My mother is a hoarder. As I grew up, she grew more depressed and less interested in hiding her obsession with stuff, so by the time I was in high school the dining room was completely inaccessible and there wasn’t one clear flat surface in the house. I *hated* all that shit clogging up our lives, and I was deeply ashamed of bringing friends home. I remember giving a suite-mate a ride home from college and stopping at my house to let her call her folks to let them know she was in town (ah, the days before cell phones). All the work I’d done to create a new, better persona at university fell apart as soon as I saw her take in the living room of my childhood home: the dirty carpet, the piles and piles of papers, magazines, envelopes, plastic bags, stuffed animals, pens, crossword-puzzle books, and anything else that had found its way into our home in the last 10 years. Seeing my house through her eyes made me feel like white trash all over again, and I felt at that moment I could never EVER escape my past.
It started with food. My grandmother had always run a kitchen deeply influenced by Depression-era thrift: waste not, want not. Save those tin cans, they may come in handy! Don’t throw away that tin foil – it’s only been used twice! It didn’t seem all that hygenic to me as a child, but I appreciate the impulse to recycle and reuse now that I have my own kitchen to maintain. But for Mama, it was all about food. I think she was terrified of running out of supplies. Jars and jars of mayonnaise, pickles, canned goods, peanut butter, pasta – they spilled out of the cabinets onto countertops, under the dining room table, out into the utility room.
And then she got sick. That was a scary time for all of us – I wish it had been a moment for us to open to each other and connect, but instead, I was pushed away (don’t bother your poor, sick mother!), Dad withdrew even while he played the role of the caretaker, and Mom bottomed out. Meanwhile, we ran out of money. All those supplies came in handy when she was fired from her job (apparently not showing up to work because you have f*cking cancer can get you ‘let go’) and we became a one-income family with TONS of medical bills. I’ll never forget the day that I came home from school to find that one can of great northern beans was all that was left of her stash.
But Mama did recover – at least from her illness. Her spirit (what little I knew of it) was broken. As soon as she was able to find work again, the food piled up once more, and the house (never a candidate for Better Homes & Gardens, mind you) went to hell. Dad didn’t help – he’d start projects and leave them half-done, with wrenches and flashlights and random lengths of mysterious building materials strewn across the floor. Consequently, I’m a bit of a neat-freak about my own home: if papers start to pile up and things get messy I get this itchy, claustrophobic feeling and a cleaning frenzy ensues.
All this was meant to be a preamble to what I really wanted to talk about, that is, abundance and scarcity. Even though I’ve reacted against my mother’s proclivities, I’ve very much internalized her world view of scarcity. Make the most of what you’ve got, you never know when it’s going to be taken away. It’s best to prepare for things to get worse, not better. If this is how things are now, just think how bad they could be. I frequently catch myself viewing the world as a zero-sum game to be played, and I feel desperate to hold on to what I can get: friends, lovers, opportunities, material goods. After yoga practice one evening, I actually caught myself deciding not to prepare something I wanted to eat for dinner, solely because I felt the need to save those ingredients for some other evening! As if I couldn’t go to the store tomorrow and get more! As if that future date were more important than my hunger at that moment! At least I can be mindful enough to see that impulse for what it is, or at least where it came from.
And so, even though I’m not making any new year’s resolutions, I am proposing a deliberate shift in attitude: ABUNDANCE not scarcity. No more being miserly (with myself or with others). Instead I want to see the world as full of beauty and good people and lovely experiences waiting to happen. This doesn’t mean that bad things don’t (and won’t) happen – but it does mean that I could live an existence that isn’t cringing and protective. I am incredibly grateful for those amenities I can afford – it’s about time I learned to enjoy them.