Our garage is being replaced: the old asbestos roof finally gave up, and the whole thing is getting a face-lift.
So everything that was in the garage is now stacked around the house. The dining room is like a scale map of the Grand Canyon in colourful plastic stacking boxes.
I have too much stuff. It’s tying me down, and it weighs me down.
Terry and I have been talking about the challenges of moving house, and this ridiculous idea that you could pack all the stuff up that was precious to you into a handful of boxes, lob it into a small van and be on your way. When you got to your new home, it would take you only a matter of hours to set it up as your space, your home. It’s a fantastic idea that I could go anywhere and – I think – do so much more with my life.
Why do I need to have so much stuff? Is it because I think it makes me look accomplished in some way? Would my life be any more secure or comfortable? Would I be living my full potential if someone took it all away? Would I merely stop being me?
I have boxes of stuff that I plan to eBay. I have many boxes of building materials that I will need to refurbish our new house, and 2,000 glass jars from a previous project. I have a whole load of stuff that might come in useful, boxes of my memories, boxes of bushcraft stuff, power-tools and a weight of old hobbies that I once did and am never likely to do again.
A good example if this is rock climbing. I have a harness, various carabiners, 50m of rope, shoes and a chalk bag. All are over 20 years old and so well past their serviceable life. An expert climber I met told me that they are not only out-of-date technology-wise, but could maybe even break under use. Apart from the chalk bag, all of it was utterly useless. But the little voices inside my head still tells me that I need to keep them.
…when I ask myself these uncomfortable questions, I get defensive and angry.
When I sit and look at that box of colourful climbing equipment and ask myself what’s going on, why I can’t just dispose of them, I get a panicky feeling. I can feel a whole set of triggers around my childhood.
I’m starting to truly understand something about being with my ‘shadow’ in this situation: when I ask myself these uncomfortable questions, I get defensive and angry. By taking a step back from myself and asking why it feels so wrong, I get to hear what’s behind these behaviours, and I can start to get to the bottom of what it’s all about.
Under Jungian psychology, I believe there are many personas or personalities, which represent different ‘archetypes’ of our personality. I don’t know anything apart from the sort of ‘pop-psychology’ stuff I’ve read, but the personalities I hear the most in me as I start listening I think are best described as the Angry Teenager and the Small Boy.
When I listen to what’s going on in my head when I think about throwing away the climbing stuff, I primarily hear from my teenager. He feels shame that he’s being criticised and feels guilty about wasting money and that he only did it for a year before it all ended up in a box. But the young voice inside me – my inner five-year-old – just wants to have toys to play with and resents the fact that he can’t play with that stuff because it’s dangerous/broken. He doesn’t understand this. It’s just someone taking away one of his toys.
It might sound a little odd to you if you’ve never tried this or gone through the process. I understand that listening to these parts is a bit like admitting that you ‘hear voices in your head’. For me, it’s not about having a conversation with these parts of my psychology, but about getting a bit of space from my normal reactive self, and taking time to listen to what’s going on in my head. By listening to these parts of myself, I can see ways that these personalities could be appeased, and if they are appeased, they don’t kick off when I suggest we take a trip to the tip.
So, for the box of climbing stuff, I do some rationalisation in my mind: I consciously spend some time looking at it, remembering how much it cost me, and how much that was worth twenty years ago. I look online and see that the whole lot could be replaced for around £100. I think about how potentially dangerous it all is now. I think about how much fun I had with my friends climbing, and how – when I moved from the centre of Bristol the nearest climbing wall was over 40 miles away. I got real value out of that investment, I had fun and learned a skill which is still with me. I can rationalise with the younger part of me that – as we now live in the bouldering capital of Europe – we can go and have some fun bouldering this very weekend, and if we like it enough, (and aren’t just too old and overweight) that we can get some new stuff.
It took about 20 minutes in total (I wrote down the things I was thinking, and then the stuff I planned to do). I look at the same box of colourful climbing gear, and I merely see it as junk which is taking up space and needs to be safely disposed of so that someone else doesn’t salvage it and have a nasty surprise. The chalk bag I will donate to the climbing centre when I go.
The other boxes still hold their own special challenges for me, each one subtly different, but I now have a technique which I think will work.
I was once told an adage which seems to be appropriate here: if you set out to eat an elephant, the best way to begin is by nibbling on a toe…