This I Believe

Elizabeth - La Mesa, New Mexico
Entered on February 25, 2008
Age Group: 30 - 50
  • Podcasts

    Sign up for our free, weekly podcast of featured essays. You can download recent episodes individually, or subscribe to automatically receive each podcast. Learn more.

  • FAQ

    Frequently asked questions about the This I Believe project, educational opportunities and more...

  • Top Essays USB Drive

    This USB drive contains 100 of the top This I Believe audio broadcasts of the last ten years, plus some favorites from Edward R. Murrow's radio series of the 1950s. It's perfect for personal or classroom use! Click here to learn more.

Owning too much stuff has always been a burden to me. Whether it is brand-new clothes, expensive gadgets, valuable books or other useful goodies, I have learned that unless I have a clear and present need for it, I have to send it back into circulation throughout the Universe before it starts to affect me in a negative way. To me, releasing excess indicates a strong faith in the bounteous nature of the Universe. It affirms that there is plenty to go around and that whatever I want or need is easily and readily available to me, therefore eliminating the need to stash and hoard. By letting go of the unnecessary I am actually making room for what I want or need to come easily into my life.

I grew up in a mindset that measured success and security by how much material wealth we possessed. The name of the game was to accumulate as many valuable goodies as we could to either use, trade or sell, all in the name of basic survival and getting ahead in life. If we acquired something valuable that we had little use for or simply disliked, we packed it up carefully and stored it in the hopes that someday it would come in handy. Maybe it would come back into style, or maybe someone would take up that hobby where it could be useful. Or maybe someday we would be in such dire straits that we would be grateful we had saved it because now it was saving us. Just simply giving away our surplus was considered a noble act of charity, not a normal everyday occurrence.

However, even though I grew up with this impression, it never quite resonated with me. There was always this very simple part of me that said, “Why do I need to do all this? Why can’t I just live happily on the bare necessities of life?” I would fantasize about running around the jungles of South America in nothing but a loincloth made of woven root fibers. In my fantasy I would eat what was readily available in nature, drink from the nearest stream and sleep where it pleased me to lay my head at night. In this dream I took what I needed to be alive and happy and left the rest to its own good fortune. Because the jungle was so bounteous there was no need for scrimping and saving. Why couldn’t real life be like this?

Once, when I was a teenager, I told my conventionally- minded sister that when I got married and had kids I was only going to let them each own 3 pairs of clothes at a time, because I had noticed that even though my sisters and I had lots of clothes we would usually just wear 4 or 5 favorite outfits and leave the rest in the closet for “special occasions”. I figured that if we teenagers could get by happily on 4 or 5 pairs of clothes a little kid could surely do well with 3 pairs. She laughed at me, but I really believed it.

Eventually I got married and moved to Mexico. I still had a vision of simplicity in my heart, but living a light and simple lifestyle without any prior experience takes practice. At times my little house would get to the point where I didn’t want to clean it anymore. Toys would be sprawled everywhere, the clothes would be in a heap, books would be packed in and weighing down every shelf, useful bits of information that had been recorded in notebooks and on bits of paper would be vomiting from every corner; and the socks, I could swear they were all cheating on their mates, because when I would go to look for something to wear, quite often instead, I would find colors, sizes and styles that I knew I didn’t buy – clearly indicating that there was serious promiscuity and crossbreeding going on among the socks.

Besides not wanting to clean my house, I would experience other symptoms as well like: a stuffy nose, bloating, weight gain, constipation and constant fatigue. It took me several years to realize the impact my possessions had on my physical well being. I discovered that the constant fatigue was related to the burden of being loaded down all the time. Constipation was equal to being clogged or cluttered. A stuffy nose was due to a congested environment and overweight was one of the symptoms of hoarding and possessing more than was necessary.

When I would get like this I would ask myself, “What’s wrong?” and the answer would always come back, “too much stuff”. So what was I supposed to do with an answer like that? Well, there was only one thing I could do, start eliminating; and let me tell you, that was not easy. I didn’t own any junk to throw away; everything I owned was valuable and useful. Still, deep down inside I knew that less was more. I knew that the less I had to organize and maintain, the more time and energy I would have to spend doing the things I loved with the people I loved. Isn’t that the joy in life, spending your life doing what you want with your loved ones? That’s the meaning of my life and in order to achieve that I had to start simplifying. It took a leap of faith to just let it go, trusting that if the time ever came when I really needed it, somehow it would appear again for me.

I started with the clothes. It didn’t matter if it was just bought the day before, if I didn’t absolutely love the way I looked and felt in it, it was gone. Also, if I hadn’t used it in 6 months, it was gone. As for the kids, I learned that they really do only need 3 to 4 outfits at a time. And the socks? Well, every once in a while I would go through and purge the sock drawer, banishing the infidels and their bastardly offspring and keeping only the faithful mates.

Next came the books. That was a daring step. You see, I had been taught to have the greatest respect for books, and now, here I was living in Mexico with piles of perfectly good books in English that I didn’t need anymore and the Mexicans needed even less. After giving away as many as possible, I considered putting the rest in boxes and storing them even though I knew the mice would eventually destroy them. Finally I decided that if they were destined to be destroyed, I might as well get it over with now, in an orderly way, rather than clean up after the mice later. So I piled them up outside into a heaping mound. Then with a match and a prayer of thanksgiving I sent them away on a hot, roaring flame. It was such a relief, but I think I traumatized my sister; she called me a Nazi.

And so I went like this throughout my whole house. Every single thing was evaluated. If it was surplus or ugly or unnecessary it had to go. If I wasn’t emotionally ready to let it go, that was ok. As long as I was being honest about its status I could hold onto it until I was ready to release it. As I slowly trimmed and recycled the excess I felt my mind start to clear up. My energy returned and my life became so much simpler.

I had learned to recognize the excess and send it back freely into circulation throughout the Universe in a loving and uplifting way. In a way I had made my childhood fantasy come true. I was walking through the world in a little bit more than a loin cloth, eating what was readily available, drinking from the nearest stream and sleeping where I chose to lay my head at night. I had learned to take what I needed to be alive and happy and leave the rest to its own good fortune. I had learned that because the world was so bounteous, there was no need for scrimping and hoarding.