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Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Throw it out!

Over the last year I’ve been on an intentional campaign to identify and dispose of unused material around the house -- what an accountant would call "E&O (excess and obsolete) inventory" of my lifestyle. I have trashed at least 6 cubic yards of old VCR tapes, old computer software and parts, unmemorable books, financial records, manuals for household products that are long gone, and items of personal memorabilia dating back as far as undergraduate school.

I’ve also been going through the garage on the lookout for junk. Living in this house for 23 years, we’ve accumulated a lot of old paint, supplies that have aged too long on the shelf, leftovers from various repair projects (some completed, others not), outdoor toys that our sons left behind, and so on. Much of this material can be recycled; some of it must be taken to the county’s hazmat disposal facility. The rest can be trashed.

If I lived on a houseboat, it would probably have risen an inch in the water! As the campaign progresses, I’m finding that I now have space to put things that truly deserve retention. Also I can find things more easily – which prevents the too-common scenario of buying a new item because I can’t find the perfectly good one that I bought two years ago.

Separating the wheat from the chaff, in the sense of what should be kept and what should not, is good practice in decision-making. I also get one final piece of joy from looking at some of the stuff I'm saying goodbye to.

But more significantly, the campaign is leading me toward a new intentionality: simplicity of life. To some degree, simplicity of life is necessitated by my reduced income subsequent to the 2009 bankruptcy of my employer of 24 years. But retirement was not far away anyway, and reduced income was inevitable. Thus it was time to start making lifestyle adjustments.

I’m reminded that Quaker theologian Richard Foster published his book Freedom of Simplicity of 1981. I don’t recall exactly when I read it, but it’s been in the back of my mind ever since. The monks I’ve met at the Society of St John the Evangelist in Massachusetts offer basically the same advice: avoid over-attachment to the stuff of the material world. Such over-attachment is spiritual poison.