Monday, January 16, 2012

When Less Is More

A good rule of thumb to use when packing for a trip is to get out everything you need or want to take, then reduce by at least half. You should be able to carry your own luggage up & down stairs, or, at minimum, walk a quarter mile with it. The reality is that if you pack wisely, you really don't need that much stuff. I'm trying to apply the same principle to our move to Oregon and to life in general.

Despite my best efforts, I still have way more clothing & accessories and other stuff than I'll ever need. This is the result of a couple of things. Early in life I learned that if something was a bargain I should buy it, never mind if I actually needed it or not. Also, because I had dual residences in either California & New York, or New Hampshire & New York, for over seven years, I had two sets of everything. Not to mention that I changed jobs several times over the five years I most recently worked, which required additions to my existing wardrobe. Finally, in preparation for my extensive travels of late, I bought the most comfortable, durable, functional clothing & gear I could find.

All of this seems understandable. Clothing, however, is heavy and takes up a lot of space. And, of course, I have even more stuff to accent the clothes. Twenty watches, fifty pairs of earrings, a multitude of belts, hats, gloves and more. There's never just one of anything. Yes, it's nice to be able to wear a different outfit every day of the year and to never run out of options. But who really needs thirty pairs of shoes and a closet's worth of clothes for every season?! I strongly feel that this mentality, which can be applied not just to our wardrobes but to everything in our homes & lives, is a large part of what is wrong with our world today – excessive consumerism.

Why is it that it took me thirty-five years to get to this point? I say thirty-five (I am thirty-seven now) because I think the motivation to change hit me when I had to spend over $2,000 to move the remainder of my belongings from New York to Nashville in July, 2009. The cost basically equates to $1 per pound meaning I still had over 2,000 pounds of stuff! Considering I have no furniture or electronics, just clothes, toiletries, books, artwork, keepsakes and some kitchen items, this is ridiculous. And you have to keep in mind that I gave away a few carloads of stuff before I moved!

So what is the problem with having too much stuff besides the cost of buying it in the first place and then moving it around the country? As Annie Leonard so effectively describes in her Internet film The Story of Stuff and in her book of the same name, our consumption-driven economy is destroying our planet.

That is one of the reasons why I've been spending an average of four hours a day for the past two weeks inventorying everything I have left. I do not want to spend another $2,000 (or more) to move a bunch of stuff I don't really want or need to Oregon. And, the way I see it, I have a lot of things that other people need far more than I do. Yes, I'm trying to sell some of the more expensive items as I spent a lot of money to acquire them. But ultimately I am willing to give away over half of my current possessions.

One challenge I'm facing in the reduction process is that I don't know what kind of job I will get after we move to Portland. Thus I can't get rid of all of my formal business attire or all of my more casual clothes. And just because the first job I get may require one type of wardrobe, there are no guarantees that something wouldn't change so that I would need the other. I certainly don't want to over-reduce and then have to go out to buy more stuff! But I simply don't need the quantity of clothing (and other things) I currently have so it's time to purge.

This is all part of a much larger goal to live by the philosophy “less is more.” I don't like the idea that by buying all of that stuff over the years, I contributed to environmental damage, social injustice, health hazards and more. There are many ways, large and small, to change our lives in order to save the planet (see Appendix 2 of The Story of Stuff book for some tips). As Ms. Leonard states, “Each time we visibly choose quality of life over quantity of Stuff... we demonstrate the possibility of another way.”

This purging of my closets and my grandmother's garage is just the beginning. As I have mentioned before, one of the many reasons Greg & I are moving to Portland is because it is one of the most environmentally friendly places to live in the U.S. I'm confident that by choosing a city that embraces the “green” lifestyle, it will be that much easier to minimize my overall ecological footprint. I hope everyone reading this will consider taking their own steps toward more conscious consumption “that can improve humanity's well-being and the state of the planet.”

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