Wednesday, September 30, 2009

“We are double-edged blades"...

..."and every time we whet our virtue the return stroke straps our vice.”
I started this blog in an attempt to rid myself of the vice of consumerism. To get free from the stuff with which I have fooled myself into owning, I am trying to cultivate the virtues of thrift, preservation, and simplicity. This is going to be harder than I thought.

Well, here's how deeply steeped I am in consumerism:

First, let me say I am excited and delighted to start this journey. I am heartened by the idea of a blog to keep me motivated, and decided that in order to do this the way I would like, I should re-read Walden for the fourth time--to keep my head in this game.

Why then, when beginning a journey to kick this plague of consumerism, did I decide that the best way to start was to purchase a NEW copy of a book I already OWN? I admit it. I am a bibliophile in the surest sense of the word. I used to nearly cry tears of joy at the beginning of each semester in college, delighting over the pages and bindings, and even the smell of the books I got to purchase every few months. But it is positively ironic that I would think the best way to start simplifying is to purchase something I don't even NEED!

Today, I made a specific trip, and I found myself wandering the aisles of a well-known book seller. I found a rather simple edition of Walden and Civil Disobedience, but was unsatisfied by it. I walked to the counter and after stuttering for a moment--trying to figure out how to verbalize what it was I was shopping for-- heard myself say to the associate, "I'm looking for a prettier edition of this." As soon as the words came out, I knew they were true, and I was ashamed of them--I had seen myself, really seen myself, for an instant. And it wasn't very pretty.

Out of obligation, I stood and waited for her to direct me to the "prettier" copies of Walden. I perused the shelf; I flipped through the pages. I tried justifying the purchase to myself with reasons like, "Well, you don't want that marked up copy--you need a clean slate for a fresh perspective," and etc. But in the end, I recognized the urge for what it was, set the books down (even the prettiest pocket sized one...) and walked out of there empty-handed, chanting my new mantra--"Simplify, simplify."

The next stop was my parents home, where boxes and boxes and boxes of MY books lie in wait in their attic. (This is to say nothing of the shelves and shelves and shelves of books in my home. Did I mention I am a bibliophile...and that I have a problem with stuff?) After just 20 minutes of digging, and one minor injury involving my toe, a thumbtack and a surprisingly large amount of blood, I emerged victorious with a rather bedraggled, but much-loved edition of Walden.

So, Mr. Thoreau--in paying homage to your writing, I will not be purchasing any more of it (not that you'd see the profits anyway--or even care if you did).

Kierra--1; Consumerism--0
(Or, if you rather: Virtue--1; Vice--0)
The battle moves forth.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

"Men have become tools of their tools."

Not so very long ago, I was attempting to do some cleaning and organizing but found myself awash in the endless piles of STUFF in our tiny house (and yes, you can expect to hear many complaints about all the stuff we have milling about). I nearly broke down as a pile of said stuff fell from the top shelf of our hall closet, landing square on the top of my head, and in a fit of rage at having let things get like this, I shouted to my husband, "I am sick of all this STUFF in our house! We don't own it! All this STUFF owns US!" and in that very moment, I realized that I had hit upon as true an idea as I had ever had. I was absolutely right. Our lives were being run, and being run rather poorly, by all the things we had at some point thought we "needed."

We live in a small home, by American standards. Between the four of us (six if you count the fur babies), we share 840 square feet with no yard to speak of. We have a hall closet, and...well, that's nearly it for storage space. In such small quarters, it becomes very apparent, very quickly, that we are the tools of our tools. We seem constantly to be running through cycles of de-cluttering and re-organizing, only to find ourselves a few months later at the very same place we were before. We literally have days where we can't get from point A to point B because of all the STUFF around here. And truthfully, if it were all to suddenly vanish, I could count on one hand the items I would really, truly miss. So what is it all doing here?

We used to say we needed a bigger house. But now my feeling is that a bigger house would essentially do the same thing a bigger purse does--fill up. Have you ever noticed that when your purse fills and you get another, bigger purse, you suddenly have more than enough "essentials" to fill up the larger purse as well? And yet, the larger purse is only more cumbersome--the extra weight pulls your shoulder, the added depth makes it harder to find the few essentials that slip to the bottom, the papers you thought would be handy are suddenly crumpled into wastebasket-approved balls, and so it goes until your chiropractor is telling you he will be charging extra for your adjustments if you don't just "get rid of that thing." A tool of your tool.

I'm trying...trying to get rid of the things we must have once thought we "needed". Trying to keep only things that are truly essential. Trying to only allow things in our home that add to the vision of peace and simplicity we are working to cultivate. Trying not to be such a tool.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Lives of Quiet Desperation

When I was 16 or 17, I first encountered the genius that is Henry David Thoreau in a high school junior level English course. While my friends lamented what they saw as the pointlessness and tedious nature of Walden, with exclamations like, "Who CARES about ants in a fight?!?" and "Man, this guy sure likes to be alone...", I was struck in a way I was yet unable to understand by the simplicity, beauty, and absolute common sense behind what I was reading. Though it would take years for my youthfulness to wear away the many layers, from somewhere within, this song, awakened by Thoreau's writings, began the little scritch-scritch-scratch on the windows of my soul.

Some years later, as a college student in the great C.R. Cluff's American Renaissance course, I found the man again, and this time, it took. As I read Walden Pond, I found myself filling the pages with exclamation marks, highlights, post its and notes to myself--it was impossible for me to find the important parts, because frankly, it was all important to me. This venture into simplicity, this journey into the self and a quest for freedom from "convenience" struck me to the core. Though there have been moments where Thoreau slips to the back burner, he always finds his way forward again. And each time I am struck at the truth in his words--the wisdom, the reason, the simplicity that is found there. I find religion in what he teaches--I see in his words the things that the Lord would have me do. I find practical advice, and I find what my heart has spent so much time searching for. I realized that like the mass of men spoken of by Thoreau, we have been leading a life of quiet desperation. This blog is my effort at more fully living his advice and escaping that desperation.

My husband and I have reached a crossroads. We are about to embark on what we hope will be a remarkable journey and are seeking freedom from some of the "conveniences" of life. I am seeking a simpler way. I am seeking peace with myself, my home, my children, my faith. We are not abandoning our lives to live in the woods, nor are we seeking refuge from society as a whole. But we are hoping to find ways to strike the balance between what is enough, and what consumerism tells us we need--we are seeking freedom from our stuff, we are on the road to owning our own lives. So with the Lord on my side, and a bit of practical advice and words of wisdom from the man at Walden Pond, we begin....