Not necessarily unused, but new-to-me, new-to-this-moment? We all love the thrill of something new. This is one reason it works to cycle toys in and out of use. Put neglected toys in the attic for a few months, bring them back out and they feel new and the kids love playing with them. Have you ever splurged on something at the store, didn’t find the time to use it, and then found yourself back at the store considering buying a similar item? Whenever I attempt to declutter my house I find craft and project ideas I want to do that had been forgotten on a shelf. I usually end up vowing (again) not to buy anything new for awhile because I have plenty of projects sitting around the house that would be fun to work on.
I got some fun educational books for my kids last month. We opened them, did a few pages and then got distracted by something. I feel like when we are ready for them I should put them back in an Amazon box on the front porch so they’ll feel new, with that fresh sense of excitement. I wonder if we’d appreciate them more than if I pulled them down off of a shelf. Probably. Why is that?
In American Mania: When More is not Enough, Peter C. Whybrow tackles this question as a neuroscientist. It turns out that risk taking and novelty seeking are highly heritable characteristics. Historically, during times of great upheaval about 2% of the population would leave and 98% would stay. We can trace back along the paths of migration an increase in both genes and behavior that shows that the farther people groups moved from where they started, the more genetically predisposed they were to be of a risk taking and novelty seeking temperament. These characteristics helped them leave, and helped them be successful on their journey, and were generally traits that were passed down to their children. In the past 500 years, the United States has been the largest destination for migrants. Our country is made up predominantly of the offspring of those willing to move to a new country in search of a better life.
The real significance of this is that as Americans you and I have a migrant temperament. While it will vary in intensity from person to person, this means that compared to the rest of the world we are a country of risk-takers and novelty-seekers, with a love of adventure and a keen sense of curiosity. This is a profound truth that has shaped our country and I believe it can provide us some invaluable insight into our culture and ourselves.
After the first time I read this book a few years ago, I saw the world differently, I saw myself differently. And I know this has incredible implications for my family and how we parent our children, I’m just still trying to figure it out. My husband and I feel strongly about having the mindset of producers, not consumers and imparting this mentality to our boys, so that is where I will start.
The incredible migrant strengths such as innovation and creativity, and the values of persistence and hard work have made this country what it is today. Unfortunately in our enthusiasm we have prioritized wealth over the social structures that would keep our lives in balance.
I think that part of the answer is to embrace our creativity. I want to empty our home of clutter, items that simply provided something novel in the moment. And then selectively let items take space in our house that contribute to our lives, as parts of meaningful collections, or hobbies, that contribute to our happiness and facilitate our attempts to be creative and produce things of value.
My first challenge is to apply this to my current project of decluttering and organizing the house and pursuing a simpler form of life – as much as is possible with four active boys. But simpler doesn’t mean less. The current trend emphasizing simplifying and minimalism has been around awhile and I’ve been slow to get on the bandwagon but I’m starting to see that simpler doesn’t mean less, it can mean richer, fuller, more focused, less scattered, more meaningful, less empty – a more purposeful life.