Possessions as Promises

When Plumblossom was just a few months old, I bought an infant swing. I never thought I’d own such an item—but desperate to get my daughter to nap, I went online and discovered this “solution” to my problem. It promised to calm my little one with its gentle rocking, and send her off to sleep in no time flat; the Amazon reviews confirmed its efficacy (“My baby naps 3 hours in this!”). I couldn’t part with my money fast enough.

My enthusiasm to acquire this new thing made me think: what are our possessions, really, but a bunch of promises? That dress promises to make us look stylish; that smartphone promises to keep us tech-savvy and connected; that cookbook promises to make us a culinary whiz; that moisturizer promises to take years off our face; that heirloom china promises to help us remember our grandmother.

These promises to make our lives easier, better, chicer, or more productive are enticing. The problem: the products don’t always deliver. In our disappointment, we shove them to the back of the closet, up in the attic, or out in the garage—or we may just let them sit around in our living room, kitchen, or bedroom, unwilling to admit that they didn’t really live up to our expectations.

All too often, we end up with a pile of broken promises—or, in other words, clutter.

So what can you do about it?

For the stuff you currently own:

* Ask what “promise” each possession holds. It’s a great way to evaluate exactly why you own a particular item.

* Ask if it’s delivering on its promise. If not, pass it on to someone else; perhaps its true potential may be found in another home.

For stuff you’re considering acquiring:

* Identify any insecurities that may be behind the purchase. Are those stilettos calling your name because you’ve been feeling a bit frumpy?

* Consider non-stuff solutions to your problem. Could an aerobics class make you feel fitter and sexier than a new pair of shoes?

So back to my own story: when the swing arrived, my husband and I had it out of the box and set up in minutes. At her next naptime, I lowered Plumblossom into it with bated breath, waiting for her to close her eyes and drift off to dreamland. Instead, she looked up at me as if to say “you must be kidding,” and in about three minutes broke into a wail. Undeterred, I tried it again and again, almost always with the same result. She’d sometimes lounge in it for ten minutes while my husband and I ate dinner, but napping? Not a chance.

The swing clearly spoke to my insecurities as a new mom. In the process, I learned that for my daughter, a mechanical device is no substitute for the warmth and motion of my own arms, and that a softly-sung lullaby is much more soothing than an electronic one. A thing was not going to instantly make her a better napper. (Needless to say, it’s since been donated.)

I’ve used this example not because I’m becoming a mommy blogger, but to illustrate how these things can sneak up on us when we experience new situations in life. As a long-time, card-carrying minimalist, I thought I was long past falling for such promises. I’d become a minsumer extraordinaire, immune to the siren calls of miracle creams, designer handbags, and the latest-and-greatest gadgets. But in the past year, I’ve found that you don’t “perfect” minimalism and call it a day—you have to keep working on it as life throws new challenges your way. :)

Do you have any broken promises cluttering your home? Tell us about them in the Comments!

{If you’d like to learn more about minimalist living, please consider reading my book, The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide, or subscribing to my RSS feed.}

108 comments to Possessions as Promises

  • I have a large collection of Buddhist religious articles. For every one I’ve bought I thought I’d become a more ardent and consistent practitioner but most of it has ended up cluttering my altar cabinet. How many malas (prayer beads) does one need? How many random books do I need when all the info I really need can be found in a select two or three?

  • Possessions are promises! What a totally different way to look at things. This was my first time reading your blog and I totally enjoyed the post! I am just recently venturing down the road of removing the excess clutter from my life and I am going to take this view and apply it to my thought process when considering adding new “possessions” to my house.

    My home is littered with broken promises still but soon…we will reach that clutter free zone! Thanks! :-)

  • I just started reading your book yesterday and I kept thinking “Ah ha, I wonder what she’ll do when she has a baby.” I’m a mommy myself, with two small kids, and with my second son I definitely downsized. For things I did think I needed, I bought smarter and second hand. That included a baby swing, because my son was the opposite of your baby–he seemed to relax more when he wasn’t held. When I’m done with it, I’ll pass it along to my sister-in-law. I’ve been lending and borrowing short term baby gear since I first got pregnant. But with my second son, we made some changes:

    We don’t have a crib, we co-sleep.
    We do cloth diapers and elimination communication.
    No solids, just breastmilk.
    Just onesies–very few “fancy” baby outfits.
    I chose a stroller and carseat that would last until I’m all done having babies.

    Since new mommies have a natural insecurity, it’s easy for marketing to convince us that our instincts aren’t correct, or we aren’t enough for our babies. In truth, there is very little a baby needs that the mommy and daddy can’t give. For the newborn, there’s nothing a mother can’t do for her baby: nourishment from her breasts, warmth from her body, and attention which recognizes cues for elimination. No clothes, no bottles, no diapers.

    It’s minimalism at its best.

  • Renee

    What kind of swing did you buy? My friend had a beautiful one from her baby shower that swung backwards and forwards — NOT relaxing for a small child. My friend could barely walk because she was so tired and her daughter would only sleep in her arms. I bought her a cradle-type swing that went side to side with a papasan-type chair that cuddled the baby more than other styles. The baby slept there. Mommy got some sleep too.

