What Do Your Possessions Mean?

Written by Ashley Ball

We all know homes are getting bigger and that a lot of that square footage is for storage.  But, do we really need all that stuff?

When I was four, we moved from Portland, Conn., to Chester, Conn. The move made up in import what it lacked in distance, as it introduced me to the idea of leaving behind beloved possessions. Specifically my swing set: Mr. Kennedy next door had always eyed it covetously, and I knew the moment I left, he would be on it, swinging for all he was worth.

DVD: Stephen Covey on Successful Living
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Storage tips:
The average American home is getting bigger, as is the amount of storage we demand.
The things we're storing aren't gathering dust; they're things we use: rock climbing equipment, skis, oil paints.
Keeping things we never reach for is holding onto the past without learning from it.
But keeping possessions that allow us to do things is a way of exploring the present in a conscious manner.
Slowly, Americans are learning to value not the possession, but the experience it brings.  

My parents haven't exhibited wanderlust since. Until last week, when they informed me that the Chester house was for sale, and could I please come get my things out of it.

Given that chance at four, I'd have saved the swing set from Kennedy with my bare little hands. But now, though I accumulated far more stuff growing up in that second house, I don't feel like reclaiming any of it.

I'm not alone. It's true that as the average American house has grown bigger, more and more of it is devoted to storage. But increasingly, the storage is for things we use now (kayaking equipment, oft-revisited books) rather than those that have sentimental or monetary value. Our attics are becoming more accessible, they need to be; instead of Grandma's moldering featherbed up there, it's the carabiners we use on weekend climbs.

Heartening news, the optimist would say. We're placing value on things because we use them as vehicles to self-knowledge, not because of an arbitrary worth they've been assigned. Sure, we still bring the real heirlooms, fingers crossed, to Antiques Roadshow. Monetary hope springs infernal. But it looks as if the West is coming to embrace an Eastern view toward "stuff," taking notice of Confucian wisdom: "The superior man loves his soul, the inferior man loves his property."

I would like to be an optimist. I would like to know myself. And God knows I've always had delusions of being "superior."

So when I go home, it will be in the company of Hefty bags. They will enfold what were once my totems and make them someone else's blank slates. Thomas Jefferson (optimist and American extraordinaire) said it best: "I like the dreams of the future better than the history of the past."

Perhaps I'll write that on the card when I drop my things off at the Kennedy's.

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