Borrowing Other People’s Stuff … in 48 Places

5 07 2010

After my last blog post … with the list of the things I will leave behind when I begin the 48 Places plan … I’ve been thinking a lot about “stuff.” I wonder what it will be like to let go of the things that have made my life so comfortable. I’ve spent the past decade accumulating all this “stuff.” Will I regret selling or giving away so many of my possessions? What will it be like to rely on the people with whom I’ll be living? Will I mind constantly asking, “Do you mind if I use your (fill in the blank)? I have been independent for so long, how will this interdependence thing work out? 

I remember when I moved to Tahiti in 1999 to live with my then-husband, Maurice. We owned next to nothing. He worked at a minimum wage job. We lived in one room in the apartment of a family from the Marquesas Islands. We had very little money and were forced to rely on these people’s generosity. It was difficult at first to admit that I must ask for help. Since I had no choice, I learned to accept their offers of food and the other necessities. It was an important lesson to learn. In the past, I found joy in being generous … now it was time to let others feel this same joy. I learned to express my thankfulness and to accept their generosity with grace. 

As I now prepare to embark on the 48 Places journey, I realize I will be in a similar position. Although I won’t be as destitute as I was during my stay in Tahiti, I will need to depend on others to offer some of the things that I can’t lug around with me. This time it will be out of choice, not out of necessity. (I just pray I don’t break someone’s family heirloom.)  

Looking back over the years at the many times I have moved in the past, I realize I left things behind with each move. Six months after a move, I would be hard pressed to even name or describe any of the things I gave up. Over the course of my life I can think of maybe two or three things I regret selling or giving away. After all it’s just “stuff.” I’m often reminded of George Carlin’s riff on “A place for your stuff.” (Love especially his use of traveling to Honolulu, and then Maui, as illustrations of our attachment to stuff in this monologue.) 

I am also reminded of the PBS special: “Afflenza.” This show, and book, illustrated the epidemic of overconsumption that plagues the Western World. The photograph of the American family in front of their two-story house with stacks and stacks of possessions was shocking when juxtaposed with the photo of the family from India (or were they from another third world country?) with just a small pile of basic necessities in front of their humble home. How do we Americans accumulate so much stuff … and why do we attach so much importance to having the biggest, the best, the newest? If I can cure myself of the disease of materialism, if I can begin to place more importance on relationships and experiences, I will gain Freedom from Stuff. And in the end, this is the choice I’m making: Freedom vs. Stuff. I will be ree to pick up at a moment’s notice and move to the next spot on my 48 Places list. As I’ve said before, I can’t have it both ways. I can’t both cling to my stuff and be unencumbered so I can live out my dreams. In the end, it is a small price to pay for all this freedom. By shedding all this extra stuff, I can embrace “The Bearable Lightness of Being.”




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