How attached are you to the things in your life? Do they bring you joy or simply take up space in your house?
Our ability to go with the flow of life depends on our lives not being cluttered up with too much stuff. But how do we know what is too much?
In this episode I’m in conversation with documentary filmmaker and journalist Brandy Yanchyk about her latest documentary Attachments of Life which explores how and why we are attached to our things.
A full transcript is posted at the bottom of this page if you prefer to read.
[Bio] Brandy Yanchyk
Brandy Yanchyk is an independent documentary filmmaker and journalist who has worked as a reporter and producer for the CBC and the BBC. Ms. Yanchyk owns Brandy Y Productions Inc. and her productions cover a wide range of social and factual genres.
Since 2009, Brandy Yanchyk has made fourteen documentaries and nine series for television. She hosts her own travel series called Seeing Canada and Seeing the USA which are airing on PBS and on Amazon Prime Video.
Her most recent documentaries for CBC are Breaking Loneliness and Attachments of Life.
The documentary Attachments of Life explores how belongings alter our lives: following a person with hoarding disorder, a collector of classic cars, minimalists in a tiny house and a woman who has lost everything.
[Video] Attachments of Life
In Canada you can watch the documentary for free.
The documentary is also available outside of Canada on Vimeo On Demand
[Website] Frock-off Live
Check out Brandy’s website to learn more about Brandy and her work.
[Blog] Principles for Savouring the Day
If you are interested in the principles that help us savour the day no matter what they day brings, this blog outlines them using some beautiful quotes.
Scroll on down to the comments section and share your thoughts….
What things are you most attached to in your life?
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CREDITS: The Being & The Doing podcast is produced by Neela Bell. Voiceovers by Jason Harris. Music is GoodMorning Sunshine by Yoav Alyagon and Firefly by Scott Buckley.
Full Show Transcript
Intro: Welcome to The Being & The Doing, a podcast about wellbeing and the practices that help us have more calm, focus, purpose, and presence in our busy lives. Here’s your host, author, and life coach, Laurel Vespi.
Laurel: Hi, and welcome to The Being & The Doing. If you’ve been listening to our recent episodes in this season, we’ve been talking about the principles that help us savor the day; how it is that we can go with the flow of life, manage the ups and downs and the 12 principles that really help us be able to do that.
I recently watched a documentary that spoke very much to one of those principles, which is ‘Release the Unneeded.’ So what does that principle mean? It means letting go of the things that we don’t need in our lives any longer, the things that no longer serve us. Those could be thoughts, they could be habits, they could be people, it could be all kinds of different things. And of course, it is also about releasing the stuff or the things in our lives that we no longer need. And when I saw this documentary, I thought this was a perfect fit. The filmmaker who made this documentary, our paths actually crossed probably about 15 years ago, when I was a guest on a show that she was doing, as the life coach. So I’m pleased to be able to have her in this conversation about ‘Releasing the Unneeded.’
So let me tell you a little bit about Brandy Yanchyk. Brandy is an independent documentary filmmaker and journalist who has worked as a reporter and producer for the CBC and the BBC. She owns Brandy Y Productions Inc and her productions cover a wide range of social and factual genres. Since 2009, Brandy has made 14 documentaries and nine series for television. She hosts her own travel series called Seeing Canada and Seeing the USA, which are airing on PBS and on Amazon Prime Video. Her most recent documentaries for CBC are ‘Breaking Loneliness’ and the one that we’re going to focus on today, which is called ‘Attachments of Life.’
This documentary explores how belongings, stuff, alter our lives. And she tells the stories of four different people, four different ways of looking at these things in our life. Welcome to The Being & The Doing, Brandy.
Brandy: Thank you so much, Laurel, for inviting me. I always love talking about my documentaries, of course, which are like my babies. Attachments of Life is a film that I recently made for CBC and people can watch it for free if they live in Canada on CBC Gem and around the world on Vimeo On Demand.
Laurel: Off the top, let’s just let everybody know that in the show notes for this episode, will be the links there so that you can go and watch this documentary because I’m pretty sure you’re going to want to see it. It was just such a fascinating approach to this topic of things that are in our lives, Brandy. You really came at it from a very interesting perspective, telling these four different stories. What prompted you to make this documentary?
