The material stuff that matters

material stuff that matters

There are times when I’d love to be a minimalist. Have as little stuff as possible, eight items in my wardrobe, etc etc. And in a way, that’s how we moved from South Africa to the States, with almost nothing. I kept telling myself that it’s just stuff, and it doesn’t matter, but the reality is that sometimes it is the material stuff that matters.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, and I kept meaning to write about it but hadn’t gotten around to it. Then Jonelle from Tyranny of Pink wrote about giving up her gorgeous dining room table, and the emotional struggle of it all. And Ella shared in her Insta-story how bad she felt about losing her phone, and that she hated feeling bad about it, but she did. So here’s my current take on the material stuff.

The reality is that most things are “just stuff”. Dean, Harley and I were able to move to the States with essentially just three suitcases full of things we’d need to get going. In the beginning, all we really had was our tech (laptops, phones, a PS4 etc), some clothes, basic hygiene stuff for all of us as well as books and toys for Harley. It was fine. Sort of.

But at the same time, the first paycheck we got here went towards getting Dean a Weber braai to help make my mom’s place feel more like home. And I can’t even describe to you how wonderful it was when our 10 boxes of things arrived from South Africa, complete with my favorite Le Creuset dutch oven, spatulas and potato masher. Sure, I could have bought a new Le Creuset butter dish if I had really needed to, but it was so lovely to have something that felt like it held memories inside.

And that’s the thing about stuff. Much of it is just material possessions. The couch we sit on, the clothes we wear, the plates we eat food off of. But some of our things become sentimental. Either there’s value attached, or memories, or both. Some things make a house feel like a home. Some things make us feel more like ourselves. We didn’t need to bring our old braai with us from South Africa, but we definitely need to replace it in our new home.

My mom went out and bought me a lovely frying pan when we were staying with her, just so that I could make breakfast at her place and feel at home. And it was a wonderful gesture, and the pan is great. But it just didn’t compare to MY frying pan when it finally arrived.

Of course, it’s a tricky line to walk. If we have too many sentimental items, too much stuff, we end up getting trapped in it. It can become hoarding or just a burden. Every single person I’ve known who has moved has made some comment about wanting to reduce the amount of stuff they own, to stop accumulating so much. If you go online, there are a ton of articles about simplifying your life, how you should donate something every time you buy something, and on and on. And in theory, I agree with that. I don’t have as many books anymore – it’s not that I don’t read, but kindle reading means that I can read just as much without lugging around heavy books from one country to the next each time I move.

I kept telling Jonelle that she will make new memories at her new table. That she is making room in her life for the new things. It’s the memories that matter, not the fetishized object that reminds us.

And yet, I can’t help falling in love with our stuff as we fill up our home. Dean and I have already gathered so much since that day we arrived with just three suitcases. I’ve realized that I do need more than just a bowl and some yoga pants. I can’t live my life as a minimalist, in part because I have a toddler who seems to constantly spawn more things, but also because there are some items that make my life easier, that bring me joy or that help me feel more like myself.

I guess the point is that in the end, it’s both. It’s just stuff, and if we need to, we can let it go. Almost every object we own can be replaced in some way. But it’s also okay to feel sad if we have to let things go, to want to keep those things we treasure, and to enjoy those objects that bring us pleasure. There’s more to life than material stuff, but material stuff can make it easier to enjoy the people we love, to cook the meals we eat together, to savor the moments we share. It’s okay to want and need things, even as we realize that we can make do without them. We can survive with less, but sometimes, having more can make us feel settled, established and rooted.


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