There was a time when my husband and I were living out of suitcases, carting two kids around without a permanent place to call home. It’s a long story. Essentially, academia is responsible, and we were waiting for a job to surface. We owned little and our future was fuzzy at best. Housesitting and globetrotting for the win!
Our family’s involuntary 15-month experience was a crash course in living lean. Beyond the essentials, we chose to prioritize simple props to make our days sparkle a bit: a handsome coffee press, quality beans, heavy mugs, a few books, and a portable speaker. Everything else was details.
Eventually a research gig came knocking. We settled into a version of regular family life. I purchased a shiny red Dutch oven and reunited with my beloved WÜSTOF knives. My wardrobe doubled to roughly 50 items. In time, my husband’s drum kit found its way home, too, and the kids began accumulating Legos, as kids are prone to do. You see where this is going. Before long, clutter was everywhere.
I try not to get precious about belongings—I have moved too many times in 38 years. I try to live with open hands, but I still get hung up on particular items. Am I emotionally attached to my gin collection? Yes. Do I travel with slippers in tow? Also yes. Do I own eight shades of red lipstick? No way. I own ten. Good luck finding me without my beloved beret and coffee mug.
These things are all well and good. Possessions have their rightful place in our stories. They can remind us of who we are, what we have overcome, and who we are becoming.
But they can also become a source of stress and overwhelm. We live in a culture that preaches a commercial gospel. Contentment comes and goes. Many of us fall prey to the blockbuster chorus of “More! Newer! Better! Best!” and the proof resides in attics and storage lockers.
In the face of excess, a worthwhile question is this: If our lives are one-act shows, what is the role of our possessions? Are they simply props we use to tell our story? Or are they characters standing centerstage, vying for attention? Worse still, are they in charge of the show, shaping the narrative and directing our lives?
This issue aims to cast your possessions in a new light. It offers practical help to those looking to live with less. You’ll hear from bestselling authors, an Emmy award–winning television host, and professional organizers. If you want thoughts on hoarding, decluttering, curating, and paring down, look no further. (And if you’ve ever wondered what it’s like raising kids in someone else’s pristine New York apartment, you’re in luck. The tale is glorious.)
Possessions shouldn’t hog the spotlight. This is your show, after all. Peaceful living is waiting in the wings. Consider this your curtain call.
Elissa Joy Watts
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