My year ended with a look at what I own and if I need to keep it all. That’s what Hurricane Irma did for me when I packed everything I need and evacuated. That included things like my printer. All important papers and things you wouldn’t think of at first.
It all fit in my car. When I came back, I didn’t and still haven’t unpacked everything. I’ve been both experimenting with living with much less, and also in an ongoing process of sorting, selling and giving away.
Right after Hurricane Irma, with the kind of summer we were having regarding hurricanes and other weather events, together with cultural and political events (like the Las Vegas mass shooting), I wanted to bring some joy and lightness. So I gave away a keyboard that had been given to us and all of our Christmas decorations, even though we had paid for those.
It felt really good. I used the Nextdoor app and have continued to do so to find second homes for some really nice items. Like a beautiful guitar. A collectible NASA astronaut. A large and musically significant part of my jazz collection.
Actually, the CDs went to a local vinyl store whose jazz CDs needed a boost.
Point is, we own too much. We collect stuff, put it somewhere and barely use it.
I’ve always enjoyed simplicity and order. Minimalism too without it necessarily looking like minimalism. A kind of wabi-sabi feel.
This goes beyond simple living. What the hurricane season of 2017 brought home is that climate change is already here. It isn’t a far off event. We’re seeing it and living it.
We can’t continue to consume at the rate we do and expect our planet to survive it.
Which brings me to the book The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning, by Margareta Magnusson. This isn’t an organizing book. At just over 100 pages, it’s a little but powerful companion.
Magnusson says she’s “aged somewhere between eighty and one hundred…” and with humor and the wisdom of experience, she tells stories with great practical tips.
“Death cleaning” is for anyone who doesn’t want to burden family and others they leave behind with their junk.
It’s not all junk. It’s a process of also finding great homes for the items that are precious or have memories tied to them.
And it helps you choose what you want to have around you, what has beauty and meaning that you want to keep till you transition.
It’s also for anyone whose closets and drawers are bulging and won’t close!
Döstädning as it’s known, is a permanent was of getting organized and downsized to a better fit for you. It’s slow, almost leisurely (that’s why one needs to begin!). Always working toward the goal of shedding your stuff.
Transition points in life, moving, separating a home from someone, kids going to college all have their share of discarding. We’re always kind of doing this type of cleaning. To varying degrees of course, because some people are comfortable with clutter or like to collect.
Yet reading the book really brings it home to you. It also brings it home for our planet.
According to a study published in the Journal of Industrial Ecology, “the stuff we consume — from food to knick-knacks — is responsible for up to 60 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions and between 50 and 80 percent of total land, material, and water use.”
Lead author on the study says, “between 60-80 percent of the impacts on the planet come from household consumption. If we change our consumption habits, this would have a drastic effect on our environmental footprint as well.” (Read here: Consumerism plays a huge role in climate change.)
There’s a spiritual piece to this as well. We can’t call ourselves compassionate and also continue to misuse, mismanage and degrade natural resources and their capacity to bounce back.
We shed in our growth too. That’s a big part of the growth process. We’re compassionate enough with ourselves to see the value of self-development and healing. (Yes, self-compassion is an ongoing learning, that’s another story.)
But what of compassion for our planet of life?
I hope it’s understood that the life we have now, that we enjoy and cherish is made possible by this planet we are on.
It’s now time to bring compassion to our consumption! For the sake of life. For the sake of the planet. For the sake of children.
Compassion means we care. I know we all care about our Earth. As an idea of caring. But we blindly hurtle on.
Compassion also means expansion, inclusion, openness, and embrace.
It means moving from little needs to larger concerns. Moving to a higher good because it’s all one.
We’ll always have things, it’s in the nature of living. We need things.
What we don’t need is the newest or multiples or every color or one here and one there, one for her and one for him…
Our planet is very small; it floats in a never-ending universe. It may perish under the weight of our consumerism—and eventually I fear that it will. If you have no children of your own, you should still be sure to death clean both for the pleasure it can bring you, but also for all the other children out there who you don’t know. Recycling and donating can both help the planet and also bring things to people who may need them.
— Margareta Magnusson
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