Changing Your Relationship with Stuff, through Language?

As a writer, words are very important. As you find out when learning a new language, certain words have nuances and connotations that you can only learn with time, practice and exposure to the new language. But we don’t always pay attention to the words we use in our own language.

Taking a slight detour here, if you are a person engaged in any amount of self-improvement, I’m sure you’ve heard about the importance of eliminating negative self-talk. (You’ve got to stop saying, “I’m fat,” “I’m stupid,” “I’m ugly,” or “I don’t have any good ideas.”) The reason why psychologists, bloggers and anyone with a keyboard in front of them says this is because they know how powerful words are. I think you know, too. We learned when we were little kids the chant, “I think I can,” from The Little Engine that Could storybook/movie.

The words you choose may end up dictating (pun intended) the outcome of the situation. Yet, have you ever thought about how you talk about stuff/merchandise/products and the objects that surround you in everyday life? For instance, it seems as if I’m always donating stuff, but I still have a ton of it. Why is this?

The words I choose to talk about “stuff” ends up guiding my actions. If I’m not careful, I walk around saying “I need this,” or  “I have to have that.” If I say and believe I absolutely need something, I’m going to end up buying it. That’s a problem right there. I say things like, “I need a new hair scarf.”  I don’t absolutely require a new scarf for survival, I just want one to match an outfit I have. I’ve been saying lately “I need a new laptop.” Do I really need a new one if I can go to the library and type for free, or use my netbook at home? No. I want one for my comfort and convenience. Yet somehow, whenever I think about something to buy, it’s always phrased as “I need.” Do you do the same thing?

I’ve been thinking about where we learned this curious behavior. I always like to blame my parents and other older relatives for my ingrained faults– like modeling the “I need” behavior when I was a kid. But I remember my Mom always saying “Do you really need that?” whenever we’d ask for a toy or candy.  As much as I’d like to, I really can’t blame them for this.

Advertisements and the media could certainly shoulder most of the blame for brainwashing the public into believing we need specific merchandise to have a great life. Example: I need razors to shave my legs. Why? I’m a woman and the rule of society says I have to shave my legs. If I don’t shave my legs people will think I’m weird and possibly ostracize me. If I want to fit in, I have to shave. Yes, shaving one’s legs is best done with a razor. But I don’t actually need to do it. I want to and I choose to and that’s why I buy the razor.

We actually need very little. We have a ton of wants that help us fit into society better: like those uncomfortable work clothes that let us keep the job that pays for our giant shelter. But we probably don’t need those work clothes, or that job to pay for that shelter. We could find a smaller shelter that costs less, that we could pay for with a job that didn’t require those work clothes. See what I’m suggesting? Most of the things we think we need, are actually choices we’re making to indulge our wants. When there is a choice, and not a need, there is always another option. I try to remember that when I speak about my wants and my choices. That way I’ll be more deliberate with my actions.

At the end of the day, though, this is how our American society works. It’s how the human society has advanced. Humans have actual needs, kind-of-needs, mild wants and extreme desires. We invent things to make life easier, fun and more comfortable. And that’s okay. The key is to know what is really a need or a want (or a choice), why it is so, and speak about it appropriately. Words dictate actions.

We have to change the narrative regarding our wants and needs. If you think about it, most of the stuff we “need” is something we want very badly for comfort and convenience. Call it the modern conveniences of society, or first world problems.  The first step to changing the narrative is to THINK about the words we are choosing. Then, if we’re trying to save money, buy less stuff or whatever, knowing and speaking accordingly makes it easier to resist buying when necessary.

I can blame the media, our society or whoever. I can even blame myself for being easily manipulated by the system of our society.  But that doesn’t solve the problem either.   I have to be honest. I’m not really sure how to banish my desire for things. I don’t know if it’s possible, even if I’ve become a Nirvana seeking Buddhist who has denied all earthly attachments.  But I can stop saying that I need things that aren’t required for the survival of my earthly life. I can change the way I talk and think about stuff. And thus I can change my actions henceforth.

POSTSCRIPT: After writing all of this, and going to review it before posting, I remembered something in a book I read that I wanted to share.  In The Mastery of Love,  Don Miguel Ruiz (I’m so obsessed with this book right now) differentiates between needs of the body (what I call actual, legitimate needs) and needs of the mind (which I’m calling wants). The needs of the mind, he says, can’t actually fulfill the mind, because all the mind needs is love (I’m talking about you chocolate craving). If you’re interested, check out the book. His discussion on needs of the mind on pages 126-129. It’s a very good read/re-read.


Can You Stop Procrastinating?

I am the biggest procrastinator ever!  I keep saying “If I just did what I was supposed to do, I wouldn’t have any problems.”  I believe that is absolutely true.  We all know we should not be procrastinating, but why do we do it?  I have a theory as to why.

We expect too much of ourselves. How can we not,  with the way American life is structured today? Think about when you were in high school. Maybe not high school, but middle school, when your only responsibility was school. Maybe you played a sport on the weekends or afterschool, but what else did you have to do? Make your bed, clean the bathroom? And when you weren’t in school or doing simple chores, what were you doing? You were playing and enjoying life. You didn’t have to work to pay for school, or the roof over your head. Life was very manageable. Adulthood sucks in comparison.

Who says that adults are truly capable of managing the responsibility load that our culture expects of us?  I don’t believe it anymore. I don’t believe it for a second.  We work, go to school, pay bills, deal with creditors, utility companies and landlords. We cook, we clean, we take care of our children, significant others, and pets. Running our lives is like running a corporation. You are doing all the roles at once without any assistance. It becomes all work and no play.