Brandy: Wow. It was really a personal experience. Firstly, my parents downsized last year from our family home that they had bought in 1984. And this house was full of all the treasures they’d collected. The basement was full. The garage was full and I flew home to Toronto to the town of Unionville where they lived to help them sort out their basement twice. I spent two weeks going through the basement, sorting things, putting them in recycling bins, taking them to the recycling depot, et cetera.
And while I was doing this, I found that I was really connected to the belongings that I had collected my whole life. I had kept every love letter from every boyfriend since I ever had, every school assignment, every poetry book I’ve been keeping journals since I was, probably, in grade six and I’m 43 now. And I had all of that stuff there, photos; and I had a really hard time getting rid of things. It was traumatic for me. I was crying, I didn’t want to get rid of stuff, and I knew that I couldn’t fly home back to Alberta with all of these things, because it would cost a fortune.
So I had a bit of a moment where I realized that I was really attached to a lot of stuff. And I learned a lot of lessons from that experience. And then I decided, hey, I want to make a film about other people and their attachments to their belongings.
Laurel: You know, it’s interesting having had that experience of when my parents passed away and the house that they had lived in for, you know, 40 years and all of the things that they had held on to. But my own experience of things that I had held on to was with my daughters. You know, once they became adults and were moving out, I decided, okay, I’m not storing all of these things that I have been keeping for them because they just seem like really important things like school things and items of clothing and all kinds of stuff.
And we had this experience of them coming over and us going through things that I had kept, as they are adults. It was amazing the things that I attached to importance to were not at all what they necessarily thought was important. And some things that they really were, ‘Oh, remember this? Yes. I want to keep that thing’ were things that I thought, Oh, really? That thing is what struck you? So it’s interesting how we begin to create our own narrative about the things that we are holding on to.
What I loved in the documentary was you didn’t just focus on people keeping stuff. One of the stories is about that. It is about a woman named Peggy, who is hoarder. Is that a good description for Peggy, do you think?
Brandy: It’s interesting because one of the things I learned is that the term hoarder is really not a term that they would like to use. It has all these negative connotations to it and really a hoarding disorder is how they like to describe it. And I know there’s a show called Hoarders, which, you know, so everybody says hoarder, but it’s not a nice term. And there are so many ideas that people have when they think about people who are hoarding and the reality is it’s an anxiety disorder.
Peggy Zubyk is 67. She lives in Edmonton and she struggles with hoarding disorder. She has mobility issues and she basically is not able to clean and clear things out of her home. And she’s had spine surgery. She has a hard time holding her head up and she uses a walker. And we learn how sometimes when people have mobility issues or they lose their strength over time, they don’t have the ability to clean up and get rid of things the way that they thought they would.
They said, Oh, you know, when I retire, I’ll go through all those rooms and all that stuff. Well, sometimes it doesn’t work out because sometimes your body has issues when you retire. So, what she did is she actually hired a frontline worker called Tracy Fraser to help organize and clean up her house. And she spent $8,000 out of her retirement savings to do that because she basically found that she wasn’t even able to get around her house and enjoy things in her life like her crafts and stuff, because there was no place to put anything.
Laurel: Right. And you know, that hiring someone to come in and assist with that, it seems to me, that’s kind of a candid conversation that we have to have with ourselves when we look at, whether or not the things in our lives have begun to take over our living space, whether we actually need someone, either someone with particular expertise or whether it’s a friend who can say, is this something that you need to keep? To be able to provide some assistance. What brought Peggy to the decision that she needed help in doing that?
Brandy: I think that she was spiraling into a depression because she was not able to do all these things that she had planned to do. She loved making Ukrainian Easter eggs – psyanka – and painting them and just doing all these crafts and she couldn’t even do that. She couldn’t move around and she was worried about her own safety getting out of the house.
So in fact, Peggy is really smart because she did some research and found out that the Alberta government gives a grant to seniors to pay towards having somebody help them declutter. And there is a program, it has to do with how much money you make and that kind of stuff, but it is offered by the Alberta government for seniors to help them declutter. Tracy Fraser, who works for Helping Hands Personal Assistance, works with a lot of seniors to help them declutter. And she says, usually, she’s called in when they’re going to be evicted when they can’t get out of the house. When the issue is so bad that there are like walls around them of stuff.
