I met “Sheri” a few years ago on my book tour and she got in touch when she moved to Charlotte (my city) in March. She arrived at exactly the same time we were moving out of our suburban four-bedroom home into a smaller urban townhouse and came over to preview the massive yard sale that took us weeks of preparation. She bought a few things that she admitted she didn’t need and I was happy to sell them.
She had moved a couple of times in the last few years and as she was shopping our yard sale, we talked about how difficult it is to move things along that no longer serve us: clothes that don’t fit, LPs without the proper equipment to play them, birthday cards from high school sweethearts…I won’t belabor the point. I had it all and struggled to downsize.
I bet you’re wondering what that funny picture is at the top of this post. It’s what a Play-Doh elementary school geography project looks like after all the moisture has evaporated. A “good mother” saves these precious school projects for twenty years, dontcha know (ha!).
On the edge of something frightening
Sheri got in touch last week in great distress. She had come to the conclusion that she was drowning in her stuff and didn’t know how to make decisions about what to save, and what to throw out, donate, or sell. She confided that she was obsessing over this massive undertaking, which robbed her of sleep and was edging into her sanity.
I am not a mental health professional, but I’ve been fortunate to work with some of the best. Her tone of voice and obsessive repetition of points told me she wasn’t being a drama queen.
She was on the edge of something frightening.
I could only speak to her from my own exhausting experience of downsizing and lovingly suggest how to cope, both with her stuff and with her thoughts.
Stuff ≠ Love
I’m going to stay in touch with Sheri over the next few weeks. She’s new to Charlotte and doesn’t have many people to call on for support. It’s the least I can do to make a small dent in the karmic debt I owe to friends who’ve helped me in life.
But as we come into the season of gift exchanges, I think it’s important to get real with ourselves. Few of us want for anything. Think of my friend Sheri, for whom one more gift to deal with might be the proverbial straw that breaks the camel’s back of her sanity. I’m sure she’d rather have an hour with a friend over a steaming mug of coffee than a 300th pair of earrings.
If you’re struggling with what to buy for “someone who has everything,” the answer is probably, “don’t buy them anything.”
We can emerge from under this sea of stuff in some loving ways. One is to give each other gifts from the heart, as my friend Jeri’s famiy does. One year her son took piano lessons on the sly so he could surprise her by playing one of her favorite tunes on the family piano. A priceless and precious gift of love and of self.
Another way to give a precious gift is to donate your time to a worthwhile cause, perhaps in the name of someone you would otherwise buy a trinket for. This week’s podcast about “voluntourism” will interest those who like to travel and be of service to others.
Want to keep Christ in Christmas? Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, forgive the guilty, welcome the unwanted, care for the ill, love your enemies, and do unto others as you would have done unto you.
~Steve Maraboli, Unapologetically You: Reflections on Life and the Human Experience