Enough is how much?

My office is in a state of chaos. I am surrounded by partially finished bookkeeping, notes of things to do, magazines partly read, pads of paper with lists, completed and contemplated. There are boxes of paper I intended to sort through last year. I managed to find enough other things to distract me from accomplishing that task for more than 365 days. I don’t enjoy the mess, but there are so many more interesting things to do than to sort through all the stuff.

I put cleaning out and organizing on the many to do lists that are part of my clutter. I am going to get it done…one of these days. Instead of doing it, I have been reading about how to organize my stuff.

As I am thinking about cleaning my office as I work hard to finish my bookkeeping for 2015 and to get my year end accounting and taxes finished, I am also getting ready to make my third mission trip to Haiti. I feel guilty about my overwhelming excess of stuff as I think about our friends who eek out life in the poorest country in the Americas. Two and a half million Haitians live on less than $1.23 a day. Unemployment remains above 80 percent and most people do not have access to running water or a decent bathroom.

Of course, guilt is not a very useful emotion. Feeling guilty about all my piles of paper and stuff will not help my Haitian friends find enough food to fill their babies’ tummies nor will it help buy blood pressure medication for my friend whose prescription has run out. Guilt is not the answer.

On the other hand, being grateful that I am not as poor as my friends isn’t much more helpful. If I visit, am moved to tears by their unimaginable poverty, and gratefully return to my comfortable home, filled with more stuff than I can manage, what changes? If I am thankful for my many blessings and am glad I don’t live in Haiti, is that enough?

While recently reading on dealing with clutter, it struck me that my problem is not a lack of gratitude or appreciation for the many blessings. My problem is knowing what is enough. How much do I need? How much of my time to I spend working to add new stuff to my piles, repairing the stuff that breaks, protecting the things that might be stolen? How much time do I spend reading about decluttering my life? Obviously, I have more than enough.

Sometimes I have a hard time understanding how my over-consumptive life has an impact on the lives of others in the world. I didn’t understand it when I was a child and my mother admonished me to eat my dinner because there were children in Africa who were starving. I really don’t want to know how my lifestyle affects others. That useless guilt haunts me again.

In driving out of Port-au-Prince, the capital and northern port of Haiti, one drives past the docks where ships unload their cargo. One of my most vivid memories, apart from the smell of fish, charcoal, rotting garbage and diesel fumes, is the huge bales of discarded and out of season clothing on the docks. The Haitians buy clothes by the pound, sort through their bale and find the useable items which they later sell in the market. Unwanted and unusable things are left in piles to rot. Some of the clothes are used, donated by people like me who grow out of last years jeans, want a new style or find the color not to out liking. Sometimes stuff is worn out, but we give it away because it makes us feel less guilty for having too much.
Other clothing is donated by clothing manufacturers and retail chains. When the after Christmas sale is done and the final reductions are taken on the clearance rack, the clothes are packed up and given away. Other items never make it to the clearance rack. There are many reasons tons of clothes are baled up and given away. The real reason for corporate donations of this kind are economic. It removes them from the sale racks, takes care of a disposal problem and is also tax deductible.

Our excess piles up on the dock in Haiti. We’ve moved our mess and left it for them to deal with.
Enough. What is enough? How many pairs of jeans do I need? How many pairs of shoes? Do I need a new phone if mine is working, but can’t run all the latest apps? How Might my finding a new level of what is enough free up my time and my resources to learn and practice ridiculous generosity?

Back to cleaning off my desk.