And many times, it’s emotional to actually tear down those walls of all those belongings. And as they start decluttering, a lot of unresolved emotions come up. And I think, you know, I don’t have hoarding disorder, I don’t think I do, but I can tell you that when I had to go through my stuff, I had to go through a lot of unprocessed emotions about stuff, you know, that you just sort of tuck away and you move on with life. And I think, for me personally, a lot of my items were connected to my self-esteem because they were connected to my identity. So I didn’t want to throw things away because they were like, Oh, do you remember when you lived in England and you worked for the BBC? Do you remember when you went on that amazing holiday, when you were this age or you had that love affair here?
I didn’t want to throw those things away because they were part of the fabric of my life. But I’m now married and I have a house in Edmonton and I can’t fill it with all these treasures from the past. I have to be selective.
Laurel: Right. And I think too, it’s almost like we don’t trust ourselves to be able to hold the memory because often these things are holding, as you said, memory, an experience, you know, part of our identity. And it almost seems that if we let go of that thing, that we don’t trust ourselves to be able to keep the memory or hold the experience.
Brandy: I think for myself too, because I am a documentary filmmaker, I’m always thinking about how these objects may end up in the future be part of a documentary. So when I was in grade seven and eight living in Unionville, I wrote pen pal letters to students in French who lived in Rwanda and it was right before the genocide. I had actually kept all those letters and photos and I have wanted to make a documentary and go back to Rwanda and see if my two pen pals are alive. So I didn’t want to start throwing things out because I thought, you know what, one day I may want those treasures. One day, I may want to go back and find that report I did for CBC when I first started at 25 and then make a bigger report about it.
It’s just hard. It’s really hard to know for me what to get rid of. But I have a sister who’s three years older who has absolutely no connections to things from the past. She doesn’t keep any of that stuff. But if you go to her house, her house is like spotless. It looks like a model home. You go to my house and it is not dirty, but it’s full of stuff. It’s full of art and plants and stuff. It’s kind of interesting to see two sisters be so different.
Laurel: Which makes a nice sort of segue into the second story that you tell about a couple embracing the minimalist lifestyle in a tiny home because they certainly don’t have stuff because they just physically don’t have the space for it. So, tell the listeners a little bit about that couple and them embracing the minimalist lifestyle.
Brandy: Sure. So, Marni and Kevin McConnach, they live in Cochrane, Alberta. They’re 29, they’re yoga teachers. And also, I believe that Kevin does a little bit of social work as well. Marni also does some tattoo art in Cochrane and they went traveling together backpacking and they just absolutely love living the minimalist lifestyle. They had sold all their belongings before they left, except for a few things that were really close to them so that they could go traveling. And then they decided that they wanted to move back to Cochrane. Marni’s mom lives on this incredible property with a gorgeous view. And they knew that they just couldn’t afford to buy a house in Cochrane in that area because the house prices are just higher than what they can afford. So they did some research and they built a tiny home on wheels and they park it on Marni’s mother’s property because they’re allowed to do that if it’s on wheels.
They basically said that they wanted to do that because they didn’t want to have any debt and they wanted this minimalist lifestyle. Marnie says this lifestyle was a constant minimizing process when you live small and that they’ve enjoyed this for three years. I can tell you, you don’t know this, but Marni is pregnant now and at the end of the film, she talks about what will happen when she has a baby and how they want to continue to live in that tiny house. So maybe I’m going to have to make a sequel. You know, it’s interesting; Marni and Kevin feel a lot of peace from living minimally and Marni says stuff gives her anxiety.
When she goes to her mom’s house and she’s helping her organize her basement, which you see in the film, she talks about how it gives her anxiety. And when she’s living a minimalist lifestyle, she feels like her mind is clear and she can sort of focus more on what she’s doing. Everybody’s different. I’m the opposite. I like having my stuff around me.
Laurel: I mean, there is a cost to stuff; not just the cost of whatever you paid for that thing, but there is a cost in time and energy as well. So when you think about if you have a really big house, that means that you need more furniture there, more things to be able to fill the house, which means you need more time and energy to be able to clean that house, whether it’s you who’s doing it.
