity’, Duane Elgin writes ‘People are awakening to the sanity of simplicity as a path towards sustainability.’ He argues that a lifestyle of simplicity isn’t an alternative lifestyle, but that it is a creative choice for people who want to live more simply. And that most people are not choosing to live more simply from a feeling of sacrifice; rather, they are seeking deeper sources of satisfaction than are being offered by a high stress, consumption-obsessed world’. Yes it’s about caring for the planet, but sensible simplicity may also be a viable means of caring for our mental health and the health of our families.
The Trap of Technology
I love surfing social media, perusing pinterest for creative inspiration and blogging away my evenings. But sometimes the clutter in our lives can come from technology. I have three streams on my email now, primary, social and the one I loathe…promotions. Buy this, get one free, 50% off this, a treat me deal here, or there. And passwords! There are passwords for this and passwords for that. Cards for this and cards for that. Coffee cards for this place and membership clubs for this and that. It is endless. We are in a continual state of information overload, being bombarded with messages from every corner. And I’ve reflected alot recently on trying to be really present with my children when I am with them, rather than glued to a computer screen. I don’t want them to remember me as the mum who always had her head in the computer or was glaring at her phone.
Minimalism – the Key to Managing Modern Motherhood?
In the parenting arena, recently I’ve also reflected on how consumerism makes parenting harder. Obviously there is dealing with the ‘I want this, I want that, and I want it now’ culture. And certainly our material expectations may be much higher than they used to be in previous generations. In our family we sometimes feel like we are drowning in a sea of kid stuff, and I’m pretty sure that we are not the only family in the same leaky boat. Many times our home looks like a toynado has hit it. Perhaps parenting for today’s parents is literally more messy, due to this sea of stuff.
In our home, the biggest area in dire need of de-cluttering is – you guessed it – the toy department. We don’t tend to buy our children toys, apart from for Christmas and on their birthdays, but they get given alot and my eldest has been known to come home with a huge bag of treasures that he bought at the junk shop for $1. Consequently, I find myself smuggling out old toys when the kids aren’t looking, like a drug lord.I really do need Oprah’s de-cluttering expert, Peter Walsh, to come to my home. Perhaps today’s kids are overwhelmed with too many toys, and Mums and Dads can feel overwhelmed too as a result.
And who on earth developed toys with lots of tiny pieces? Even though we have systems in our household for containing toys in separate compartments, they still get muddled. Yes I have labelled plastic containers on wheels, one for the puzzles, one for board games, one for the wooden train set, one for the Thomas train set and so on. One for the big lego, and one for the small lego. But keeping everything in it’s correct container and in it’s correct place is easier said than done when you have smallies (children). Puzzles are in separate plastic bags. And there is more stuff as they get older. But still the lego gets mixed up with the wooden train sets, that gets mixed up with the plastic train set, throw in a couple of odd socks and a few cards from a card game, a pen or two, a hair tie, you get the picture – toy chaos. I’ve always been a natural organiser, but I struggle to manage all this stuff.
My kids may not agree with me, but I don’t think they need lots of toys. A few toys might be worthwhile such as wooden train sets and the like. With fewer toys, children can utilize imaginary creative play more. And where there is more stuff, there is more you have to look after, and this takes time. I’m aiming to become a Mrs Minimalist, but not in an extreme way. And the clothes. In previous generations, each member of a household probably had only several outfits, and perhaps one pair of shoes. Now we have so much more in quantity but possibly less in quality. We have been known to have frequent clothing avalanches in our house (especially in the girl’s room), even though I try to go through and have a clothing cull once in awhile.
Sowing Seeds of Simplicity
I am learning to sow seeds of simplicity, and these are some seeds that I have planted for growing a simpler life. One question I have asked myself is ‘How would our life be like as a family if we owned less material possessions?’ What if we were to have 365 less things? For one, perhaps we would have more time. Managing possessions takes time, and the fewer possessions we have, the simpler life is. Just as family meals don’t have to be masterchef quality, I’ve also asked myself, do I really need a kitchen appliance for everything? A popcorn maker, a waffle maker, an ice cream maker? Perhaps we need to go on a ‘clutter diet’. I decluttered our lounge the other week. I moved the piano into our bedroom, the toys into the kid’s rooms, and the children’s book basket into one of the kid’s rooms. Now the girl’s room is more cluttered but the lounge is now a calmer setting with less clutter. De-cluttering is great, but we need to think prevention, changing the habits that introduced so much clutter in the first place, alhtough I could qualify that by also arguing that some clutter is unavoidable with a family.
We have one car. Not because we are especially green, but because my husband likes running to work and so we can survive easily in our small city with one car. Being on one income, it makes sense for us. I’m not condemning anyone who has two cars, as many families require two cars.
In the technological arena, I try to have a Screen-free Sunday each week and sometimes I resort to a facebook fast. I aim not to check facebook ten times a day (although sometimes I fail in this area!), and I try not to check my emails first thing in the morning. I also aim to schedule solitude into my life (no easy feat with a busy household).
One book that is on my must read list is: ‘Becoming a Woman of Simplicity‘ by Cynthia Heald. She offers practical wisdom and counsel on the topic of simplifying one’s life. And the title of the ever popular song from the film ‘Frozen’, is one of my new motto’s. Think I need that just in case item? Let it go….
If you have any helpful hints about simplifying stuff and overcoming the overwhelming overload of clutter, I’d love to hear from you. Let’s have a blogversation.