Growth. Our culture seems obsessed with it. Financial growth; personal growth; spiritual growth. Whether it’s more social media followers or a shaggier Chia Pet — everyone seeks more.
And since we’re humans, it’s not enough that we crave growth — we actually feel compelled to complain when it happens. In fact, we complain about it so often that we gave it a name: growing pains. But when was the last time you heard someone mention “shrinking pains?” We humans are just as capable of shrinking as growing, but you rarely hear anyone boasting about it.
In the last decade, the closest I’ve come to experiencing anything that resembled a “growing pain” was when my supply of toilet paper and paper towels ran out simultaneously, and I replenished both in a single Costco visit. The influx of rolled paper products was too much for my tiny condo to absorb. I slipped many of the larger rolls into pillow cases and placed them beneath real pillows on the bed, like a set of faux bolsters. Smaller rolls were wedged into the ceiling, like bundled stacks of drug money — nestled between the pipes, studs, and wiring conduits via an access hole for the water shutoff valve.
After that experience, I vowed to never again undertake such unfettered growth. Which, admittedly, was a rather easy vow to keep, since shrinking is a topic with which I’m far more familiar. Whether it’s shrinking income, shrinking influence, shrinking readership, or even shrinking height. Seriously, how is it I’m 2 cm shorter than I was twenty years ago?
When my “ex” moved out last year, she took a truckload of cookbooks, clothing, kitchen gadgets, plants, knick-knacks, keepsakes and furniture with her. In stark comparison to the paper products bonanza of yore, I found myself with the opposite problem: far less stuff than places to put it.
In order to give the illusion that I didn’t live in an empty condo, I became the great disperser. I mastered the art of taking a pair of empty cardboard boxes and arranging them jauntily on a shelving unit — making it look as if such minimalism was an actual choice. Two lone candle sticks sit at opposite ends of a shelf, the space between them a shrine to the beauty of negative space. A single camera was placed on another shelf — the expanse around it inviting guests to scrutinize the device as if it were an object of art, rather than an object to make art.
Once I tackled the visible void, I concerned myself with the cavernous emptiness of that which was hidden — the numerous empty drawers, kitchen cabinets and closets that, when opened, revealed nothing beyond another yawning chasm of zilch.
So I took my modicum of stuff from its two or three carefully organized locations and spread it around the condo — some charging cables and batteries in this drawer, a backup hard drive and some thumb drives in that cupboard, and so on. A single extra roll of dental floss took possession of an entire medicine cabinet; a bathmat for the unused second shower commandeered an expansive drawer in the vanity beneath the sink; a bass guitar hangs from an otherwise barren bedroom closet clothes rod. I repeatedly combed through my belongings, until I succeeded in placing something into every nook and cranny of the condo — a new, spacious spot for everything!
The result? In spite of the fact there is demonstrably less stuff in my condo now than two years ago, I can no longer find anything. It used to be, when I needed something, I knew exactly which drawer to empty out and search through. Now, searching for something is like a scavenger hunt — sifting through clues from my memory while I ransack the condo, opening every door and drawer in a frantic search for my pliers.
Ultimately, other than the fact people are less likely to share them on a world-renowned blogging site, shrinking pains are no different than growing pains — they’re merely a side effect of change. Personally, I don’t fear growth, and I don’t fear shrinking — both are the inevitable result of living, loving, experimenting, and evolving. The one thing I do fear is remaining static. Because nothing tortures me quite like the horror of stagnation pains.
©2018 grEGORy simpson
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