There’s a maintenance piece that I wonder if we really actually think about that when we’re bringing stuff, whatever it is, into our house, that if we think about there’s actually a cost beyond what we paid for it in our time and energy. I’m imagining for them, they figured that piece out when they were backpacking because they didn’t have the luxury of dragging a U-haul behind them as they’re backpacking around.
Brandy: It’s funny too, because after making this film, I ended up setting up a “buy nothing” group, which is a Facebook group in my community. And we bought this house. It’s a 1957 bungalow and we didn’t have any furniture, et cetera, tools, nothing for our garden. And with this “buy nothing” site, I’ve literally furnished my whole house. I didn’t have to buy anything and I have two lawnmowers, all these tools of people who are retiring and they want to give things away to people instead of putting them in the landfill.
So, I think there are movements right now, including the “buy nothing” movement, and people can go on Facebook and see if they have one in their area and if they don’t, they can start when – you just do a training program. But I have seen the joy of giving that has come out of it. And we’ve met our neighbors through it and people who are downsizing say, it feels so good to give it to somebody who’s just starting out. And people who have baby clothes and the babies are grown up, they’re putting it on the site and people are coming and picking it up.
Recently, I got a puppy and I put a little post up on the site and I said I’m getting a puppy from the SCARS rescue. Do you have any puppy stuff? And within two minutes I had a puppy bed, leashes, food, toys. I haven’t had to buy anything.
Laurel: It’s sort of a different spin on recycling. Right?
Brandy: I think that it also shows that we do have stuff, but there’s a responsible way to get rid of it. And we talked recently to somebody who works with the city of Edmonton’s garbage department and we were having a candid conversation about composting. He works in composting. And we were just talking about garbage and how the garbage system is changing in Edmonton – we’re going to carts and stuff. And he said, you know, some people say, well, I’m not a hoarder, but you are a hoarder or you are hoarding.
I mean, we don’t want to use that term, but you are hoarding if you buy all the stuff and you dump it at the landfill. You’re still having stuff. Just because it’s not in your house when you dump it at the landfill, you still accumulated all that stuff and you just moved it to a different place.
Laurel: Or thinking about food, right? Like how much food waste that there is. I mean, that’s hoarding of a different kind, right? Like when we stock the fridge up with things that we aren’t necessarily going to get to use before they’re going to spoil, and then they end up in the landfill. Do you think in the pandemic experience that we’ve had, that is going to change how people think about what they need in terms of stuff?
Because, you know, I understand everyone’s shopping online and Amazon is dropping a million boxes on people’s doorsteps, but people aren’t going out and shopping or buying things in the same way. Do you think that will have an effect on people being a little more minimalist-minded?
Brandy: Oh, I don’t think so. I think that everybody’s different and what gives people that surge of serotonin or whatever, some people shopping and accumulating stuff, and sometimes even online shopping. There was a woman who wasn’t in the film, I filmed her a bit, but then she wasn’t in the film, that was her choice because she was struggling with some emotional issues. And we decided that we weren’t going to include her in the film because that was what she decided. But one of the things that she did is she got a real good hit from buying things online and she was racking up loads of debt. And she said, it just feels so good to buy things online. It actually feels better to buy things online than when the stuff even arrived.
So everybody’s different. Some people have a lot of credit card debt and it spirals and it gets bigger and bigger and bigger and other people don’t; it all depends on the people. What is normal? How were you brought up? What do you think you do with your stuff when there’s a hole in it, do you mend it? Do you chuck it? Do you buy a new thing? It’s a whole philosophy about how you live. It really is it.
One of the characters I’d love to talk a little bit about is Howard.
Laurel: Well, I was going to ask you because there’s a different story in the documentary about someone who collects things, something unusual, I’ll let you tell that story, but he collects things and what joy he gets out of it and how it actually broadens his community of people that he’s connected to because of his collection.
