When Less Really Is More -- article

lobsterbirdMay 7, 2007

This afternoon I started weeding through my files on home renovation, decorating and collectibles and found a wonderful article I had clipped back in 2000. It is from "O" magazine (May-June 2000) and is an excerpt from "My Grandfather's Blessings: Stories of Strength, Refuge, and Belonging" by Rachel Naomi Remen, M.D. Here is the entire article:

"Long ago, my friends' little son and I became quite good friends ourselves. We spent a lot of time playing with his two tiny cars, running them from windowsill to windowsill, parking them and racing them and telling each other what we imagined we passed on the road. It was great fun, and I loved this little boy dearly.

At that time, these little Hot Wheels cars were avidly collected by most 6-year-old boys. Kenny dreamed of them, and I yearned to buy him more, but I could not think of a way to do this without embarrassing my friends. Kenny's father was an artist and preacher and his mother a housewife who brought beauty to everything she touched. They lived very richly indeed, but they had little money.

Then one of the major gas companies began a Hot Wheels giveaway: a car with every fill-up. Quickly, I persuaded all my co-workers to buy this brand of gas and organized us with checklists so we would not get two of a kind. In a month, we accumulated every available model of Hot Wheels car, and I gave them to Kenny. They filled every windowsill in the living room -- and then he stopped playing with them. Puzzled, I asked him why he did not like his cars anymore. He looked away, and in a quivery voice he said, 'I don't know how to love so many cars, Rachel.' I was stunned. Ever since, I have been careful not to have more Hot Wheels than I can love.

Many people have too many Hot Wheels to love. It can make you feel empty. A woman who found a new life after having cancer once told me that before she became sick she had always felt empty. 'I kept accumulating more and more goods, more and more books and magazines, more and more people, which only made everything worse, because the more I accumulated, the less I experienced. 'Have everything, experience nothing.' You could have put that right on my front door. And all the time, I thought I was empty because I did not have enough.'

The change started with a bathrobe, one of the few things she had taken with her to the hospital for her surgery. Every morning she would wear this robe, enjoying its softness and its beautiful color. 'One morning, as I was putting it on, I had an overwhelming sense of gratitude,' she told me. 'I know this sounds funny, but I felt so lucky just to have it. The odd part, Rachel, is that it wasn't new,' she said. 'I had worn it now and then for quite a few years. Possibly because it was one of five bathrobes in my closet, I had never really seen it before.'

When she finished chemotherapy, this woman held a garage sale and sold half of what she owned. She laughs and says that her friends thought she had gone 'chemo crazy,' but scaling back has enhanced her life. 'I had no idea what was in my closets and drawers. I did not really know half the people in my phone book, either. I have fewer things now and know fewer people, but I am not empty. Having and experiencing are very different.'

We sat together for a few minutes, watching the sun make shadows on the rug. Then she looked up. 'Perhaps we only really have as much as we can love,' she said."


Back to purge more files. I'd looked for that article more than once but hadn't been able to find it!

Hope everyone's having a pleasant afternoon.


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n a month, we accumulated every available model of Hot Wheels car, and I gave them to Kenny. They filled every windowsill in the living room -- and then he stopped playing with them. Puzzled, I asked him why he did not like his cars anymore.

This happened to my son. Santa bought him the toy he craved most--a die-cast metal bus. He LOVED it. He wanted it so bad his hands shook when he looked at them in the store.

Then, all kinds of other stupid people bought them for him. And he stopped playing with them.

it happens to my kids all the time.

    Bookmark   May 7, 2007 at 5:24PM
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Then, all kinds of other stupid people bought them for him.

Stupid? Or well-meaning but uncoordinated?

    Bookmark   May 7, 2007 at 11:29PM
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oh, well meaning, but "stupid" as in "they're a stupid choice of person to be buying him a present."

I mean, the guy who runs the dry cleaners that my MIL would go to, w/ DS in tow. Why is he buying a present for this kid he sees now and then?

The next-door neighbor. Some random uncle that we see once a year. A good friend of my MIL's who likes to buy my kids presents just bcs my MIL talks about them all the time. The secretary who works in my FIL's business.

