“Stuff Owns You”

“Wash it, dry it, fold it, iron it, have it cleaned, repair it, wax it, dust it, pack it, sweep it, paint it, pick it up, put it back, hang it up, file it, store it, insure it, oil it, shelve it, stack it, separate it, rearrange it, protect it, service it, recondition it, untangle it, refill it, polish it, refinish/remodel it, or display it. SOME ALTERNATIVES: REFUSE IT IN THE FIRST PLACE, GIVE IT AWAY, SELL IT, RECYCLE IT, COMPOST IT, OR BURN IT FOR FUEL.

Paradoxically, the things we think we own really own us, consuming our time and energy. We spend a third of our life sleeping, and much of what is left is spent waiting in lines, watching T.V., or working for more things to own and take care of. Very few precious hours are left for service to others or nonmaterial pursuits that lift our minds and spirits. If you feel unfocused and pressed for time, look around your home and identify the things that demand regular attention or maintenance. Are they worth the time and energy expended on them? If not, . . . unload! Take boxes or laundry baskets from room to room, collecting the things you have no need for, or emotional attachment to, and get them OUT of the house. Do the same with the garage, sheds, barns, attics, and basements. Whew! Our devotion to junk and other material security blankets not only detours us from accomplishing our missions here on earth, but steals time from us that could be spent with those who need and love us.

This energy consuming, dust collecting, space taking “stuff ” can be donated to others in need, taken to thrift shops, or, in the case of reading material, dropped off at libraries, hospitals, care centers, and doctors’ offices. You could hold one big “final” yard sale, or clean your valuables for one last time and offer them to a consignment shop. Our family has used “free gas money” from consignment shop sales to visit several National Parks in California, and also to take an enchanted trip south of the border to Mexico. While others may question where we get enough money to go on our far-flung vacations, they could do the same, if they really wanted to. It’s all a matter of priorities.

For years, I worked for a very wealthy man who was a retired Indian trader. One day I found myself complaining to him about “things” and how they require so much of one’s time. His answer was simple and to the point, but not one I could embrace. His answer was to simply hire someone to take care of one’s possessions. The choice is up to us; we can become slaves to our possessions, pay a storage company to secure them for us, hire a slave to take care of them for us, i.e., a housekeeper/caretaker, or wisely commit ourselves to a simpler, less complicated lifestyle that frees and empowers us to pursue higher goals, enjoy recreational activities, or travel.

The greatest emotional obstacle to downsizing faced by the elderly is the Depression mentality that dictates every rubber band, paper bag or screw must be saved. Recycled, yes, hoarded, no! Highly prized items such as furniture, organs, and other old valuables are tenaciously saved “for the children.” If these perpetually self-sacrificing parents could see the big estate sale their children will have a month after they’re gone, they would distribute their worldly goods to those who really need or want them before their final departure, sell the rest, and go on the vacation or cruise of a lifetime, while they can still do it.

I have always saved postcards, pictures and magazines for their unforgettable photographic images. Recently, my friend Parry Calder shared with me his scrapbooks filled with collages that make perceptive comments on society, nature, and his own uniqueness. He inspired me to get out the scissors. This enjoyable activity is freeing me from my burdensome magazine collection and freeing the images trapped within their dusty pages. I also look forward to sharing this activity with my children and friends.

In the American Indian culture, there are special events called “Give-Aways.” These usually occur during breaks at large ceremonial dances or other community encampments for spiritual purposes. The family sponsoring the Give-Away saves for many months or even years to purchase or create the presents. These items range from vehicles, horses, blankets, and jewelry to practical household items, silverware, and small appliances. The Give-Away items are not damaged or in any way second-hand junk. Names are called, and some of those so honored are given expensive items that the givers know they need, such as a truck or horse. Others, perhaps not so needy, are given their choice of gifts that may be on a blanket or auditorium stage.

Many tribal chiefs traditionally share almost all they have to show their dedication to the welfare of their people. Becoming a chief’s wife is also a selfless position, where one does not really own anything, but is simply a steward over it until the next Give-Away or knock on the door. I was once honored with a blanket at a Give-Away in Oklahoma with the Cheyenne/Arapaho People, and the warmth I received went far beyond that provided by the blanket.

Since we can’t take this stuff with us when we die, why not share our excess? In one tribe I lived with, if the deceased had not given away all worldly goods prior to death, they were burned near the grave after burial. What a great way to deal with the “stuff” that the owner could never part with or “give away!” This practice also reinforces the idea of sharing with others while one has the opportunity of doing so . . . for we never know when it will be too late. The worst nightmare scenarios imaginable play themselves out among inheritors when a family member dies in our materialistic society. Just when family and friends should be drawn together in mourning and appreciation for the departed, they are ironically torn apart by the possibility of greedy and protracted legal battles over the estate. Since we are all headed for the exit door anyway, why not spread sunshine while we can by sharing our material goods with those in need? This is the Native Way.

I agree with the great playwright Henrik Ibsen who wrote: Money may buy the husk of things, but not the kernel. It brings you food, but not appetite, medicine, but not health, acquaintances, but not friends, servants, but not faithfulness, days of joy, but not peace or happiness.

As mentally competent individuals, we are only truly alive in relation to our understanding and practice of eternal laws of truth, our independence from commercialism, our avoidance of conspicuous consumption and addictions and the embracing of love, light, charity and service. If, as the scriptures state, we are to be judged by our works and the desires of our hearts, we probably need to lighten our loads a little. Just as passengers in a hot air balloon throw heavy bags of sand overboard to rise higher in case of unforeseen obstacles, we too, need to discard ballast in the form of material attachment in order to be lifted closer to the light and true happiness.”

– Kahlil Gibran


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