Brandy: So Howard Lengert is somebody that I’ve known for about 10 years now. He’s 77 years old and he lives close to Leduc, near the airport. Howard is an avid collector of 18 Rolls Royces and three Bentley cars. I’m not talking about dinky cars. I’m talking about the real cars and he’s been collecting and fixing them up since he bought his first Rolls Royce in 1967. Howard says that collecting and working on these vehicles just bring him so much happiness and comradery with the two men that he fixes them up with. People know him from all around the world. They call him because they want to know about his collection. He travels all across North America, picking up these cars, and now he’s donating his collection.
He’s 77. He’s donating this collection and launching a Rolls Royce museum at the local Leduc West Antique Society Heritage Museum. And, you know, when you think about somebody who owns 18 Rolls Royces and three Bentley cars, you may have an image of like James Bond or something. Howard lives in the house that his parents owned and he hasn’t done anything to that house. It still looks the same way it did when his parents lived there and he’s 77. It’s very retro and fun, but I’m just giving you a sense of the fact that Howard is not wasting money. He’s very good with his money, but he decided that he wanted to spend his money on these cars.
He also has a small airport there that people store their airplanes at and an airport hangar and a landing strip; it’s for small aircraft. One man I know built one – that’s how I got to meet him; another man in my film, another film called Gray Ambition. He built an airplane and was flying it and he was at Howard’s airport. So Howard is a fascinating person who shows how collecting really can bring people joy and it can be positive and it can create community because you have something in common with the people who also are collecting these fancy old cars and fixing them up.
Laurel: Well, what’s interesting when we come back to this savor the day principle about releasing the unneeded, Howard is the perfect example of someone who collects things and he’s, actively, I’ll say, engaged with his collection. It’s not just, you know, he has them all parked out in a field somewhere. He’s engaged with them and it builds community for him and he obviously takes a lot of joy in this collection that he has. Which is different than people who collect things just for the sake of collecting them, either out of habit or because, you know, that seemed like a good idea or whatever it is, but it’s just a bunch of stuff and it’s not something that brings joy.
So when we’re thinking about how we release the unneeded in our life, something that brings you joy, it makes perfect sense to hold onto that. But collecting things that are in a box somewhere, or on shelves that you just have to dust them and it doesn’t really bring you joy is a completely different thing. So, it’s a lovely idea of being able to look at collecting things that enrich our lives rather than just having them as having stuff. My mother, God bless her, collected teapots.
Brandy: So do I.
Laurel: Well, I tell you, Brandy, I don’t know how many teapots you have, but my mother had hundreds of them and she collected them for years and years and years. And there literally was a wall in the dining room of the home I grew up in, there were teapots everywhere. And of course, as her collection went on, it wasn’t just any old teapot, she did have criteria for a teapot. She had a lot of antique teapots but she had a lot of kitschy ones. Well, when she passed away, I got the teapots. And it was an interesting experience of the teapots. They brought my mom a lot of joy because she would go to antique stores and there was a bit of a teapot collector group. You know, they brought her a lot of joy.
Teapots didn’t bring me a lot of joy, not hundreds of them anyway. And so, it was an interesting process of being able to let go of my mother’s teapots. What I did was I gave all of her friends who of course knew her as, you know, the teapot person, gave them a teapot as a remembrance if they wanted them. We donated a bunch to the church because they would have strawberry teas and they needed lots of different teapots and I kept a few that were really meaningful to me that were the ones that I really loved out of her collection. And then in the end, I actually found a woman, in Edmonton, who collected teapots and I gave her the whole rest of the collection.
Well, she thought she’d died and gone to heaven to get this influx of teapots. So there’s something about being honest in the conversation of does this collection actually brings me joy?
Brandy: I’m actually angry that you didn’t…
Laurel: That was a long time; that predated the first time we met Brandy [laughing]. I got to let myself off the hook there; that predated the first time we ever met. But, you know that conversation of does this bring me joy and just because it brought someone else joy doesn’t mean that I have to continue to maintain that collection if it was someone else’s source of joy.
Brandy: No, and that’s why you just give it away. Just like the “buy nothing” group. You just give it away. There’s always someone who will think that your garbage is not garbage, but things you don’t want is a treasure. I’m seeing that all the time with the ‘buy nothing” group. I will post something and people will just snatch it up and I think why? Recently a friend of mine gave me a sheep collection, all these little ornaments of sheep. That was her mother-in-law’s sheep collection that she inherited. I liked it, I thought it was cute, but it wasn’t my thing and it wasn’t going to fit my house. So I don’t hold onto everything.