I swear, I don't even know who most of those people were. They weren't relatives--Lots of them I've never met. My kid ended up with 8 of those buses. That means 6 of them (bcs Santa gave him 2) came from someone else.

I also resent it-and therefore gratuitously insult them, i suppose--bcs I feel like they're butting in--it's not THEIR family, not THEIR kid. And now the present that *I* was so pleased to buy him, is ho-hum. They ruined some of MY enjoyment. My enjoyment of Christmas, and my enjoyment of watching him play so happily w/ something he wanted so much.

And it ruined his appreciation for how wonderful it can be to want something SO much, get it, and find out that it IS wonderful to have it. Bcs now, it's not so wonderful.

I suppose I shouldn't complain about the generosity, but honestly, I don't think those people are driven as much by a desire to give, as by a desire to insert themselves into the situation. It's basically a selfish motive, really.

But that's a side issue unique to my family. I hate to distract people w/ the weirdnesses of my particular social circle.

But I also see the "less is more meaningful" idea in myself--If I have fewer vases, I'll use the ones I *really* love.

    Bookmark   May 8, 2007 at 10:07AM
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Talley Sue's experience has been my experience too. These folks who insist on giving the dream gifts don't like to be told 'no'. These people appear to like to being seen as the hero who makes a kid's day. I had someone tell me that practical gifts aren't good enough because the kids won't be excited by them. I find it annoying and the kids don't learn to appreciate what they have.

Fortunately, I've learned from this forum that once a gift is given, it's yours to do with as you please. As a mom, I make whatever choices I feel are in the best interest of my children.

    Bookmark   May 8, 2007 at 7:43PM
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Nice article, Tina.

I just wish my children had the experience of getting gifts from anyone besides dad and mom. My birthday is coming up and, again, my mom won't be able to remember. Nor has she been able to remember any birthday for my children for the past five years. Maybe a few too many gifts isn't so bad.


    Bookmark   May 8, 2007 at 7:51PM
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Adella - and any other Moms here who do actually get rid of gifts of toys that they judge to not be appropriate - how do you do it? I mean, now that my kids are still very young, I do that too, but what about when they grow older? Once they see the toy when it is given, don't they want to hold on to it? My MIL brings some toy almost every time she comes to see them and almost all are either not well made/unsafe, or don't promote learning, or my DDs are afraid of them. (Something thankfully broke really quickly, a couple other things I gave away, something else she took back and returned, another we just display on a shelf... you get the picture.) I'd much rather she saved her money and got them just one thing that was age appropriate, safe and promoted learning... When we get this kind of stuff from people who don't come to our house, I toss them immediately. The whole thing frustrates me because they could use having some more nice and appropriate toys (especially the more complicated/fun/challenging/big - expensive kind that for us would be a real splurge) and they get so many that are no good instead.

Something similar happens with their clothes. We get many gifts of clothes that are not good for them to wear (all synthetic, too hot for our climate here - I get a rush just looking at them) that I toss immediately and too many gifts of dressy clothes that they don't get to wear more than once before they outgrow them and the season passes... and almost nothing in the area of simple decent everyday clothes for the home. In this case I feel bad because it is a waste of everybody's money. Now I'm saving all the really nice and very little worn outfits for my sister and my cousin who are not yet even married, in hopes they'll have girls! Oh, be advised that here we don't have thrift or consignment stores nor garage sales - I live in Greece.


    Bookmark   May 9, 2007 at 2:40AM
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'd much rather she saved her money and got them just one thing that was age appropriate, safe and promoted learning..

i wish she'd save her money and not buy them ANYTHING!!

I'm sorry about your mom, Gloria.

I know to be grateful for the generosity around me, but when I have to be grateful to the dry cleaning man......

Also, I have memories of just a few things that my Grandma gave me, and they matter a lot to me--they're an indication of how much she thought of me at that time. My MIL has given my kids tons of stuff, and I'm not sure how much they'll remember, or how much importance they'll attach to me. Maybe that's OK--because it'll be accurate. Their grandma was a woman who gave indiscriminately, without a lot of individual thought, due to her generosity but not because she spent alot of time thinking about them as individuals--it'll be accurate. No less loving; just a very different style.

