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Thinking about 300,000
I like to believe that my husband and I buy less than the average American. I’d like to believe we are below that average, but let’s be honest—probably not.
I read recently that every time we travel, we really take three trips: the one we plan; the actual journey; and the one we relive in our memories.A trip in the future, in the present and in the past.
This seems very true and one of the journeys I revisit often is a trip to Jackson I took in twenties. I don’t remember why I was there, just that I stayed in an empty apartment that was the upstairs of friend’s house. She had an air mattress and a single lamp. The water and power were on. There was a refrigerator. That was it. The rest of the apartment was empty.
I was reading Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, a thick book you could settle down into. Every night, I climbed the stairs to that empty apartment, laid down on the air mattress, turned on that single lamp and read. In my memory, it’s one of the best trips I’ve ever taken.
There was such a freedom in the emptiness of that apartment. I put the air mattress in the living room. Why not? One empty room wasn’t any different from the other. There was nothing there but echoes and the small bag I’d packed.
I was thinking about that trip this week as I listened to a podcast about minimalism. According to the minimalist experts (or converts), the average American has 300,000 items in their household. 300,000. Ninety percent of the world’s storage units are in the United States. People in other parts of the world have less need to rent a whole separate space to store their stuff because they have so much less stuff.
I like to believe that my husband and I buy less than the average American. I’d like to believe we are below that average, but let’s be honest—probably not. We buy a lot of things. They’re weird things. I’ve been buying way too many tarot decks lately. We have a surprising number of musical instruments. If each of my husband’s baseball cards counts as one item, we’re in big trouble.
We have a small house, so as far as furniture goes, nothing new can be bought unless something else is going out. There was a time when I enforced this rule for my closet, too. One new item meant something else had to go. But then I got lax, maybe during the pandemic, when it felt right to cling to every single possession as some sort of protection against the terrifying unknown.
Things pile up. Closet doors can barely be closed. You can always think of one more thing you need and how your life would be perfect once it’s in your hands.
As the minimalist experts on the podcast discussed, buying things does make you happy. For a fleeting moment. The shiny new thing gives us a brief hit of dopamine, not unlike gambling or drugs. Then it fades and we’re still exactly who we were, only surrounded by yet more stuff.
Getting rid of stuff, these experts argue, isn’t about subtracting. You’re not taking away but instead creating room for more. Room for more of the things you want in your life, which, if we’re honest, are not really stuff. We want joy and friendship and love and meaning and purpose. These experiences have nothing to do with stuff. Sometimes we want space to do nothing more than lie in an empty room and read a good book.
This spring and summer, I’ll be trying to get us well under that 300,000 average. I’ll be cleaning out closets and drawers and creating more space for the important things, which aren’t really things at all.
Where do you think you are compared to the 300,000 average? Is there stuff you’re ready to dump?
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