I looked at it, I posted it on the “buy nothing” group and I swear to you within two minutes, this man was like, ‘This is just the most amazing thing, I must have this. Can I please have this?’ I waited to see if anybody else was interested because we do like draws. Nobody else wanted it. And I said, ‘it’s yours.’ And he was over the moon. Who knows? Maybe he’s making a little train set and he’s going to put the sheep in the train set, you know, in the countryside. I don’t know what he’s doing with those sheep, but it brought him so much joy. I collected teacups. I inherited teacups from my ex-boyfriend’s grandmother; when she passed, there were all these teacups and I kept them and they were at my parent’s house. And when I got married four years ago, my sister threw me a wedding shower, and the shower was a tea party and we use all those teacups.
And then recently with the “buy nothing” group, I’ve inherited more teacups and you know what I’m doing as soon as we’re allowed to have people over again?
Laurel: Have a tea party.
Brandy: I’m having a massive tea party and there may be wine in those teacups, whiskey in those teacups or vodka or tequila. It doesn’t have to be tea, but we are going to have a party with those teacups. So, everybody’s relationship to their things is different. This is actually really important to think about. When I made Attachments of Life, Terry Bailey, she’s a mental health therapist in Edmonton who specializes in helping people with hoarding disorder. She works primarily with people who struggle with extreme clutter and hoarding behaviors. And she said to me, there is not a problem collecting until it’s a problem, right?
So if you collect and it brings you joy and everything is happy and you can move around your house and there are no health issues, you don’t have a problem. When you can’t move out of your house and there’s going to be an emergency, you’re going to be basically trapped if there’s a fire, there’s a problem. If it’s causing distress and family breakdown, because you have so much stuff and you have issues with your relatives, then you need to get some help. And of course, we hear these stories of people who pass away and they leave all their stuff to their children and their children have to deal with it.
There is actually something called Swedish death cleaning. There’s a whole movement on it. You can read up on it or you can look at Marie Kondo’s whole movement where she says does this spark joy and you hold it and then you get rid of it if it doesn’t. But I say, okay, all these movements, with all these things if you’re going to get rid of your stuff, be responsible. Give it away on a “buy nothing” site, bring it to an eco-center, take it to recycle. Don’t just get a big dumpster and dump it in there. That’s not fair because you’re basically just dumping your load onto a landfill. And you know that reduce, reuse, recycle; how much do people think about the first one – reduce? Don’t buy as much stuff. And then reuse it; give it to somebody else and then recycle; reduce first.
Laurel: I love when you were talking about being responsible for your stuff because I’m going to guess that the majority of the listeners do not have a hoarding disorder, but they probably have stuff that doesn’t bring them joy, isn’t functional; either they don’t have the time or energy or whatever. But I think this idea of being responsible, particularly, maybe in midlife or even as a senior. To be responsible for your stuff, because it’s a huge burden to not have dealt with your stuff and then just give it to your kids to sort out.
I know our daughters have all said ‘deal with your stuff so that we don’t have to deal with the excess of things’, you know, stuff that you’ve kept because you just couldn’t get around to dealing with it or sorting through it or purging it or, you know, giving it away somewhere or whatever it is, deal with it because that’s a huge gift for your family to not have to deal with the stuff that you were unwilling to deal with in your space.
Brandy: Well, even for me, I mean, I flew to Toronto and spent two weeks cleaning up somebody else’s basement. And you know, it’s okay, I’m not upset, I learned a lot. I probably snuck a few things in my suitcase, but they probably wanted to throw them out. My mom is not somebody who has a hoarding disorder. My father and I are very similar. He collects as well. But you know, here is the most fascinating thing that I learned about the whole thing. Hoarding disorder is connected to your brain. So if you look at – and I’m putting it out here that may be in the future, I’ll have hoarding disorder, I don’t know, but I’m definitely a person who looks at an object and says, what else can I do with this object? How can I reuse this? This little bottle cap could also be a plate for my future daughter’s Barbie. Oh, I could make a chime out of that. I could do something really cool.
