I grew up with the mentality that if I had something that I didn’t need or wasn’t using, and someone else did need it, I should give it to them (or at least lend it). It was just a thing. Getting rid of things was easy.
I also grew up in a home where we had enough. I never worried about having food or a home. I never worried about my parents being able to afford to pay for the things I needed. My parents may have struggled and sacrificed when they first married, but by the time I was aware of money they had more than enough for me to be able to do the things I wanted. If something broke, we had enough money to fix it or replace it. If someone were injured, we had good health insurance and enough money to see that they were treated. If an unexpected expense came up my dad might grumble, but there was enough money to cover it. If there was a school activity or sport I wanted to participate in, I only had to ask. I do not remember ever being told that we couldn’t afford something. I do not remember ever going hungry because we didn’t have money for food. I don’t remember hearing much about money except when my dad complained about how much my mom spent shopping. On worthless stuff.
So I came into my marriage believing that stuff was of little value. That it wasn’t worth worrying about.
When we got married, we were poor. We had debt. We couldn’t live like we had when we'd lived with our parents. If something broke, we may or may not be able to replace it. We couldn’t afford to do all the things we wanted to do and still pay our bills. This was an adjustment period for me, to be sure, but luckily I was not an overly materialistic person. I didn’t need lots of stuff. I wasn’t a big shopper. We didn’t have a lot, but we were okay. For a while.
Then we went through periods of unemployment. Over the course of twenty years of marriage my husband was laid off ten times; he was our only source of income (I was a stay-at-home mom). That makes it difficult to build any kind of base to work from. The longest time he was out of work was seven months. We had been keeping our heads above water before this. Then the bottom fell out. He got a severance package and we tried to manage that well. We hoped for this time of unemployment to be of short duration like in the past. It wasn’t.
Before long we were in a difficult place. If we didn’t change things soon it was going to get ugly.
We sold an old, small motor home we owned. We sold our boat. We cancelled the satellite service. We quit eating out. We got rid of any extra expenses that we could. This helped, but it wasn’t enough for long. We eventually ended up turning to others for help. Our parents. The governenment. Church welfare. We had to have others help with our debt and pay for our food. We used food stamps, Medicaid, and other services. We did without. (As difficult as it was to ask for and accept help, I am so grateful it was there.)
I believe that when you have to do without it sometimes changes your perception of stuff. You no longer take stuff for granted because you don’t know if it will last. You hate to let anything go out of fear that you might need it again in the future and don’t know if you will be able to replace it.
These difficult times altered the way I saw stuff. When someone offered hand-me-downs I never considered refusing. I knew we couldn’t afford to buy new clothes, so we’d better accept what was offered. People frequently gave us stuff because they knew we were struggling financially. I found myself accumulating more and more even though I wasn’t shopping. Accumulating didn’t seem so bad when I wasn’t buying it.
But then we found ourselves in a position where we had enough. In fact, we had more than enough. Maybe not financially, but materially. We were overflowing with stuff.
And my old feelings reasserted themselves. I saw all the stuff and how it was taking over my life. I felt suffocated by it. I didn’t need it. I didn’t want it. I didn’t even like most of it. Why was I letting it into my life?
I’ve been systematically trying to change those behaviors. I’ve been trying to get back to my minimalist mentality toward stuff. I’ve been trying to get rid of all the stuff that’s come into our lives over the years. It takes time.
And I have noticed that when I try to make a major change in my life, when I’m sure of my choice, something always happens to challenge that decision. To see if I will stick to my guns. It happened this time, too.