Stuff

Icebreaker speech - Toastmasters

The Icebreaker is an opportunity for you to get to know me… thankfully there is a time limit or else this could take all night.

One thing to know about me is that my interests cast a wide net that is often difficult for me to reign in. From writing – fiction and non fiction, creating art, working in the arts, yoga, meditation and mindfulness, conscious consumerism, politics- mostly just complaining a lot about it – to history, finance, movement sciences and probably my biggest interest, people.

For tonight’s speech, I would like to talk about something that has been particularly relevant in my life over the past year.

I’d like to talk to you tonight about my most tumultuous, guilt ridden, frustrating and often confusing relationship.

After my parents, I have been in this relationship the longest.

It is a relationship that life comes equipped with from the outset.

Sometimes this relationship brings me joy… most time it makes me feel guilty and sometimes just downright depressed.

Over the past few years the balance of power in this relationship has been shifting.

“Our pleasures are to material pleasures, but symbols of pleasure – attractively packaged but inferior in content.” – Alan W. Watts.

My relationship with material possessions, with stuff started out innocently enough. I love getting stuff as a youngster – the more the merrier!

Birthdays, christmas – remember party bags and pass the parcel?

The first memorable marker of becoming conscious of this unconscious relationship to stuff happened when I was about six. My father was watching a documentary on the Holocaust and, being the curious creature I was, I hovered in the hallway unbeknownst to him watching. I didn’t understand a lot of what I saw but I understood enough to know that I was already luckier than many of the children and adults I saw. This would impact how I would view the world to this day.

I went on to consume a lot of literature and media on conflict i the world, poverty, third world countries to understand how contemporary society has evolved unfairly as it has.

All of this incidental research changed my relationship with material possessions from one of pleasure to one of guilt. I spent a lot of my life, young as it is, denying myself things because I didn’t feel it was fair that I had certain privileges that many in the world did not share.

It turns out I take after my father who couldn’t care less about keeping up with the Jones’. My mother on the other hand seemed to measure her world by material possessions. I learned not to invest the same attachment to things as I grew up seeing how unhappy she was with all the things she did not have. The yin to this yang was seeing how content my father was with what he did have – an invaluable dichotomy.

One of my favourite memories is my dad giving me a book for my birthday – no card, no wrapping, no ostentatious presentation. He just came home after a long day at work, apologised it was nothing fancy and handed me a paperback. I was about ten. Apt that the book was Pollyanna, a tale about finding the silver lining in any situation. 

My breaking point in this relationship came at the age of 25 when the family home of 10 years had to be moved. The second memorable marker. I spent quite a while trawling through 25years of accumulated stuff and ended up getting rid of almost half of what I had.

However my mother insisted that every single dated and unnecessary bit of stuff follow us. I was tempted to set the truck on fire to save us having to unpack at the other end.

What ensued was an unintentional war on my own stuff and a rejection of accumulating any more than a few car loads. This was aided by five house moves in the past three years and I’ve culled almost half again of what I own.

I’ve found I am happiest in this relationship when there is less of the other – less stuff in my life. This is sometimes a difficult balance to strike as a book lover and artist with an arsenal of materials to account for.

My penchant for less is something I had a hard time understanding myself and a harder time asking friends to understand as they questioned certain life choices.

The third memorable marker came with the discovery of The Minimalists podcast earlier this year. How had I never come across this framework for living life before?

Finally.

I had found a language and roadmap of what I had been striving to achieve over the past few years. I also found a means to move beyond the guilt I had been feeling about my possessions.

This is not a lifestyle recommended for everyone but it is one that I have found suits me well for now.

Like any relationship, I know that time will change things, I will change and no relationship is perfect. I’m hoping that my newfound understanding of my relationship with stuff brings us into a more harmonious future, where I feel less guilty and it feels less need to pressure me.

I have a feeling the books are going to put up a fight though.