When I first explained Pinterest to James, he responded with, “Oh, so it’s like shopping?” Of course not, I explained. You don’t actually own any of the things that you pin, you are just sorting and saving them for future reference.
But lately I’ve been thinking that he is maybe more right than I – than we all – like to think.
What are we pinning and why?
For some of my boards, I know the answer. When I was planning my wedding (which, ok, prompted another Pinterest-induced breakdown), I pinned things that inspired me, or things that I wanted to share with my bridesmaids, mom, or mother-in-law for their input. As long as it was used in moderation, it was truly useful. I also love the recipes that I have pinned, easily sitting there with links to dishes that I now love making. It is so convenient having a digital storage space with links to things that I have tried and loved or still want to try. I head to my pinboard when I am staring blankly at the fridge wondering what to make for dinner. I also enjoy my pinboard of puppies and pictures of children dressed as old people or food because, hey, everyone has those down days where pictures of a baby dressed as pasta just cheers you up.
But I’ve been pinning less and less, and thinking about it more and more.
I guess what it comes down to is simplicity, that virtue that the whole cyber world seems to love right now, even if it is eluding us all. I was talking with a friend recently about the glorification of the adjective “simple.” We all want “simple” children’s toys (read: expensive Etsy wooden giraffes that cost more than a whole tub of Legos) and we want “simple clean lines” in our furniture, homes, clothing… the list goes on. After the 90’s and early 2000’s baroque extravagance, we have emerged into an era that believes simple is inherently superior. And so we clean out our wardrobe, discarding all the clothes we only occasionally wear and we invest in simple classic basics that inevitably cost three times as much, though they will of course, last much longer.
I think this is a great thing. I think we should discard things that we don’t want and need, because clutter, or more specifically, excess, is the enemy of contentment. Humans are by nature prone to excess. We want more and we want it faster, better, more fashionably, etc. All of this excess just leaves us wanting still more and we live in cluttered castles of stuff and plans, feeling desperately discontent.
So where does Pinterest come in?
Very few of us (if any at all) actually follow through with what we pin. You might occasionally cook something you pinned, or buy something you added to you “Fashion Forward Me” board. Instead, we cyber-hoard, pinning, sorry curating, hundreds of things to our different boards. As we strive to make our lives simpler, more content, and less cluttered, we let our minds, desires, and impulses become Internet gluttons, grabbing everything in sight. We tell ourselves that it doesn’t count as actually having all these things, because we don’t actually own them. We just own the idea of them, the desire for them, catalogued in an increasingly large corner off the Internet.
But does that make us less discontent? I don’t think so.
Contentment isn’t about becoming instantly happy with what you have as compared to all the things you want, but don’t have. It’s not a list of have and have-nots, where you hope that the have column makes you happier. It is about developing a lifestyle that actively avoids indulging in the things that you don’t have, can’t have, never will have. And you know what?
You will never have a wedding like the sum of a wedding board on Pinterest.
You will never have a closet as lavish as your cyber closet board.
You will never have a vacation exactly like your “Places to go before I die board.”
You will never have a house, a family, and a party as perfect as the ones that you can curate.
But this is to be expected, because real life can only be lived, not curated.
Obviously, I don’t mean that you should or can’t hope or dream for things. Aspiring to an image or lifestyle that you want is something we all should do. But there is a difference between saving up for a vacation that you and your family really want to take and spending hours each day gathering hundreds of images for things that you will never do. Maybe you can do that all day and still feel happy with your life, but I can’t.
Beyond the contentment issue, we return to the idea of simplicity. Having stuff isn’t wrong. Being controlled by it is, and I would wager that if we are spending hours each day pinning, we are controlled by the stuff that we don’t have. You could pare your closet down to a pair of jeans, quality shirt, and perfect boots, and still be utterly cluttered and controlled by all your cyber stuff.
So as for me, I’ve slowed down in my pinning. Occasionally I will come across a recipe I like, or a picture of a something hysterical and I will add it to a board. But I’ve stopped the pin binges, the long stints of mindless shuffling through empty promises and out-of reach possibilities. They don’t bring me joy, they don’t help me love the life I do have more, and they clutter my mind. And in the void left after clearing out some cyber wanting, I’ve found abiding contentment.
Because in the end, contentment, simplifying, and de-cluttering our lives isn’t about the stuff we have, but rather the stuff that has us. And if we are spending hours pouring over things and experiences we want, sorting them into our cyber closets and lives, they own us far more than we own them.
Note: Please note that this post is called “Why I stopped pinning,” not “Why this is a moral imperative for everyone everywhere to stop pinning.” Every person is their own special cocktail of weaknesses and shortcomings. Maybe you find no connection in your own life between over-pinning and contentment. These words are merely meant to make you think, not condemn or critique you.