    Yes, promises come in packaging, and sometimes they are false promises, but sometimes they are life savers. I think we expect baby things to be life savers when many are not.

    I am just grateful for friends, family, and freecycle – I got to try stuff and see what worked for me with no purchase commitment. Anything that didn’t fit went on to someone else who thought they might need it. A swing wasn’t necessary for me, but I had a super chill baby who would sleep just about anywhere.

  • Ariel

    Nonfiction books. When I look at them, I think wouldn’t it be great to have the knowledge they promise, to know those things and be that much more informed? But when it comes down to it, I have a very emotionally involved job, and at the end of the day I need the escapism of a good novel! So there they sit, cluttering my bookshelves but never getting read…

  • Melody

    Some things actually do live up to their promises, but it is really disappointing because more than 50% of things do not live up to the promises of joy or better skin or _____…and that’s after reading reviews to weed out the really bad stuff! I can’t think of anything off the top of my head that I own that does not live up to the promise or that is not a necessity, but that’s after a solid year of purging (in college) and that’s also because I make it a point to afford quality no matter what. I am going to forward this article for my mom, because I like the way you put it.

  • […] Possessions as Promises. What are the things you own promising to fix in your life, and are they delivering? Do you really need some ‘thing’ to fix whatever the particular issue is? A good read. […]

  • […] came across one post in the blog that discussed items as “promises”.  When you buy or obtain an item, it […]

  • […] This post is inspired by a recent post on Miss Minimalist. […]

  • […] Like any addict, I needed to keep getting my fix to keep feeling good. There was never enough, because as my pastor often reminds our congregation and Miss Minimalist beautifully reiterates, things just don’t deliver on their promises. […]

  • […] Possessions as Promises (an especially good Miss Minimalist post) […]

  • […] Possessions as Promises (an especially good Miss Minimalist post) […]

  • Rena

    1. Stack of greeting cards: Promises that I will done day “craft” with the pictures, ug!
    2. Empty “baby books”: Promises that I will be a “good” parent and fill them in
    3. Broken necklaces: Promises that I will take care of them one day
    4. Drawer full of junk jewlery: Promises that one day the perfect shiny bauble will make me “happy”.
    5. Drawer full of hair clips I never wear: Don’t even know the promise there!
    6. Drawer full of cheap shoes: Promises that I will eventually where those heels and be “hot”
    7. Drawer full or work out pants: Promises that I will get in shape!
    8. Third floor full of baby stuff: Promises that I will get the second bun in the oven ASAP so I can FINALLY purge the baby stuff!!!!! :)

  • […] Jay van missminimalist.com heeft een mooi artikel geschreven over de beloftes die spullen […]

  • […] Possessions as Promises, from Miss Minimalist Share this:PinterestGoogle +1TwitterFacebookLike this:Like Loading… Posted By: Zoe Category: Parenting Tags: baby, budgeting, minimalism, parenting […]

  • Melissainsc

    some babies like the swing and some do not. My son was in the second camp and our baby swing (a gift) was donated pretty quickly. You can be a minimalist parent. I think that I was–certainly compared to the norm in the US.

  • Tina

    Children are in their 30’s. Enjoy your posts and comments and make an effort to purge at least 2 things daily. Travel lightly, buy only small useful things for the grandkids. Do a lot of volunteer work. Never bought many clothes or shoes.
    Keep up the good work.

  • […] And possessions can mean very different things to different people. For most of us, though, possessions promise us something, very often more than they […]

  • Martha

    Laughed at the swing story! No, NOT the sign of inexperience; my newly acquired, only used twice swing is sitting empty in the living room while I hold my 8th baby. Why did I spend 100 bucks on that??? Because of desperation, dear, not inexperience. The promise of a little wee bit of free time to, you know, use the bathroom or something luxurious like that. ;D

  • […] Miss Minimalist’s post, Possessions as promises made me think about all the many reasons I used to buy clothes. It was a rare moment that I went […]

  • Molly

    I used to constantly buy beautiful dresses online while I was bored at work – I imagined myself somewhere else, wearing these dresses and living a life I certainly don’t currently have. It’s a very good idea to realize why you’re buying something. It’s so sneaky how an item can be described to you – for example, all the dresses have names and a little story to go along with them such as “She rode her bike to the library and turned a few heads”, just something simple like that. And then I immediately thought “I WILL RIDE MY BIKE WEARING THIS DRESS AND HANG OUT AT THE LIBRARY AND MY LIFE WILL CHANGE.”
    But it didn’t. I can’t ride my bike in -20 degree weather, and I don’t have a library card.
    Great post, it really made me think!
    Luckily I try not to let the allure of new clothing get me off track with my new budget and spending goals.

  • […] comes around, minimalists already know or have very high confidence that what they buy will deliver on what it promises to do. Minimalists know what they want, know how to get it, and don’t have qualms about buying it […]

  • My DH and I were in downtown Chicago yesterday. I think many women dress for the Academy Awards or they think they are at a fashion event. Instead of wearing classics or comfortable clothing, they wore skin tight slacks and those open shoulder tops. It was 90F. And the shoes. I have never been interested in clothing, it loses value quickly and should just keep you comfortable and appropriate.

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