We just bought the house we’ve been renting for the past 5 years. This house feels like an embrace from your granny – when you walk in, you will be completely immersed into its bigness, coziness, musty old smell, and crazy character. We fell in love with the house, just like you love a family member – it’s not perfect, but it belongs to our clan.
Since we purchased it, we are shedding the weight of its previous owners. Both literally – as in steaming off layers and layers of wallpaper – and figuratively, as in removing the traces of its previous occupiers, the old furniture, porcelain dolls (don’t ask), suitcases, curtain rails,… layers of lives left behind. For 5 years, we lived with stuff that wasn’t ours. Not that you could tell – it was well hidden in the attic, under the bed, in storage cupboards – but it was there. And with everything we remove, the house seems to take a deep breath and feel lighter.
I hadn‘t realized how much this stuff had affected me. How much make-do we had to do, using only a section of the shed, hiding boxes under the beds, facing artwork/ lampshades/ curtains/ even a piano we didn’t choose to have in our life – but somehow had to make space for. Again, literally and figuratively.
Clearly, nobody missed these things – otherwise, they wouldn’t have been left behind.
Clearly, they were not in use – or we, the tenants, would have used them.
But clearly, the owner could not part with them, or probably forgot about them, or already had too many things in their own house. Either way, these things became extra weight on both theirs and our lives, with no purpose and no joy.
But funnily enough, we first needed to see these things as extra weight. For the 5 years we‘ve been living with this stuff, we‘ve been compromising on space, style, and function. Of course, some stuff is fairly obviously marked as clutter – a dusty old box of Christmas decorations, seemingly unopened since 1920, comes to mind. But some things are better camouflaged – the kitchen aid that‘s been sitting in the cupboard, useful-looking but not used. The large, torn leather couch, costing us way too much space and light in our front room – and taking the space of a couch whose presence we would enjoy.
And this made me wonder… how often do we take on someone else‘s burden? And how often do we not realize that this is what we‘re doing? It took me a few years to realize I am a pleaser. It‘s not that I am a pushover. But I prefer harmony over dis-harmony. I often offer to do things rather than see somebody else struggle. And I always thought I just have more resources than other people, or that things come a bit easier to me, and that‘s why it‘s fair if I do the extra bit. It‘s really no bother (and it really isn’t).
Don’t get me wrong, I am not a crazy martyr. But often we‘re stuck in a system where you just can‘t see the extra weight. You may feel responsible for things that are actually not your responsibility, But because it works well for everybody – yourself included – you may not actually perceive the situation as extra weight. So you make do, even if the situation is not ideal.
In my case, it was my husband who started pointing out my inflated sense of responsibility. “Why are you doing this?”, “Yes, I see – but what do you want to do?” Turns out, I don’t have more resources than everybody else – just like our house does not have any miracle extra space. Making space for somebody else’s priorities just means you have fewer resources to spend on yourself. And that’s ok – if you chose to do that. But sometimes you may be living with extra weight you’re not aware of.
About the Author: Leni is a professional writer and researcher, currently on maternity leave from a busy full-time job. She is passionate about minimalism and mindfulness and their potential for self-improvement.