One of my favorite children’s books is A Squash and A Squeezeby Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler. It’s often quoted around my house. It’s the story about a lady who is frustrated with her small house. She turns to the wise old man in the village, “Wise old man, won’t you help me please, my house is a squash and a squeeze.” Each day he advises her to bring one of her farm animals into her house. By the end, she’s living with a chicken, a pig, a goat and a cow in her house. Just when she’s tearing her hair out the wise old man advises her to take all of the animals out. Once they are gone the house feels huge to the lady. She is content and thanks the wise old man for his help.
I am too often the lady in this story. Every time I tell my husband that we need to move to a larger house, he says with a smirk, “If our house is a squash and a squeeze, it’s time to get rid of stuff.” He’s right. And we do. Twice a year we clean out our closets and rooms in order to give away or sell our now unwanted possessions. Twice a year! It’s clear to me that no matter how small or big our home is we will fill it with stuff.
This month our congregation is immersing ourselves in the theme of abundance. And I am being drawn to consider my abundance of stuff: clothes, shoes, kitchen tools, toys and knick-knacks. While our things can provide a source of joy and comfort and connection, they can also suck you dry. Like the lady in the story, I spend way too much of my one, precious life bringing stuff in and taking stuff out.
A second beloved children’s book is Too Many Toys by David Shannon. Shannon as author, illustrator and parent speaks to our society’s current practices of gift-giving/prize-winning to children. His illustration below shows a crowd of well-meaning family and friends, as well as people he visits in his community, bringing toys and more toys to Spencer, the main character. Spencer receive gifts for both significant and inconsequential holidays, not to mention toy prizes for doing every little accomplishment. It’s Spencer’s mom who, like the lady in A Squash and A Squeeze, puts her foot down and makes Spencer give away a box of his toys.
November marks the true beginning of the gift-giving season. I am mentally preparing myself for all the new stuff that we will take into our house, as well as all of the stuff that we must get rid of to make room for the new stuff. As I sit with the reality of that sentence, I feel both gratitude for the bounty and desperate frustration that I cannot extricate myself and my home from this process. What power do I have to change this cycle? How can I buy less? How can I ask others to join me? If I can alter this cycle, what sort of new abundance will I usher in?
Continuing my thirty-day goal-setting, I am going to work to reduce my abundance of things. Not by cleaning out but by not bringing things into my life. Except for groceries and gas, I am resolving to not purchase anything throughout the month of November. Just to see what it feels like.
Once again I will be posting my adventures and lessons from the experiences as well as thoughts from necessary guides on our congregational website.