Mr. Stuck and I recently spent some time down at our lake property for a much-needed mini-vacation. We let the days and our imaginations determine our activities: we swam, boated, and fished, and we visited a local small-town festival. We spent time in conversation, watching the fish rise on the lake and spotting the same paddle boarders gliding by each day. And, as usual, we brought way more food and supplies than we actually needed and lugged a lot of it back home.
The simple, amusing observation that we always seem to over pack for our trips sparked an interesting conversation one day. I called us ‘contingency packers’ because we are the king and queen of ‘just in case.’ I’ll bring extra food, just in case someone runs out of hot dog buns or prefers peanuts to Cheetos. I’ll bring soda (that we don’t drink) just in case the kids want some. I’ll add Tylenol, ibuprofen and aspirin to the first aid kit just in case someone has a preference; I’ll bring feminine supplies just in case someone else needs them. I’ll bring extra socks, shirts, and jackets, just in case someone gets wet or cold and has no change of clothes. You get the idea.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with being prepared. In fact, it’s great advice. Mr. Stuck, being the former Boy Scout that he is, has a full complement of hand and power tools that he tosses into the truck for such occasions, just in case he has to repair some wiring, fix a flat, or perform some mechanical miracle while we’re away from home. I have always appreciated his foresight and ability in those situations. Granted, he’s been able to pull off amazing things in less-than-ideal circumstances, but he’d much rather have resources available to him when he needs them, and I completely understand. Most of us, I’m sure, would agree.
The problem lies in how to find a happy medium between the essentials and our unforeseen needs and wants. Do I really need to bring 3 bottles of sunscreen just in case I run out? Probably not. Do I need to pack 6 T-shirts, when in reality I will probably only wear 3? No, I don’t. Do I need to bring hot dogs AND brats AND chicken sausages AND cheesy hot links to make everyone happy? No. But I do.
At one point, I thought that if I could make lists and follow them, I could vanquish my over packing tendencies. Unfortunately, my lists, though short at the beginning, grew longer and longer. I kept adding more things. I couldn’t make a clear determination between what I truly needed and what I thought I needed, so I took it all. Having all that stuff available made me feel in control. It gave me a (false) sense of security. Even with my good intentions, the problem just got worse: if some was good, then more was better.
Is this manner of thinking part of the reason I was obese? Probably.
I began to see parallels between having ‘stuff’ and having food. I couldn’t distinguish between real hunger and emotional hunger, so I ate when I didn’t need to, and I always ate more than necessary. Food, like ‘stuff,’ meant comfort and security. Sound familiar? The baggage I take with me on vacation mirrors the weight I carried with me most of my adult life and the disorganized mess in my home. The junk in my house is the junk in my diet is the junk in my suitcase is the junk in my head. The things I did to cope had no effect on what actually happened. In reality I was out of control – way out of control.
I used to joke that my messy desk was the sign of genius; now I know it’s just the sign of my inability to make a decision. I used to think that ‘contingency packing’ showed that I was prepared; now I see that it’s proof of my insecurity. I used to think I was unhappy because I was fat; now I understand that I was fat because I was unhappy. What I’ve found over the past year is that losing weight didn’t ‘fix’ me. In fact, it made me see that I needed more fixing than I realized. My obesity wasn’t the cause of my emotional issues; it was a symptom.
I struggle daily with the baggage in my life, whether it’s the clutter in my car, the piles of unfolded laundry on my couch, the stacks of paper on my desk, or the vestiges of my obesity-wired brain telling me I ‘need’ a cheeseburger. I still can’t discern very well between what I think I need and what I actually do need. I still have terrible impulse control. And I still have trouble ‘letting go’ – of emotions, of habits, of material possessions.
But now I feel an urgency to make a clean sweep. I want to simplify my life and de-clutter my home. I just don’t need all that stuff anymore.