Susan P. Blevins was born in England, lived 26 years in Italy, and has now resided in the USA for the past 24 years, first in Taos, NM, and currently in Houston, TX. While living in Rome she had a weekly column in an international, English-language newspaper, writing about food and restaurant reviews primarily, though not exclusively. Since living in the USA she has written pieces on gardens and gardening for N. American and European publications (Sunset Magazine, Garten Praxis), and she is now writing stories of her life, travels and philosophy and is gaining traction in various literary publications (including Negative Capability, Kind of a Hurricane, New Verse News, When Women Waken, Chicago Literati, Mused BellaOnline, Feminine Collective, Scarlet Leaf, and many others). She loves reading, writing, cats, classical music, and stimulating conversation, and believes that the purpose of life is love and service.
WHY WE OWN
Possessions are like money: there’s no harm to them so long as you own them, and they don’t own you. That was not the case with my friend Elena, from Estonia. She had grown up in Tallinn during WWII in a state of constant privation. This resulted in obsessively surrounding herself with things she felt she needed. Her pantry was always stocked with canned goods, many long out of date, and her closets were bursting at the seams. The worst manifestation of her fear was her shoe closet. She had so many pairs of shoes that most of them were new, still in boxes, and therefore out of sight and out of mind, so she always wore the same ten pairs of shoes, comforted emotionally by the stacks of unopened shoe boxes. After all, she might walk in a new direction one day.
It seems to me that hoarding stuff is always a sign of lack. Lack of necessities while growing up, as in the case of Elena, indicates lack of material security. In our president’s case, his presumed lack of parental reinforcement and love resulted in his need for palatial surroundings, lavish gold toilet fixtures, and adulation, not to mention the sexual implications of his tiny hands resulting in a need to compensate with a show of aggression and power.
My husband and I had a renter years ago, and after failing to inspect the townhouse since the renter moved in four years earlier, we decided we should check up on our property. He’d always paid his rent on time, and had a good government job in Washington DC, but we thought he was rather odd. So one day we decided to go and inspect the property while he was at work. I inserted the key in the door and tried to open it. It felt as though it was blocked on the other side. After much energetic shoving, I managed to open it enough for me to squeeze through. Inside was a chaos of epic proportions. Stacks of newspapers and magazines completely covered the floor of the corridor beyond the front door, and of every other room. The bathroom revealed a WC thickly encrusted with old feces, and a tub that was stained beyond redemption. In the bedroom was a bed-frame with a bare mattress on it and a filthy grey sheet huddled in one corner. We were stunned. The tenant appeared to be middle class, educated, and ostensibly held a good government job. We let him know that we had visited the house, without specifying our dismay, and he vacated it shortly thereafter.
Elena’s compulsion always stayed with me, however, and I started observing others, and their obsession with things. Take my parents, for example. Every time I went to visit them, it was my challenge and excitement to pull down the rickety ladder from the trapdoor in the ceiling, and go up into the loft to sort through their long-held possessions. I used to disappear up there for hours, looking into boxes, reading old documents and letters, and of course looking at albums of photographs, some of my own childhood, but others going back to my great grandparents’ day. My mother would invariably stand at the foot of the steps and call apprehensively for me to come down. I usually managed to persuade them to get rid of just a few papers, an obsolete typewriter, or one of their ancient, real leather, heavy as lead, suitcases. As for my mother’s pantry, well, she had tins and jars of food By Appointment to His Majesty King George V, who died in 1936 and it was now the sixties.
Personally, I’m not really a hoarder, except for books. I cull them regularly, and think I’m doing well to get rid of perhaps ten out of a thousand or more. Lately, in view of a hurricane we experienced in Texas, I am viewing my possessions in a rather more clinical light. I’m purging myself of geegaws, my grandparents’ china and silver, mementos of family vacations. The more I purge, the lighter and more liberated I feel.
But the truth is, we all own much more than we need. In fact, we are sinking under our possessions. There are entire islands of trash floating on the seas, while at the same time many of us go hungry and unclothed. I firmly believe that recycling is the way to go. Clearing away the outer clutter might help us to clear out the inner clutter of our minds too, for surely the one reflects the other. The greater the insecurity the bigger the need for possessions to compensate. Our garages are full of broken-down things we’re “fixin’ to fix” because we might need them one day, projects that “we’ll get around to one day”. In the meantime, energy stagnates around them.
Everything is energy, and where it is stagnant, which is to say where it accumulates in piles in our garages, or in savings accounts, or in parts of our body, disease or imbalance can set in.
Energy needs to flow, in society and in our bodies. Money is energy, and like our blood or lungs, it has to flow, to breathe in and out, in order to keep the social body healthy. I believe that our unconscious need to hoard material possessions signifies our unarticulated fear that we might end up one day with nothing.
We also confuse wanting with needing. We endlessly shop until we drop for things, but material things can never satisfy our hunger for the meaning and fulfillment we crave, which is more a hunger in the soul than anything else, an indicator of our inner poverty. Without self-reflection this process remains a mystery, unconscious and unacknowledged.
For sanity to be restored, I believe we need to return to the more spiritual values of kindness, generosity, community, sharing, love, respect and humility. Whether we are Christian, Jew, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Atheist or Agnostic, the value of our belief system is only validated by the way we treat one another, not by facile, empty words.
Whether we know it or not, like it or not, we are challenged to be active participants in the ongoing battle between darkness and light, chaos versus order, materialism versus spirituality. We need to look at the shadow side of our personality, acknowledge it, and integrate it, painful though that may be, knowing that as we do so, we are withdrawing our own shadow from the great collective shadow, and in this way contributing to healing and peace in our society, and by extension, the world.