I think one of the coolest ‘take aways’ from our time in Manila is an honest-to-goodness appreciation of the concept LESS IS MORE. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’ve known that saying for a long, long time but never really understood it in the profound way I do now. You see, after witnessing poverty on the scale that exists in Manila, I am convinced that something in you inevitably shifts over time…
- You can’t help but flinch when your helper takes your broken sandal out of the trash and asks if she can have it…
- OR throw up a little in your mouth when you witness vendors in Tondo repurposing picked-over chicken bones that they dug out of the garbage…
- OR watch the service person cry with joy over receiving your ratty old gym shirt (with sweat stains in the armpits)…
- OR ask a child what they got for Christmas and have them reply ‘nothing’ as you awkwardly try to change the subject…
- OR have your helper call in with food poisoning because she ate expired food that she ‘couldn’t bear to throw out’
I know I am not alone in having these experiences. My expat friends frequently discuss how uncomfortable it is to participate in these exchanges and to know what the appropriate response is.
So what do you do about it?
Nothing. Simply let it change you.
- Let it make you think twice each time you go to put something in the garbage.
- Let it force you to pause and reconsider when you’re about to buy your umpteenth pair of shoes.
- Let it move you to appreciate the abundance of things you do already have.
- Let it open your heart to consider giving away the possessions and money that you don’t actually **need**.
From Stuff to Experiences
As a girl who started her career trying to come up with strategies to get people to buy more stuff at Target HQ, I find it pretty remarkable to see that I’ve shifted from collecting items to collecting experiences. What I’ve noticed along the way is that with each step towards reducing, I feel a wee bit of weight lifting off my shoulder. You know why that is? Because stuff requires immense investments of emotional energy.
Just stop for a minute and think about how frequently you worry about your car breaking down or your furnace going out or your precious new iphone getting scratched. I know that not a day used to go by when I didn’t worry about one of those things. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying these things aren’t important to have at all, only that we need to limit the amount of things that we spend our emotional energy on.
I never got this fully until after my quarter-life crisis at age 25 when I quit my job at Target (without a new job to go to), sold my house (at a loss), put all my possessions in storage, sold my car (and used public transportation exclusively) and house-sat someone else’s place. I couldn’t tell you why I had to divest of all those things at the time, only that I felt like I was being suffocated by all my stuff. To this day, it remains the period in my life when I felt most alive and free. And you know the craziest part? I didn’t miss my stuff at all!
Cutting Down by 20%
As I’ve gushed about before, Nick and I feel incredibly blessed to be having this opportunity overseas. One of the commitments we’ve made to each other is to process what we’re learning along the way and let this foreign service experience change us for the better. Given that LESS IS MORE was one of our big learnings from this tour, we’ve decided that in 2011 our goal will be to reduce our stuff by 20%. (Point of clarification: We can’t access the furniture and things that are still in Maryland, so we’re basing it on everything we have here in Manila) We feel like this is the perfect place to find new homes for our old things, as Filipinos really treasure possessions (since they have so few of them). I’m already looking forward to the give-away!
Call to Action
So here’s the call to action folks. Will you join Nick and I in giving away a percentage of your things? Only you know what’s a comfortable stretch for you, so be honest with yourself. I promise you, it’s not as hard as it sounds… and you’ll feel a whole lot lighter heading into the new year.
Be sure and leave a comment if you’re up for the challenge! And I promise that I’ll keep you posted on when we complete our purge – we got off to a great start this morning!