Winter, simple pleasures, and the good residue from past hoarding

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Here I am in the one room shack atop my garage doing what I love best. The wood stove is supplying a surplus of warmth, my turntable spins an old record, and seven inches of new snow glistens on the other side of my window. The temperature outside is about ten degrees, and an invigorating wind is a blustering. Inside I am cozy and warm beside my crackling fire. This is winter in Duluth, Minnesota, and I love it.

From this location I am striving to recover the lost art of letter writing (currently being buried by an avalanche of quick and impersonal electronic means of communication), appreciation of good books, and mainly just being free of unwanted distractions.

Normally I choose the music of the fire over other options. Virtual silence is subtly ornamented by the crackles, pops, and ticking of the stove. This serves as the cabin I always wanted, and helps to unplug me from the ever constant lure of the television. Frequent and regular doses of simple quiet tranquility aids in keeping my mind supple and alert, and helps ward off the staleness that daily electronic entertainment would bring.  It also assists in the daily battle to position the things that really matter in the forefront, which is something I find increasingly important as I enter my late 30’s.

The bare bones serenity of the place works wonders in clearing the clutter from my mind, which is especially important for me since I have a history of hoarding in my background. My lengthy brush with hoarding is something I will touch on here and there in these postings.

Recently I have realized that there has been some positive residue from the hoarding I have experienced. A recovering hoarder like myself can draw from my experience of valuing the little that I have and need, while rejecting the throwaway lifestyle that runs rampant in our society. I find that I have been able to stand more resolute against acquiring too much stuff as a family for instance, and endeavor to take care of what we do have rather than casually throwing items away. It is very difficult for me to dispose of anything, so this makes it essential for me to not acquire much. By shutting off the acquiring instinct of a packrat, I am able to accentuate the more positive side of hoarding that eschews waste of all kinds. I even find value in a banana peel, and feel remorse when forced to throw one in the trash at a friend’s house rather than composting it for the garden.

As we all know, Americans simply throw away too much stuff. Our waste stream doubles during the holidays, which is an extra million tons of garbage each week. Is this spiritually impoverished lifestyle of consumption and wastefulness something we should inculcate in our children? The answer is clearly no, and I regret seeing these issues frequently being divided along political lines. In my opinion this is a spiritual issue, and not merely political.

Here’s a big number for you. This week in church I learned that American’s will collectively spend approximately $450 billion dollars this Christmas. A mere $30 billion dollars would be sufficient to feed all of the world’s poor and malnourished for an entire year. It’s downright shocking to see how a small sacrifice on our part could alleviate a great deal of suffering in our world.

We need to learn from our grandparents, and promote the time tested values of thrift and a protestant work ethic. Don’t spend what you don’t have, live simply, acquire little, take care of the things you have, live big. These are matters that most of us try to instill in our children, but our day in and day out actions are what they’ll really be absorbing instead of our words.

At the risk of being labelled a greenie weenie by my brother-in-law who puts a high premium on loving people, I say that limiting our consumption and waste is a spiritual issue and ultimately about placing emphasis on people and relationships over things. A lifestyle centered around consumption and waste can only lead to a hollowing out of our spiritual life. Limiting our waste promotes a proper ethic in the next generation while also taking care of the planet (which of course is home to a lot of people!).

With regard to things, I would prefer my kids to have a few items that they cherish and take care of rather than hundreds of worthless plastic trinkets. My experience is that most parents agree with this philosophy, but find it difficult to work out practically. I believe a good place to start is in fostering an appreciation for simple pleasures, avoiding television and advertisements as much as possible, and promoting experiences that involve being together and community over the individuality that a high level of consumerism promotes. Sharing my “cabin” with the entire family while playing games in front of the fire, reading together, and enjoying one another is one small step we take, but it certainly is a daily battle with no magic bullets.


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