I have a dear friend, let's call her The Librarian, who I've known for over 20 years. We met when we were both working in an academic library and among the things we share are a deep love of books and book collecting. Unlike your average bibliophiles, we are not interested in first editions. We are interested in knowledge, esoteric and otherwise. As a result, we both have large reference libraries on a vast array of subjects. The running joke is that we must have been two lowly scroll loving scribes in ancient Alexandria. Having seen the world's greatest library destroyed in a previous lifetime, we now collect books, both fiction and non, with a fierce, protective passion.
As excuses go, it'll do.
We're not alone in this. Many Pagans I know feel this way about their libraries. It's as if we were all saving this information, not just for ourselves, but for future generations. As book lovers our biggest fear seems to be that some really good stuff will go out of print and never be seen again. Given both the state of publishing and the rise of censorship, that fear is not far fetched. For example, my partner collects Science Fiction classics, some of which have indeed gone out of print (and what is this world coming to when great stories die of neglect like that?). I'm thinking of starting a club with t-shirts for our members that say "They got the library at Alexandria. They're not getting mine!".
Is Your Stuff Making You Sick?
The difference a healthy vs an unbalanced relationship to one's possessions comes down to two things: Clutter and Spending.
I personally dislike clutter, so my books and other items have a place in our shelves. If not, I sell them, give them away, or store them carefully away for future use. I've known people who can't walk around in their houses for all the books they have. Such careless hoarding is bad for the books (Aaaah!!) and it's also bad for us. Books and knick knacks easily collect dust and dirt and a cluttered environment can actually make us sick and depressed.
Sometimes it really is best to let go of a few of our treasures. I know, I know - it's hard for me, too. But I keep in mind that other people can use these things. It can be marvelous to set them free to do some good, elsewhere. That's why the Goddess made Craig's List.
She who dies with the most toys.....wins?
We all know that things can't make us happy but many of us act as if they can. Our culture as a whole, as well as the Pagan subculture, hasn't learned this lesson yet. It's as if, like the ancient Egyptians, we think we can take it all with us.
I've learned the hard way that I can't make a haven here at home amid chaos, clutter, and mess. So I've worked hard to get organized, live a bit more simply and let my soul breath. I love my books because they support beauty and meaning in my life. When my collection no longer does that, I have to reconsider what I'm holding on to, and why. I've lightened my personal load of "stuff" several times in my life, and it's freed me each time.
Today I'm still unpacking boxes from our move eight months ago. I'm still deciding what to keep and what to sell or give away. We got rid of a lot of things before we moved and now, faced with the last of our boxes, I am willing to let go of yet more things I once thought it important to keep. What I try not to do is beat myself up for having these things in the first place. That really doesn't serve me. These items have served me well in the past, now it's time to bless them and let them go.
One of everything. With a ribbon.
For some of us, it can go beyond a few boxes. Some of us moved well past the Pack Rat stage and are deep into a classic case of Hoarding. For those interested in that subject, this is a useful title:
Buried in Treasures: Compulsive Acquiring, Saving and Hoarding
Compulsive hoarding often goes hand in hand with compulsive buying and spending. Here are some useful articles on those topics:
Compulsive spending and Overcoming Compulsive Hoarding
Despite what many claim, Pagans as a group are not poor, and they love to spend money. Ask any Pagan vendor about this. They can you how much our people love to shop and how much they spend doing it.
I've seen this scene hundreds of of times at conventions: One minute a Pagan is crying poor for all around to hear, saying they can't afford a small item at one booth (and trying to get that vendor to drop the price). The next moment they'll drop $60.00 on a different item in another booth, without blinking.
The moral of this story is: If they want it, they will spend.
In wonder just how many Pagans there are out there with closets full of ritual tools, occult supplies, oils, stones, clothes, incense, jewelry, (what my friend Snakemoon calls "Pagan Bling") as well as tarot cards, altar supplies, costumes, and other goodies? Now let's be fair: Who among us did not spend a bit too much on "stuff" when we first discovered the Craft? I certainly did. Many of us are like ravens; we'll bring any bright and shiny object back to our nest, regardless of whether we need it or not. Most of us grow out of it.
I Can't Be Overdrawn, I Still Have Checks Left!
The cliche, as I've said, is that Pagans despise money and believe that it is somehow more sacred not to have any.
I would put it another way; some Pagans fear money (or the responsibility that comes with it) and some do not. (1)
Pagans with a gift for abundance know that money is simply an element, one with it's own unique energy, much like earth, fire, wind or water. It can be useful or it can harmful. It can be a positive force in our lives or a negative one. The relationship we have with both money and things depends entirely on us.
I know a good many Pagans who are careful and responsible with their funds. Some of these folks are professionals, but not all of them. Some Pagans have a families, and wish to provide a good future for their children. Others have various efforts they choose to support or personal goals they wish to achieve. They all know this mystery: In order to do well and do some good in this life they have to use money as a resource, and they have learned how to manage it wisely.
That's not always easy. I know, I struggle with it all the time. I love buying books and I like my various hobbies and I like giving to charity, too. I also know that I have to save for a rainy day, and stay out of debt. Much of money wisdom involves planning ahead, and delaying gratification. Try offering that workshop at a festival.