But what is it that you want to do? Play. What does that mean to you? Basically the same thing it did when you were a child: spend time with friends, enjoy the fresh air, play music, read a good book, etc.  So why are the responsibilities of life so overbearing? Because we live in a culture of overconsumption. Our overconsumption makes us slaves to money. If we weren’t slaves to our money, we would have fewer responsibilities.

Think about this for a moment: if you owned 10 pieces of clothing, in total, how bad would laundry be? That’s one load to wash, one load to dry, and maybe 5 minutes to fold and put it away, at the most.  Would you really have to procrastinate doing laundry?  It would take so little of your time, so little energy, that I believe it would be a non-issue. I have to do 5 or 6 loads of laundry if I wait until I get down to my very last pair of socks.  No wonder the laundry piles up for weeks on end, and I’m in and out of the laundry room for a day and a half.

Don’t feel bad if you are a procrastinator. Most people are. And I would say it is because your life has become unmanageable– don’t take offence– I’m just saying you have too much on your plate. Forgive yourself.  You bit off more than you can chew, and you can’t put it back. You have to finish it all to clear that plate sometimes.  You have to work 2 jobs to pay the debt, or pay for school.

You can figure out ways to make life a bit more manageable. If you cut back on the stuff, you can cut back on your chores, or at least make them easier. Fewer clothes= less laundry. Fewer dishes= smaller dish pile and quicker clean-up. Smaller house= fewer rooms to clean. Fewer gadgets= less money owed. .

Well, what about procrastination? How does this help me with my thesis that I’ve now dragged out to a fourth semester? (I’m the guilty one here).

Tell yourself: I’m going to achieve one goal today. One solid goal that requires a bit of effort.  For me, that was turning in my substitute teacher application, and running all over town to prove to the public school system that I’m not a criminal. Yes, it was a pain and took a total of 5 hours, but it’s done now.

And after you achieve that goal, don’t feel guilty for spending the afternoon twiddling your thumbs while staring at the boob tube. I gave myself permission to watch Misfits and Glee without feeling like I should be doing something.

If you do that one thing, and complete one solid objective today,  you’ve accomplished something. You’ve taking a reasonable step towards a better life.

You aren’t going to stop procrastinating, ever. Perhaps, you can get your life simple enough that the type activities you procrastinate are virtually non-existent or minimized so that they aren’t so bad. For now, just do one thing at a time. Maybe that one thing will give you some momentum to accomplish another thing. Maybe not. Either way, it is okay.

Hope you are having a great week so far.


Spring Cleaning: Giving up my Blankey

I spent most of Memorial Day weekend cleaning up and cleaning out.  I have accumulated way to much stuff, and I don’t want to have to take it all with me when I move in August.  I aim to attack the items that clutter the surfaces of my furniture and items that lurk unused in the recesses of my closet.

There are three categories of junk: Stuff that’s easy to toss because I don’t like, want, or care about it; stuff that is moderately difficult to toss because I feel guilty for some reason or another to give it away; and lastly, stuff that is usually broken, worn out, or no longer useful, but I keep it because it has meaning to me.  A purple, brown, and white woven Mexican blanket belongs in that last category for me.

I bought it at a rest stop between Raleigh, North Carolina and somewhere in central Florida, probably Leesburg. My youth group and I were on our way to one of our retreats (or rallies) on a charter bus.  I got to spend the weekend away from home, school and other teen responsibilities. I remember debating whether or not to purchase it, because 20 dollars was a lot back then, nearly a whole month’s allowance.  It smelled like straw and felt rough on my skin.  But the blanket was tradition, and I wanted to be a part of that tradition.  We called them “rally blankets.”

I’ve had the blanket for at least 10 years. The reason why I loved it so much was not just because it was my rally blanket.  I loved it because it kept me warm at night at rally when my sleeping bag wasn’t warm enough. It provided me comfort during vacations and a sense of familiarity when I went to college. The blanket could keep me warm, no matter where I was.

I feel ridiculous, because I’m 25 and I’m hung up on my blankey (security blanket). It was the best damn blanket I’ve ever owned and now it’s ruined. About a month ago, my dog was chewing on her toy while laying on the blanket and she chewed a hole right through.  Thinking it was unrepairable, I folded it, and put it away in the linen closet. Immediately after, without a thought or hesitation, I bought a different color (red) replacement and have been using that one instead.

This past weekend I’d been attempting to repair items I’ve deemed unuseable until they are fixed.  I thought maybe, I could patch the blanket.  I crocheted a black square and attempted to sew it on.  It looked horrible. My next option would be to buy appropriate material and sew it on.  This was a very viable option except I realized doing so would defeat my whole purpose.  I would be spending more money, and in the end I would have two blankets.  That’s when I knew it was time to let go.  Whether it is going in the trash, donation, or for sale box, I don’t know.  Maybe I’ll fix it and donate it.  Maybe I’ll fix it and donate the new one. But I can’t keep both, and I won’t spend more money.  Maybe I can use cloth from one of the T-shirts I’m giving away. There is quite a lot of possibility in that 🙂  If my initial response wasn’t to go out and buy something new, I could have possibly repaired the old blanket, and I wouldn’t be in this predicament.

I read a great article about Letting Go of Sentimental Items.  It got me thinking about the blanket because of the memories that it represents. l always have the memory whether I have the item or not: I’ve written about the memory right here in this blog post.

The key to cleaning is to not buy more stuff, contrary to what the container store would have you believe. Over-organizing simply leads to more clutter. The key to keeping your space clutter free is to get rid of the old and not buying unnecessary things to replace them.  You have to ask yourself, do I need a new one? You probably want a new one, but do you need one?  You have to change the way you think about things.   Defeating the debt monster requires a change in thought and a change in action.  It requires slowing down. It requires abandoning the materialistic mindset. Because in the end, you may end up with more than you bargained for.