    Bookmark   May 9, 2007 at 10:09AM
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Just goes to show you, everyone hooks onto a different point in a story. While I can relate to indiscriminate toy giving, I really connected to the idea of having experiences in life versus having possessions. And just how far can the heart be stretched when it comes to loving things and people? This is the approach I've been taking in weeding all the extra things from my home. I want to see, know, and enjoy the things I have accumulated. I want to live with gratitude. I don't want to have more things than I am capable of loving. I went from having a small circle of friends in my youth, to having many friends and acquaintances as a young adult. In the last decade, my circle of friends has once again shrunk to include only those who I know well and love dearly and who feel the same about me. Mid-life experiences are a great teacher of who will stand by you when stuff hits the fan.


    Bookmark   May 9, 2007 at 11:14AM
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mvastian...been there done that with the gifts. It does get easier as the kids older (mine are in their early teens). Perhaps next time your child receives a gift a thank you note can be sent to the gifter thanking them for their thoughtfulness and generousity but that you (the mom) feels that maybe next time a gift card from xyz store would be more appropriate. Perhaps the child can mention that he/she is saving up for that special toy.

My son did something similar a few years ago for his birthday/xmas (as they are only a month apart) he wanted a game system really bad that when his "gifters" asked what he wanted he said a gift card to Walmart. Needless to say the after Xmas the last place I wanted to be was Walmart but he did enough in gift cards to get his system. He was very happy.

As for the special Grandma memories Tally Sue mentions, my mother refused to buy any of her 5 grandchildren toys. So every birthday each child gets a needlepoint picture or pillow made by her especially for them. Every xmas each grandchild (2 from me and 3 from my brother)gets a special ornament or 2 from her. When my parent travel someplace - near or far - they buy a specialty ornament for them. As I said my kids are in their early teens so there are alot of their "own" ornaments that they have one tree dedicated to them. They don't mix in with my ornaments. The kids look forward to their tree every year and have even started to look for own ornaments when we go somewhere to add to the tree. When they move out they should have a good start on their own trees!

    Bookmark   May 9, 2007 at 11:24AM
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Gloria, My response probably does sound ungrateful. When I grew up, my grandparents didn't give us very much stuff unless it was from a thrift store. My aunts and uncles never gave us anything unless it was hand-me-down clothes or a pack of gum. We only saw them once or twice a year because they lived in another state. We enjoyed our time together because it was time spent together. Material things were never involved. I think you and I may be at opposite ends of wanting the same thing. I'd also love for my kid's to spend meaningful time with loved ones. That's not what happens. I'm simply sick and tired of dealing with it. In the grand scheme, my kids aren't happy with it either.

mvastian, I have the problem of taking the toys away with hurting feelings too. At some point, we simply run out of room or the toy is inappropriate. Until last year, we traveled for Christmas. Some toys simply never made it back out of the vehicle. I hid them in the back or wrapped them in plastic trash bags. Unopened gifts were taken back to the store. Opened gifts were donated. My kids take care of some toys by spreading them out all over the house. I throw them away piece by piece. Every so often, I clean up toys by putting them in storage upstairs so they aren't laying out all over the floor in the playroom. After a while (when the kids aren't looking), I go through and remove things that are no longer appropriate because our interests have changed, the toy is too young for us, we now have several of the same item, etc. The toys I get rid of are not 'favorites' so my kids really don't end up 'missing' anything. Since there is a lapse in time, we have time to rediscover anything important.

The gifts dh and I buy for the kids get used. That is probably because I tend to buy practical gifts as the surprise gifts. We don't surprise the kids on their birthdays. We take them to the store and let them pick out something within a limited money amount. We start this with the first birthday. Even one year olds know what they want.

Do the churches in your area take donations? Some of the items you mention like the too hot clothes may not work for anyone, but the other stuff could possiby be useful. Even the hot clothes could work if they were sent on missions to another country.

