Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Trapped in a prison of STUFF: Simplifying as a path to Santosha.

As I type this I am literally barricaded onto my couch, which will soon be on the street corner, by boxes, space bags, and hampers full of stuff. Dozens of tank tops. Countless pairs of socks and underwear. An embarrassingly large collection of both yoga outfits and party dresses, from my two most recent past lives. Even after selling, donating, and trashing a small village worth of items I am still surrounded by and disgusted with all. this. stuff.

Where did it all come from? What lunatic actually thought she needed a 10th bikini or a 22nd pair of jeans? Don't get me started on the shoes, jewelry and beauty products. No less than three containers of organic turmeric and FOUR different types of Chia seeds in my pantry. That's like a $50 trip to the grocery store right there! Somehow, even in a 400 square foot apartment that I share with another large human and a medium-sized dog, I've managed to become something of a hoarder. And I don't think I'm alone.

As a culture we're addicted to stuff. Buying more. Upgrading. The 5S instead of our perfectly functional 4S. The mocha brown sweater in addition to the chocolate brown one (which one is which again?). There's always a new mascara, a better kitchen gadget, another miracle spice powder or potion that's going to make us healthier/thinner/better/enlightened/richer/happier or all of the above.

In my old job as a high-end event planner, I used to grapple with the word need. "Do I NEED to serve beluga caviar at our holiday party or is an on-site sushi chef good enough?". "Do I NEED a fourth 60" plasma TV for Timmy's Bar Mitzvah?" they'd ask. Umm, no, I'd smugly think to myself, feeling so much more evolved than them for not being so overtly materialistic and wasteful. And yet here I am completely encumbered by my accumulation of crap that all told, cost WAY more than those plasma TVs and that beluga caviar combined (well, maybe not more in terms of sheer dollars spent, but as a percentage of our total respective net worths oh HELL yes).

As a yogi, I am ashamed. Not ashamed as in depressed or down on myself but this process of packing and moving to New Orleans has really shined a light on some blind spots in my character. Spots that I could not see because they were literally and figuratively covered over with mess, clutter, and stuff. What these piles show me is that I have neither practiced to the niyama (observance) of saucha (cleanliness/purity), nor followed the yama (rule) of aparigraha (non-hoarding/ greedlessness).

I could make excuses and say that my mom is a shopper and raised me to shop, or that I grew up in a big house with tons of storage space and got used to it, or that  I've lived in this apartment for years so the stuff has had time to accumulate or that I've just always been sloppy. All of these things may be "true" but that doesn't make them valid.

As I move on to a new city and a new phase of my life I am committing to a life of voluntary simplicity. Even those words evoke a lightness in my being. This isn't a vow of poverty. I'm not selling everything I own and living in a orange robe with one tin bowl begging by the road side. I'm just choosing to say NO to the madness of stuff-accumulation that is so easy to descend into. It doesn't make me poor or unfashionable if I say no to shopping trips. It doesn't make me cheap for trying to repurpose and recycle what I already own rather than buying something new for every occasion. It doesn't "save time" by leaving things a mess or stashing things in storage spaces and then pretending they don't exist anymore. The same goes for the home we choose to rent. There was a part of me that wanted a big old honkin' crib because real estate is so much less expensive in NOLA than in NYC. Not no more. Until there are small humans to fill our home, we will live below our means in a reasonably sized place. Why have four bedrooms to furnish when we currently only need one? Just so I have more things to shop for and then show off to our new friends? Nuh uh no way nope. Not doing it.

I hereby pledge not to buy ANYTHING I don't absolutely need in 2014. By intentionally NOT filling my space and my life with excess things, I can allow for the opposite to appear which is space. Space that is needed for mental clarity and order. The less there is to buy, the less money needs to be made. The less money we need to make, the more time there can be for doing other non-money-making activities such as thinking, reading, meditating, socializing, loving, enjoying and existing. The less to buy, the less to want, the less to need. Another sweater or phone or spice or mascara isn't really going to make us happy, and we all know it. The less we want or feel we "need", the more content we are with what we already have.

And isn't contentment (santosha) all any of us really want anyway?