Not So Much a Hobby, As an Obsession
Over the years, I've seen our people spend money on the supplies for their hobbies, such as beading or quilting or costuming like there is no tomorrow. Some people do this with three or four different passions at once. I suspect that their real hobby is not creating or crafting, but simply acquiring the bits and pieces that go along with it. If we crafty Pagans aren't careful, both the clutter and the cost can overwhelm us, and the fun we once had in our hobby is lost. Spending money on such a scale, without having any real joy in doing so, is not enjoying true abundance, it's just sad.
Consumer Culture: Now There's An Oxymoron
Why do we do it? Why to we spend money we don't have on things that we (or our kids) don't need and make ourselves miserable in the process? Well, for one thing, spending is a rush. It lets us feel powerful. It allows us escape our daily grind, and live our fantasy life, at least for a little while. At least, that is, until the bills come due.
When I realized how money really works in this world, I put myself on a budget. I simply do not spend what I do not have. The only exceptions are emergencies, and by that I mean, unexpected car repairs, illness, and such. Buying that book I want is not an emergency, even if I think it will help me somehow. If I want something, I have to save up in order to buy it. This not something most people in Western culture know how to do anymore. Credit cards are a deadly form of instant gratification. Who among does not know someone who is drowning in debt? A debt burden adds terrible stress to many lives, leading in turn, to feelings of hopelessness and depression. All this feeds our issues, additions and avoiding behaviors, and so the cycle continues....
People who want to spend can always find an excuse to do so. All addicts, no matter the addiction, excel at making excuses for their behavior. The trick is to stay conscious, and watch out for those rationalizations. Otherwise, we might not listen to our Higher Self; that part which nurtures, loves and protects us. That part knows the difference between a Want and a Need.
Spending and hoarding are known process addictions, and professionals in the field take them seriously. Help is out there for those who struggle with this problem - the trick is to want that help.
There are several good books and articles on this subject. By and large they agree that folks who have this compulsion are:
a) Trying to fill a hole in their soul,
b) Trying to live the life they would like to have and avoid the reality they do have and,
c) Often struggling with addictive/compulsive behavior.
Sometimes it's all three issues, coupled with physical issues such as OCD, and depression. All this which makes it very hard to find a healthy balance for our selves in a Consumer Culture.
Such a culture is bad for the planet, and it's bad for us.
Take a Deep Breath
When a behavior is hurting us, it's time to take stock and make change. While some people need drugs to help them cope with compulsive shopping or hoarding behaviors, most of us just need the desire to lighten our load. We can do this with the help of group, if we like, or maybe just one friend at our side saying "OK. Take a deep breath. Now, let's start sorting things”. I've had good friends do that with me over the years, and I've done it for them. It really does help to have someone objective there to help you sort through the various energy bombs (2) that may be lurking in your closet. Prioritizing makes you think, and when stuff is sitting there it in piles in front of you, you get a healthy reality check. And you get some hope. Handling this is like handling anything else: Take it one baby step at a time, one day at a time.
For those of you wrestling with issues like these, hang in there. Balance is possible. Go easy on yourselves, make small changes every day, and find a support group of some kind to cheer you on and lend you their experience, strength and hope.
We're Pagans. We can do this.
Go well, stay well,
Note: using keywords on Google like compulsive spending, compulsive shopping or compulsive acquiring, etc will give lots of useful information.
Fair Warning: It can be temping to buy a bunch of books on this subject that can "fix" us. I've found it useful to buy one book, read it through, and then get the next one after I've finished. Otherwise, it's just another pile of books we'll read "later" and then we've spent more money then we should.
Off the Shelf:
A Gentle Madness: Bibliophiles, Bibliomanes, and the Eternal Passion for Books by Nicholas Basbanes
Making Peace with the Things in Your Life: Why Your Papers, Books, Clothes, and Other Possessions Keep Overwhelming You and What to Do About It by Cindy Glovinsky
(1) Pagans & Money is a very tricky subject.
Some Pagans don't have a lot of stuff or don't care about making money; they live simply, by choice. Others are struggling to make ends meet because they spend their money unwisely or made life choices that deny them greater means. Still others struggle with finances through no fault of their own. Bad stuff happens.
You can always tell the difference between these types if you look at their attitudes towards abundance. The first kind are peaceful and fulfilled. The second kind are full of envy and complaints. The third kind just gets on with life, and does what they can to make their future better than their past.
Those who are poor through mismanagement like to blame everyone but themselves for their circumstances. They will be the first to tell us all that money is somehow evil, and that those who earn it are "sell outs" while wishing for it all the same.
For once and for all, let's be clear.
1. We are Pagans, and we do not need to conform to any one else's guilt and shame around money.
2. The quote most people think of, when they think of morals and money is one most people got taught in Sunday school and most got it wrong. The Christian Testament (Timothy 6:10, King James Version) does not say that "Money is the root of all evil". It says that "The love of money is the root of all evil." Our Christian friends have it right: Money isn't the problem folks, it's greed that's the problem. (For a good example of this, simply compare Enron to Oprah). So, please, let's stop buying tickets on that particular guilt trip. Rather than sitting around whining on and on about how poor and perfect we are, wouldn't it be better to make enough money for our needs, and then use the extra bits to do some good?
(2) My thanks to T. for this very useful concept.
Art: Cleopatra by Waterhouse. The Egyptian Queen is best known for her love of learning. No. I tell a lie. But the girl did love to read. She studied philosophy, literature, art, music, history, and medicine, and spoke six different languages.