It happens every time.
Someone comes to the door. Honey pads over to her basket of toys and looks for just the right offering. She returns to the door to greet the visitor, now holding the precious toy in her mouth.
Honey always finds just the right item. She doesn’t worry that she doesn’t have enough toys to choose from. Or feel overwhelmed that she has too many.
I need to learn from my minimalist dog about having a healthy relationship to stuff.
Drowning In A Sea Of Stuff
I feel totally overwhelmed by the amount of stuff I own. And that happened before I started thinking about selling almost everything I owned to move aboard a boat.
What should I keep? What should I get rid of? How do I get rid of things that aren’t good enough to sell or give away? What if I get rid of something I might need later?
I look around my office at the papers I need to file (or discard). I see the items usually kept in other parts of the house that need to be put away. And let’s not forget the stuff that needs to be repaired.
It’s all too much.
The crazy thing is that compared to the average American, I have very little stuff. A few things you won’t find at my house include a:
- car (and all the resulting accessories)
- television (no three remote controls here)
- cell phone
- iPod or other portable devices
- video camera
- dress or skirt (and someday I hope to add a bra to that list)
I don’t subscribe to magazines and am working to eliminate most snail mail. And still, it’s too much stuff.
Even Useful Stuff Needs A Place
Even things I find useful need to be stored and kept track of.
Is it overkill to have two leashes for Honey—my favorite leather one for every day and a hemp one for spending time in the water?
Sure, it’s useful to have extra beds, food bowls, harnesses, and leashes for visiting foster dogs. But most of the time, it’s just Honey around the house.
And although I curse my husband for wrapping up and saving the twine used to bale our Christmas tree at the lot, it’s fabulous to have that little piece of string just when you need it.
Those torn jeans are not good enough to give away. But where do I keep them until I find the time to make a tote bag and a tug toy out of them?
I wish I could think about stuff the way Honey does.
A Dog’s Relationship To Stuff
Dogs like stuff too. But they don’t worry about their stuff.
Honey loves Lambie even though he’s leaking stuffing from the wounds she has inflicted on him. She doesn’t worry that her favorite squeaky was made in China and is probably outgassing toxins. And to her, a leash is just a sign that she’s going outside for an adventure of some sort.
If Honey doesn’t have a toy close by, she picks up a stick off the ground. Or plays by wriggling on her back in the grass.
Perhaps part of the reason dogs worry less about stuff is because they’re better equipped to survive without it.
If someone dropped me far from my home with no money or belongings, I don’t know how well I’d do.
But Honey has everything she needs to survive on her own.
And no, I’m not talking about sharp teeth, a warm coat, long nails for digging, and sturdy pads on her feet. I’m talking about the floofy tail and the soft eyes she’d use to convince the first person she found to take her home for a delicious meal and cuddle time on the couch.
C’mon, you don’t actually think Honey would suddenly turn to hunting squirrels and walking miles over rough terrain looking for fresh water and a bramble patch to sleep under, did you?
The biggest reason dogs don’t worry about stuff is because they have something even more important to them than stuff. It’s us.
We Worry About Stuff Because We’re Insecure
When a dog guards a toy or growls at someone approaching his food bowl, we look for reasons.
Sometimes the dog didn’t learn better manners. After all, teaching a dog to respond calmly to such things is an important part of her socialization.
And other times, the dog may have lived in an environment where they didn’t feel secure that they’d have enough.
But a happy dog who has lived his life in a secure home relies on us more than worrying about stuff. We’re the source of every good thing a dog wants or needs.
Two years ago, I wrote about how our inability to trust the universe to take care of us can keep us from taking chances. It’s still true.
Hanging onto stuff, worrying about where to keep it, trying to get more are all ways we distract ourselves. We’re so worried about our stuff that we don’t take thoughtful actions in our lives.
I wonder what I could have done with every minute I’ve spent filing papers I never looked at again? Or what I could have made room for if I wasn’t filling closets and basement shelves with stuff I might need someday?
When we move aboard a sailboat next year, I’ll get to start again and redefine my relationship toward stuff.
I’ll still have to think about “will I need it someday?” because our lives might depend on having a spare part for a bilge pump or engine. But I won’t have 1300 feet of room to store stuff.
I guess I’ll have to trust the universe to provide what I need the way Honey depends on me today. And learn from my minimalist dog how to have a healthy relationship to stuff.
Your Turn: Do you feel comfortable with the stuff you surround yourself with? What kind of relationship does your dog have to his or her stuff?