And so other people see the bottle cap and they throw it in the garbage and that’s it or they recycle it. But people who see the other uses for things tend to hold onto things. And I don’t think it’s a bad thing. It just is something that needs to be managed because you can’t keep everything. And I’ve really had to start decluttering and saying, okay, I’m not using this. I’ll give this away and this kind of stuff. I feel better when I know that somebody is going to use it rather than just throwing it in the garbage.
Laurel: I think it swings back to that thing about being responsible and having that candid conversation about what impact it has. You know, let’s just talk about the clutter. What impact does that have on your life? How much time, energy, even mental energy, how much impact does that have on your life?
We’ve all had that experience where we declutter a space and all of a sudden, it feels like this rush of energy has come in. Well, because, yes, you’ve actually made space for that by being able to get rid of it. So it is about managing things, which brings me to the last story that you tell in the documentary. And I have to say that this woman’s story was just so remarkable in terms of, if you want to get rid of your stuff, sometimes the universe will just come and take it from you. And not only did that happen to her once it actually happened to her three times. Can you share the story about Lesa who lost everything?
Brandy: I put a call out to people on Facebook when I was making this film. Do you know anybody who’s lost stuff in a fire? You know, I was thinking that maybe I would interview somebody and follow them who was involved in a forest fire, you know, or lost all their stuff. But I met Lesa Marshall. She’s a 40-year-old woman from Edmonton and while renting in three separate places, Lesa lost most of her belongings in two fires and one flood. And Lesa had nothing to do with these fires and floods. She wasn’t even there. Lesa feels that she suffered PTSD from these experiences of loss and she ended up getting counseling and now looks at her possessions really differently.
She says that when she went through her destroyed belongings, she found that she had burned clothes that still had the tags on them. And now she’s changed, she really doesn’t buy things that she’s not going to use right away. And she also decided that she was going to buy a condo with the money that she got from the insurance company that paid her out for her losses.
So in a very strange way, these three tragedies helped her buy a condo if you can believe it. But she said like it was so traumatic and she’s changed the way that she looks at things. In the film, she talks a lot about how you should have insurance, number one, get tenant insurance if you’re renting, if you don’t, that’s not a good thing. But she also says that her mother says people can’t be replaced, but things can. So in the end, like, even though she lost everything three times, there were things that were really upsetting. She lost pictures of her sister who passed away when she was really young, which is just horrible because those memories and those physical pictures are gone.
She lost art because she’s an artist, but she had such a wonderful community from her church and her family and her friends who helped her get through these three things. And then, you know, she’s still surviving and she lost all of her stuff three times. It shows that we can still move on.
Laurel: Yeah, her story was amazing because, any one of the experiences that she had, you know, you lose everything and then you lose everything again, and then you lose everything again.
It is quite a fascinating story. We see that all the time when there’s been some sort of a natural disaster and people lose their homes or whatever it is that happens. And people do say that, okay, it’s just stuff, we’re all safe and that’s the most important thing. And that’s all true but I still think that just the idea of all your stuff is gone, you know, when you talk about PTSD, that there is this attachment that we have to things, the things of life. And so when it’s all wiped out, yes, there is that grounding that occurs about what’s most important.
This stuff is really not important at all. Even though we continue to attach meaning and importance to it, it’s not important. But I don’t think any of us are wanting to try that slash and burn method of okay, let’s all just get rid of everything and begin again.
Brandy: No. And you know, I think that we’ve all had time to be at home and look at our surroundings and decide what we want. I mean, during COVID, my husband and I bought a house. We’ve always rented because we liked renting because I travel a lot. We weren’t sure if we were going to move back to England or what we were going to do, he’s from England. But then we decided during COVID, you know what? We are going to make some roots here. We’re going to stay. We’ve been here for 10 years. Let’s buy a house. Interest rates are low.
It makes you start thinking about your surroundings. People are leaving the city, they want rural property. They want to move to a place with a backyard. People are buying acreages or cottages.
I think COVID is making us think about our belongings a lot more. And you can also reflect and say, Hey, maybe it’s time to declutter that basement. Maybe it’s time to go through those clothes and get rid of that stuff and put it on a “buy nothing” site and have people pick it up and be full of joy every day and get my stuff out there.
