The Chairs That Bind

Being Happy with the Things You Own

Once upon a time, I owned one bowl and one spoon. I carried them from meal to meal?eating, washing, drying – and allotted them their own shelf in my otherwise empty cupboard. It was a low-maintenance lifestyle: I rode a bike, wore used clothes, and slept atop a futon. I aimed to own nothing. In my mind, having possessions blocked me from true happiness.

Let’s be clear. I’m not a communist. Rather, I hate commercialism and the all-powerful push to shop. I believe I am a godly creation whose worth doesn’t depend on funky sunglasses or shoes that blink. In fact, my worth is augmented when I resist the urge to own. And I have resisted. Or, at least, I did?before I got engaged.

Take this blender…
At first, it was a novelty. Steve and I went to a local department store and signed up for a registry. We wandered the store with an electronic scanner and zapped the barcodes of any product we thought we – two recent refugees from college – might need. As we planned a small wedding, we opted to be practical?choosing only necessary products that were reasonably priced. I thought we scanned responsibly. In my life, I have seen outrageous registries. I told Steve: I will not tolerate toothbrushes or toilet plungers on my list.

Then came the gifts. Soon, the guest room vanished beneath pots, pans, dishes, dishrags, sheets, towels, teacups, candles, kitchen gadgets, and a vacuum. Steve seemed pleased. He’s a man who appreciates good quality housewares and he viewed the gifts with a grateful eye. I, on the other hand, worried. I made room for duvets and coffee paraphernalia and felt my standards slide. I found myself mournful: for my one bowl and spoon and?ultimately?my life that once was simple, frugal, and free.

My linen or my life?
It was serious. After the wedding, I entered a strange stage where I wouldn’t unpack or inspect the gifts. Instead, I stacked every gift in the guest room and – like a kid shoving her mess beneath the bed – closed the door. I explained to my husband that I was happy with nothing. I was overwhelmed. Would we have to buy tissues that match our shower curtain? He puzzled. I moped. I pointed at the guest room door and cried, “I won’t become a slave to cutlery. Bliss is not found inside a Corningware dish!”

True. But who ever said it was? For weeks, I watched Steve test our new appliances and scratched my head. He was comfortable with possessions. Indeed, he enjoyed them. And he rejoiced when relatives offered tables and chairs for our apartment. I began to think: perhaps owning isn’t the problem but my relationship with the things I own. After all, there is nothing wrong with loving a lamp so long as I understand that it’s just a lamp; if it’s lost, broken, or stolen, life will go on. I was shocked. I slowly opened boxes. The gifts were wonderful.