The most bearable lightness of owning less


Through my adult life I have had an unwritten rule that if I get or buy anything, I give something away. I brought up my son in the same manner, so when he even as a young boy would beg me for a toy car or stuffy – if the toy came home with us, another toy of his choice would have to be donated to another child.

Every month we would clean our house and bring donations to the free store that YWCA has for single moms on the Lower East Side. To teach him to appreciate what he had, I volunteered us at the Christmas clothing drop-off in Vancouver’s Skid Row. Oskar, the first time barely 6, was assigned to pair up donated shoes, not the most glamorous of tasks…  (He will probably tell his psychologist about this childhood trauma one day…) The rule that I tried to install in myself and him was that you always give something back, and even if you don’t get anything, you still give!

Too many possessions bogs me down. Overfilled cupboards make me hyperventilate. I get a rash if my closet is filled with too many clothes. I am the ultimate anti-hoarder. I even started preaching, with some effect, the joys of giving to my neighbours, so we now have started neighbourly donation trips to the goodwill store.

Of course, all doesn’t have to be given away. I am a firm believer in the North American tradition of yard sales. It is a brilliant way to get rid of what one does not need, and offer it to others who may find it useful. One person’s trash is another person’s treasure. We always pledge that nothing comes back in the house at the end of the day. Whatever doesn’t sell, we give away. If you were prepared to sell it in the first place, you do not need it.

Maybe this joy of zenetizing is the antithesis to older generations, who at least in Europe still stock up on everything, in case the Germans should invade again, even if it was half a century since the last time. My grandmother had 3 freezers for this reason and I think my mom is right behind her!

A couple weeks ago we decided to do the ultimate plunge, sell everything and move. Now, our house is full of donation boxes, shredding piles and things to sell. 90% of what we own must be gone. For every box leaving out the door, I feel lighter and breathe freer. In the end we will be so light that we nearly can fly off without wings! Purging may be painful, but it is the ultimate invigorating cleanse. To me, when it comes to possession, less is truly more. And to be honest, I do not think my son suffered any serious damage from giving away that bin of Lego…



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