It all started with some Christmas shoes.
My three boys have been growing like crazy, and I recently got them new shoes. In an effort to teach them about giving to others, I signed us up for a program that allows us to fill the empty shoeboxes with toys for children who won’t be getting much this holiday. They were completely on board, even when I told them that I would like to spend a little less on their Christmas gifts and use that money to pick out toys for their boxes.
As we were wrapping and packing our boxes last week, they asked me why some kids might not have as many toys as they do, and if that made them sad. I told them that while it’s nice to have fun things, and I was sure they’d be excited to get our gifts, it’s not “stuff” that makes people happy. It’s being with people we love and who love us. We can be happy without stuff.
“Sometimes,” I said, “having too much stuff can actually make us unhappy.”
That got their attention.
I talked about their play room, overflowing with toys and a constant source of friction for us. I feel like I am perpetually cleaning it, and they are immediately messing it, and my sending them to clean it has them acting like I’m sending them off to some horrible fate. Yet anytime I suggest getting rid of some things, they object. I asked them what it feels like to go into their play room when it is a mess. “How do all those toys make you feel?” I asked them. They hate when it’s a mess, and they love when it’s nice and neat, they replied.
“That’s just it,” I said. “More stuff means more work. But more work means less fun.” They agreed.
So I asked them how we might fix that. We decided we could get rid of many toys they no longer play with so that it’s just an easier space to be in. We all felt that we’d like it more with less.
Later that day, I looked around the rest of the house and realized that I need to do a little purging of my grown-up stuff, too. A lot of purging, actually. I scarcely have a surface right now that isn’t covered with stuff – school papers, magazines, remote controls, mail, toys waiting for batteries or glue (or miracles) to make them work again. It’s just too much. When company is coming over, I often shove them all into a box or a bag or a drawer, telling myself I’ll go through it later and sort it out. Only I don’t. I love the way the house looks – and feels – when it’s gone, but it’s not long before I just put more of the same kind of stuff in its place. (Please tell me I’m not the only one who does this.) Seeing it causes me stress. Knowing that it’s hidden away somewhere out of sight waiting for me to do something about it causes me stress. And I realize that it can’t all be that important if it’s been a month or more and it’s all still in that box. I know I can have more – more peace, more space, more down time, more happiness – with less. And suddenly, it’s all I can think about: what can I get rid of? I know that we would all be more comfortable in our house with less stuff.
That got me thinking about “more with less.” Doing more with less. Being more with less.
We can see when people have more than us. We can see when people have less. But having “more with less” isn’t really something you can see – it’s something you feel.
I thought about what “more with less” means since the loss of our babies. We’re sort of living more with less. Our family is more with less – more people, only fewer. And that isn’t something that other people can see. So they assume we’re just…less. They comment and joke about our being more sometimes, not knowing that we are more. But we know it. We feel it. Special times, holidays, celebrations – they’re always happy with a little sad. I think that is the hardest part of it all – living that dichotomy. I always feel the less with the more.
Lately I’ve realized that there might be some relationships that need purging, too. I know that I like things better when I interact less with some people. More contact with them means more tension for me, so I have been trying to have more peace by having less interaction. That doesn’t mean I don’t forgive people if they make mistakes or that I treat them unkindly, but I’ve been speaking up a little more often to say, “I need this kind of thing to happen less.” It isn’t easy to do, but I always feel more proud of myself for doing it. I know I am taking care of myself more if I’m around them less.
And for some reason, I like myself more since we became less. Not because we’re less; I’d give anything to have our more back. But since becoming less, I feel like personally, I understand more and want to be more. I find myself getting upset about little things less. And I have never understood more clearly that it’s not stuff that makes us happy.
Whether they’re family or dear friends, siblings or spouses, or even folks we’ve never met face to face, when we have found those people who will stand by us through times when we are more sad and less fun, around whom we can be more of ourselves and worry less about what they’ll think, who know and remember that we’re really more, then we have found a treasure. Because that is the most valuable gift someone can give.
More or less.
Image by nicephoto