I think right now we’re all thinking about the stuff that’s around us and that’s why all these people are doing renovations at their house. And the cost of lumber is really expensive. And last year the seeds ran out. If you’re trying to plant a garden, you couldn’t even get seeds. People are trying to make their homes wonderful. I think that COVID has given us some things that have been positive. You know, obviously it’s a horrible virus and people have died and that’s just awful. And people have lost their incomes and lives and dreams have been put on hold or, you know, gone. But there are also always positive things that come out of tragedies. And one of the positive things is we’ve had time to slow down, look at our lives and think a little bit about how we want to live our lives, including our stuff.
Laurel: So as we wrap up Brandy, I’m curious; having made this documentary and being able to explore this idea of the belongings that we have and the different attachments from these four different perspectives, which I think that was just so fascinating, what was your biggest takeaway from having done the documentary? For you personally, what did you take away about your attachments of life?
Brandy: Well, I think what I learned a lot was that it’s okay to be connected to things, but when they become a problem, you need to sort out that problem. If it’s starting to become an argument in your household or it’s just hard to concentrate because there’s so much clutter, you need to take some time to declutter. And I think the biggest thing that I learned was that you do it in 20-minute increments. You go down to your basement and you set a timer for 20 minutes and you start decluttering. And then after 20 minutes, you walk away and you take a break.
If you go down there and you try to do everything, you will just be overwhelmed, especially if you have anxiety about getting rid of your stuff. Because what is happening with people who have hoarding disorder, what I was told from Terry Bailey, is that when they pick up an object and that gives them anxiety, because they don’t know what to do with it, they just put it down and then the anxiety goes away and they feel better so they just leave it. And next thing you know, the clutter rises and rises and rises.
Laurel: I think that suggestion about doing that bite-size thing 20 minutes, or I always say one drawer at a time. Just do it one drawer at a time because, you know, we’ve all probably had that experience where, okay, I’m going to declutter the garage or some room or whatever it is and then you get in there, and then you have this experience of, Oh, why did I ever start this? Because you know, it gets worse before it gets better. So that bite-sized chunk is pretty good advice.
Brandy: Yeah. That’s what’s worked for me. I had a lot of paper that I had to get rid of because I own a company and I have all these documents, release forms, tax stuff. I mean, every seven years you can shred that stuff. Hey, you can even use that shredded paper in your composter, or you can like make it mulch in your garden. You don’t even have to throw your shredded paper. In fact, if you shred it, I don’t think it can be recycled. So you should think all the time, like what can I do with my stuff?
I’ve learned so much from making this film and buying a house and thinking…like my kitchen scraps, I collect them all before we moved here and I have them in composters and I’m going to have a delicious garden coming up and all my kitchen scraps are going to end up in my garden, which is going to be beautiful soil. So what can you do with your stuff to make it serve you? You know, let it serve you and give it away to someone who’s going to love it. Don’t just dump it into the landfill, give it away, give it another life.
Laurel: Yeah, well, Brandy, I so appreciate you just giving us a little bit of insight into this documentary. Definitely, listeners, check out the show notes because the links will be there for you to be able to watch this fabulous documentary called Attachments of Life. So the links will be there and some other links there so that you can learn a little bit more about Brandy and some of the other things that she is doing.
Thanks Brandy for sharing your time and your perspective on releasing the unneeded things in our lives and taking joy from the things that we hold on to. I really appreciate it.
Brandy: Oh, it’s my pleasure. And please check out my films. A lot of them are for free on CBC Gem, like Attachments of Life, and Breaking Loneliness. And then I have a travel show on Amazon Prime and PBS called Seeing Canada and Seeing the USA. So if you’ve got that travel bug, which we all seem to have right now, you can travel through my show.
Laurel: Great. Thanks so much. So, that’s a wrap for us on this episode. Tune in next time and we’ll be exploring another one of the principles that can help us savor the day.
Outro: You’ve been listening to The Being & The Doing with your host, Laurel Vespi. If you liked this episode and think other people would please subscribe, rate, and give a review on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts. Be sure to tune in next week for another conversation about The Being & The Doing. Thanks for listening.