In with the new, out with the old

Much of our lives is spent accumulating. We accumulate wisdom. We accumulate judgement if we’re lucky. Those are good! We certainly accumulate stories and experiences.

Then there are the more complicated forms of accumulation. We accumulate stuff. Bags of stuff from the store. Boxes of stuff that arrive each day. By one rough estimate, Amazon ships more than three million boxes daily. Imagine what that does to fill our shelves, stuff our closets, and pack our basements. We could inundate a lot of houses quickly with three million boxes of things.

In our family we’re big consumers of everything Amazon. We value the convenience of Amazon for everything from steel cut oats to shoes to printer ink. Then there are the durable goods. The gadgets. The clothing. The things we use and store and never throw out.

The phone booth is getting cramped

If you did a time-lapse study of things moving into most houses, it would be like the clowns loading into the phone booth. One clown enters. Then another. And another. Soon it would seem dozens of clowns have entered that phone booth. Where are they all going?

For those clowns, that phone booth is getting cramped. It’s a bit hard to breathe. It’s not fun anymore. The air is stuffy, and if you wanted to call a friend to say hello, this is not where you want to place that call.  

I read an article recently by Tobias van Schneider, a designer in New York, called “The Cake is a lie.” Tobias refers to all those things in our life that we hold tightly. They’re all “cake”. We humans are really good at acquiring and protecting the cake. Once we have something, we’re reluctant to give it up. When we earn something, we don’t want to lose it. From books to jobs, from everyday objects to things of status, we hold on tightly.

Letting go of the cake

What if we let go a bit more? What if our shelves had space on them to welcome new things? What if we got rid of the shelf all together?

Let’s agree that there is only one thing scarce in everyone’s life: time. Money may be scarce at times. Water may be scarce at times. These can feel urgent and scary. Yesterday in the car our young son was THIRSTY! He needed water, and it was scarce, and for him at that moment, it was an urgent priority. For all people, regardless of their station in life, time is scarce.

What if we started treating everything else like it was abundant, or had the possibility of being abundant? If cake is available anywhere, we don’t need to hoard cake. What if we also started making two conditions for buying possessions. First, we’re only spending money we set aside last month. Second, we’re getting rid of one thing at home, better yet two things, to make room for what’s new.

One for one

Try it. Can you remove a book on your shelf to give away or sell for each book you buy? Can you free up a t-shirt for each new one you buy or are given? Can you sell or get rid of that old phone the same day you upgrade to buy a new one?

What’s your relationship with the cake in your life? How many cakes do you need to live the good life? Can you set any free?