    Bookmark   May 9, 2007 at 1:07PM
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You are so right in your observation on how people will focus on certain subjects within a post. I, like you, focused on the later part of your post. It is true - it is the number of experiences that fulfill you, not the number of possessions. I have been acquiring stuff left and right for the past two years, unknowingly trying to fill the void that my husband left when he suddenly passed on. Stuff didn't have to be expensive - I would shop at the Dollar Store and at thrift stores in an attempt to organize (translated: "make sense") my life. Now after two years, I look back at the stuff I bought and I still feel empty. But now, especialy after reading your post, I realize that I need to DO more rather than ACQUIRE more. Save my money to take trips to visit family and friends, take classes, join clubs, etc. Doing it solo will be hard at first (mindless shopping was a great activity to do solo!)


    Bookmark   May 9, 2007 at 3:16PM
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Carol -- you are not alone -- I see my mother shopping just for something to do since my father passed away -- over 20 years ago. If she is not shopping -- she is re-decorating or remodeling. I think so many other activities remind her of him or take two people -- she goes for the safe one, shopping.

Tina -- I really like what you said about experiences. 4 years ago my husband was diagnosised with lung cancer .... 1st year went well and then they thought it had spread. It was our 5th wedding anniversary. And facing the expense of more hopspital bills, I decided instead of a fancy dinner out -- we would go to a state park with a picnic. I made it elegant and we had a bottle of champagne. We said we wanted to make memories instead of reservations. It rained .... we picniced under umbrellas and laughed. And it was wonderful. To this day --- we work hard on making "memories" And no, his cancer hadn't spread (or maybe it was the prayer chains) and he is healthy and fine.

Less is often very more.


    Bookmark   May 9, 2007 at 9:29PM
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Cathy - thanks for sharing that great story. Keep' on making those memories! My husband was only 42 when he passed, and even though we spent 23 years together, those years are a blur unfortunately. I don't have many memories like the one you shared - my husband and I were so busy finishing college and building our careers that we didn't pay attention to the "mundane" things in life. You are very blessed to realize what you do now - as you know, your path in life can change in a second. Glad to hear your hubby is healthy and doing well.

    Bookmark   May 10, 2007 at 10:03AM
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Carol -- My heart goes out to you. Losing a loved one *is* hard to make sense of. Life as we know it changes. I can only imagine what this has been like for you. We do what we need to do to get through a rough time, and activities like shopping can be helpful for the time we need them to be. (I researched every detail and then renovated my kitchen not long after my dad died.) Perhaps your recognition of what the article had to say signals your ability to take the next step in healing and recreating your life. I really wish you the best. I am sure your family and friends, and others you have yet to meet, will be glad to spend time and enjoy many experiences with you.


    Bookmark   May 10, 2007 at 11:44PM
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Perhaps your recognition of what the article had to say signals your ability to take the next step in healing and recreating your life.

This makes me think of an important point.

First, a caveat: we shouldn't make excuses for ourselves all the time.

But...ordering one's life happens in stages, and in waves. We accumulate, then we realize the burden it places on us. So we start small, then we get bigger. We feel like we're done (or, we know we're not done, but we're worn out). So we stop.

later, we revisit the same area and find MORE we can throw out.

Or, we realize that we still don't like how crowded our home/life is, and we do another round.

The realization comes at different times. You can't heed it until it arrives. It's when you IGNORE that realization, that you're shortchanging yourself.

It's interesting, the idea of a smaller, but more VALUABLE, circle of friends.

That's hard for me. I have trouble meeting people. And the spaces on my social calendar get filled up w/ my husband's family. There just isn't that much time and energy that I have available to spend outside the walls of my home. Nice folks, etc., but in all honesty, those are not particularly nourishing relationships for me. And when I *do* develop a valuable friend, they leave the area. So while I hold onto that relationship, it doesn't "feed" my heart the same way it used to. And last year, two of those folks died; we hadn't seen one of them in quite a while, and I was sort of crabby w/ the idea that I'd been to weddings of relatives I wasn't close to, but hadn't actually SEEN her.

I guess the message for ME is to seek out those relationships, and to CREATE time for them when I find them.

    Bookmark   May 11, 2007 at 9:43AM
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and maybe this "less is more" idea is an argument for having a WONDERFUL bathrobe, instead of keeping a not-so-great one just because you have it.

Much like the idea of making it a project to seek out friendships that fuel me.

    Bookmark   May 11, 2007 at 1:43PM
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