Ways of Seeing by Leeya Tudek: Find freedom; get rid of stuff

Recently I have been considering possessions, and the excess in which we keep them. I was very fortunate to grow up in a warm, furnished house with food security and toys, and I am forever grateful for that. But as oceans fill with trash and wasteful consumerism continues, it’s time for a shift in both lifestyle and mentality surrounding material things.
For nine out of twelve months last year, I was studying outside of the United States and living out of a suitcase. In each of the countries I traveled to, I learned about cultures, histories, and ways of being all new to me. I was taught by every place I visited and each friend I made, but it was upon returning home that I had perhaps the biggest realization. I had so much stuff.
Not the most eloquent epiphany, I know, but it was the truth. When I left home I packed only necessities, leaving behind all that I didn’t need. So that was what I returned to — everything I could live without, which it turned out was most things.
I was overwhelmed by the clutter of my room, my home, and my lifestyle. In the weeks that followed, I sold and donated around half my clothes, and rid my room of unnecessary objects. With so many things gone, my mind felt clearer. I found myself tidying less, and doing things I loved like writing and painting more. I found freedom in the space I had once filled with objects.
I began considering how I acquired so many things in the first place, and why it took living out of a suitcase to make me realize I had far more than I needed.
In our society, having a large amount of material things isn’t just normalized, it is constantly encouraged. In Vermont we are luckily safe from billboards, but not from all advertising. Just by listening to the radio, watching TV, and using the internet we are exposed to countless ploys attempting to convince us to buy something. Sometimes we are tricked by sales and deals, sometimes we buy things due to simple desires.
My generation specifically faces its own challenges with materialism due to a surge in marketing through popular music. Rap and Hip Hop music have recently seen a shift in lyrical content, becoming extremely brand heavy. We may never know if musicians are being paid or not to blatantly promote brands like Gucci and Louis Vuitton in their songs but regardless, the hype surrounding designer clothes is due mainly to their influence.
Another way we acquire possessions is through inheritance. Over the past few years a great deal of furniture and sentimental objects arrived in my house in the unavoidable reality of grandparents passing. Even more comes from our nation’s culture of excessive holiday gift giving.
Many factors contribute to our acquisition of objects and the normalization of owning so much, but it is the effects of this way of life that make it so important to recognize.
On a big scale, our obsession with owning things leads to unsustainable production and pollution. Great amounts of waste are sent out to sea each year, poisoning our one and only earth. Going on buying products that become obsolete and disposing of them only to buy more is a cycle that can only go on so long before disaster.
On a small scale, we burden ourselves. If we are not vigilant in our refusal of materialistic culture and if we are not absolutely conscious that we are constantly being marketed to, we fall prey to consumerism. We are being tricked into buying things and weighing ourselves down with objects we don’t need.
What I learned in my nine months with a suitcase is that it shouldn’t feel like loss to let go of our physical possessions. In the retreat from unsustainable consumerism and excessive production, we can find freedom and appreciation for all that is not manmade and material.
I can’t make you do anything. I can’t tell you to stop buying brand names, or convince you that wearing Gucci doesn’t make you a cooler person. I can’t ignore the fact that not everyone has the privilege to have many things in the first place.
I’m not asking you to live out of a suitcase, to donate everything you own, or to stop buying things. All I can do is encourage you to look around your homes, to consider your closets and count your clothes, and ask yourself Is this what I truly want? Is this what brings me joy? And then you decide.
Leeya Tudek is a seventeen-year-old student from South Lincoln. She enjoys painting, being outdoors, good conversations, and writing.

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