Stuff, stuff, and more stuff

“How much stuff does a person need?” The question keeps rolling through my mind, a massaged version of the title of Leo Tolstoy’s short story, “How Much Land Does a Man Need?” (in which the zinger at the end is, only six by six, for a casket). I’ve been pondering this question as I reenter life in Britain following a five-week holiday in the States.


Unpacking after our trip to Tanzania in 2009. Some pretty cool stuff here – but it’s still stuff.

Admittedly, I amass stuff in the States. Things are generally cheaper and I have my favorite brands, even after a decade and a half of living here. So holidays (vacations) include consumerism: power shopping on my own; a relational trip to the Mall of America with my sister and mother; those stress-filled journeys to Target with excitable children. I gather my Tazo Chai tea bags (I know – seriously? bringing tea back to the UK?), Kashi cereal (although I’m weaning myself off of it), MBT shoes, and clothes for the kids in the next sizes up.

I sometimes think of how I appear an indulgent parent when my kids and I shop when Stateside, for we often choose birthday and Christmas presents together and I say yes more than no. Part of me enjoys being able to say yes, yes, yes to all those kid requests once or twice a year.

But all that stuff needs packing and transporting back home. This last trip we were verily bulging, at the weight limit with our suitcases and with our four carryons packed to the gills. After the long trip, we were home at last. Suitcases dumped on the floor to be unpacked; stuff to be sorted and divvied up and put away. I ignored it for two days and focused on the garden instead, telling myself that I needed to spend time in the sun to more quickly overcome jetlag when a big part of me couldn’t face all that stuff.

How much stuff does a person need? Could I give up my US power shopping trips and accept that I’ll pay more in the UK? Or even more radical, how about embracing a simpler life? Fewer clothes and possessions. Using up what we have. Being content.

When I read blogs and books about simplicity by someone like Pen Wilcock, the idea certainly appeals. Her publisher husband has given away thousands of books, something I would have a hard time doing.

Small steps, right? What one thing could you and I embrace to lead a more simple life?

How much stuff do you need?


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