Does your stuff own you or do you own your stuff? Meditations on letting go.

At Common Ground Center we’ve been thinking a lot about stuff these days. I recently downsized from a two-story house in New Jersey to an apartment in New York City. Connor and Neily came on board as office staffers – creating major shuffling of stuff and space in the office. Susanna packed up her apartment in Chicago this fall and brought a single carload to her new home in Boston. And lastly, as we do at the end of every season, we’ve been taking stock, organizing, shuffling, inventorying, etc. with all of our Common Ground Center stuff.

Where does it all come from? Why do we spend so much time organizing it? How can we downsize to create more space in our lives for the things that really matter? 

In New York, my family actually has two apartments. One for sleeping and living and the other is our office space. In our sleeping apartment we don’t have a stapler, roll of tape, or hardly even a piece of paper. As we moved I sorted the “office” supply stuff to go to the “office” apartment. I have been tempted several times to get this type of stuff for our other apartment, but keep squelching that urge.

I like being freed from things. This was the point of downsizing. I am the type of person that needs my life and stuff in order before I can start a project (even a blog post). We just don’t have very much any more, which was completely intentional.  As Lori Biamonte says, “We don’t own stuff, our stuff owns us.” I was really starting to feel like this and knew things had to change.

I’ve been accumulating stuff for a long time. First household stuff then baby stuff and kid stuff and work stuff. The list goes on. I felt pretty guilty this summer when we piled our things outside on our New Jersey lawn for the scavengers. And then I felt doubly guilty when I had to send stuff to the landfill. Not only was I getting rid of stuff that had taken effort and time to accumulate, but it was also going to simply be waste forever. I still feel horrible about this.

With the holidays approaching, the idea of more stuff is pretty stressful. While I want to see my family, I don’t want to bring back unneeded items to my apartment (especially after all my concerted purging). I also don’t want the obligation of buying gifts under duress for the sake of showing love and connection with my family. Why can’t our company just be enough? This societal obligation is so engrained and I know that some folks love this custom. When Eve was born, I would cringe when people brought gifts. The last thing I wanted to do was sort through them and write thank you notes. This is a must do southern thing :).

More and more I am trying to seek connections with people, not things and not through things. Growing up, those who got the most Christmas gifts were the most loved. I don’t want this culture to permeate into my family life.

So, what does this have to do with Common Ground? Well, we are literally transitioning into a new phase. We are creating a strategic plan for maintaining and managing our – you guessed it – stuff. We have so much stuff….From 700 acres to buildings to lawn mowers to office and kitchen equipment to art supplies to ping pong balls (which we buy about 12,000 of each year). In my most recent trip to Vermont, we spent a lot of time trying to sort it all out. The goal is to stop accumulating and make better use of what we have (and we’re pretty darn lucky to have what we do). This is better financially, better for the environment, and less stressful for us. We are taking control instead of our stuff controlling our time and resources. I think you’ll be amazed to see the loft reorganization and we’re just completing a new storage building for all of the grounds/caretaker equipment and supplies.

I will be thrilled when this process is completed! Not that it will ever really end. We will always need stuff here at Common Ground, but I really want to focus on our people…connecting with new, reconnecting with others, having fun, enjoying our community, natural environment, and beauty of our site. I especially want to appreciate the acceptance I know I’ll get at CGC, even when I’m being a Grinch. One last thing, please don’t send me any gifts this year. Come visit or make a donation to Common Ground instead.

- Carole

Want to learn more about stuff and where it comes from?