It's About Control

It’s funny how little we exert control over what comes into our homes. From accepting all gifts (whether desired or not), hand-me-downs out of guilt, freebies that flood in, and unwanted mail, much of what we have wasn’t invited. It’s like our homes need their own bouncers just to manage the influx of stuff.

But once an item blows past the threshold, the tentacles of control slowly emerge. It is now your stuff. You are the owner of this grand variety of things: from a marketing flyer, to holiday cards, to the results of your latest shopping spree. Purely because of this ownership and your stuff’s occupation of your space, you find yourself with both a responsibility for it all (whether it stays, goes, or where it goes) and varied levels of attachment. From little control to complete control, it’s a quick turn of circumstance. 

Why does this happen?

First, something means nothing to you, or not all that much. It was something that just got passed along. Or maybe you bought something because you “loved” it, but that love and excitement fades. Or you purchased something for practical reasons, it served it’s purpose, yet you can’t let it go. You are in control of and responsible for these things, even though you may feel out of control or overwhelmed at times because of how much stuff you have. Then, you become attached and identify with your stuff. Attachment can be quick and quite strong.

As I wrote about in Non-Attachment, suffering is caused by forming attachments to things (or people, circumstances, and desires). Attachment is the opposite of accepting the temporal nature of life; the fact that all in life is impermanent. This can cause stress or unhappiness. When we resist letting go because of attachment, we are trying to control. This is where the suffering occurs and why we end up keeping more than we need. Attachment is the false veil of security. 

The tendency toward unnecessary control and attachment extends beyond the borders of your home. When it comes time to loosen your grip, you may say, “I can do without this. But surely someone else will love it just as I did! It’s such a wonderful thing!” You’re ready to part ways but not until you know who the receiver will be or at least that there is a worthy receiver ready to accept this former treasure of yours. Some items seem too important for the donation bag. This attempt to control an object beyond your ownership rather than just letting go doesn’t support one of the main purposes in downsizing: recognizing that it’s just stuff and any sort of attachment is not helpful to living a life of freedom.

This tendency is the inverse of landfill purgatory, when you hold onto something you no longer want because you would feel bad sending it to the landfill. You essentially make your home a makeshift landfill intermediary by delaying the inevitable out of guilt. Either way, you are trying to control (or delay delivery to) the end point. 

There is a distinction between control and responsibility. Once you let an item, big or small,  pass your threshold, you make an informal agreement to oversee it. It’s next place in the world is your responsibility, but don’t take that too far or else you are in the confines of the control trap. What was once a good thing for you may not hold that value for someone else.

Shift your focus on controlling what you let in your home. Become the tough bouncer, with a keen eye on everything. Then, when it’s time to let go, really let go. Be responsible without attachment.