Incense used to be a small part of my life. I loved it, but if I’d made a list of the top ten most important things in my life incense wouldn’t have made the list.
Despite incense being a relatively small component of my world, I had a robust and well-rounded collection.
I had my standard nag champa from Satya Sai Baba, and more nag champas from several different brands, some Song of India, yum, a few packs of specialty import Tibetan and Nepalese incense, Auromere and Auroshika appeared regularly in the house, Shoyeido and Morning Star rounded out the Japanese side in my collection, and Fred Soll and Nu Essence accounted for my specialty American faves. That was what I kept on hand most frequently. There was also a regular running stream of experimental incense brands or incense packs received as gifts.
Then there was the resin incense. Nu Essence, at the forefront of loose tinned incense made up a bulk of my collection, but I also stocked some fantastic straight resins on their own, some frankincense, copal, dragon’s blood… this all took the prerequisite charcoal briquette discs to burn, and a sturdy specialty burner too.
I also kept smudge incense on hand, big thick bundles of wide-leafed white sage/mountain sage, the thinner and more delicate leaved foxglove, commonly known as desert sage, and bundles of cedar branch, sweetgrass and juniper as well. Lavender smudges were less common for me, but it was frequent that I’d keep one on hand for when the moment struck me. And what incense collection could be complete without specialty wood? A friend traveled to South America and returned sharing holy stick with us, Palo Santo.
Other sacred woods and resins graced our life as well, some I’d forgotten the names of, some Patrick remembered. They were gifts from wanderers and people well met, a simple way of sharing energy, the offering of a special blend.
But it was too much.
Our incense alone, one small category of possessions in my life, had become a beast of a collection. Somehow I had amassed around forty or fifty different packs of incense over the years, and I couldn’t burn enough to keep up with the inflow.
As soon as one pack would be finished, three more would come to take it’s place.
I felt dread seeing another gift of incense from some well-meaning friend or family member in my life. My incense habit had grown too big, too unwieldy for me to take pleasure in it as I once had.
The wood overwhelmed me, the resins were delightfully delicious but messy, and all those packs of stick incense made rooting through the drawer impossible.
At one point I put a moratorium on incense. No new incense was allowed into the house until we worked through our collected stockpile. The moratorium lasted for several years, and I worked through my incense packs, rejoicing with each pack I finished off completely.
It was another thing gone you see, and I had too much.
But even as I worked to downsize, and refused any newcomers into my life, I recognized it would take too long to studiously work through my incense collection. There was the Auromere box after all, that box alone contained 20 packs of incense.
…And, there was the main crux of the issue too, I was attached to my incense collection. I wanted to keep all of those varieties from now until forever. I didn’t want to do without. Would I ever be able to justify affording a half dozen Nu Essence tins again? Or those exquisite Fred Soll packs at ten dollars a pop? I had a mini-packrat hoard going on with my incense, a tiny mouse-sized hoard of exquisite, aromatic boxes and bags.
It was time for something radically different.
And… so I learned to gift, and consciously work through my stash. In the end, when we moved from Arkansas back to Florida we still had a ton of incense. We gave our last remaining stockpile away, released the specialty handmade smudge wand, and went incense-free into a new life.
THIS IS WHAT I DID:
-I recognized that the size of my incense collection made me uncomfortable.
-After realizing this I spent time looking at the situation and analyzing it. I discovered that I didn’t like incense spilling out of it’s designated zone. It was currently taking over a kitchen drawer and had started to drift over to to the top of the woodstove. I also didn’t like rooting around in the incense drawer trying to find the incense I wanted. My favorites were always hiding behind a lesser pack.
-After analyzing my situation I concluded I had too much incense. If I had less, I could keep just my favorites, and they’d be easy to find and care for. I undertook the Great Incense Minimization of 2008-2009.
-I minimized my incense category slowly. I made a conscious effort to burn incense very regularly. I started by going through open packs first, and burning each stick out of that pack before moving on to the next half-open pack. My strategy for my incense collection was similar to the well-known snowball debt reduction method. I needed to be this methodical or I wouldn’t make any progress. I made great progress when I started doing this. The snowball method for those who aren’t familiar: Eliminate the simple and the small first, then focus on the bigger and harder last.
-I wanted a faster method so I started gifting some of our nicest packs. I randomly gifted many of our unopened packs to whoever it seemed might appreciate it at the moment. Gifting is fun! I gifted in anticipation of our big move which was coming up.
-When the big move rolled around we took off with a hatchback Hyundai and a half dozen mailed boxes. Incense didn’t make the cut. So we did a complete purge. Incense was cheap and easily replaceable in comparison to other things like a music collection or a desktop computer.
-After the big move we decided to keep the incense category completely eliminated for several years. I did this with many categories. It was a way of hitting my reset button.
-And last, we come to where I am today. I’ve let myself experiment with reincluding it in my life again. Incense is just so incredible for cleansing it’s hard for me to not have any around. I’ve reintroduced incense into my life, but on a smaller more functional scale.
-I have a small glass votive candle holder from Goodwill that I filled with local beach sand. It acts as my burner.
-I keep one pack of stick incense on hand at any given time. Currently my selection is great origin by Shoyeido.
It’s simple and effective, restrained and mature. One pack of incense. One incense burner.
Do I miss some of my incense? Undoubtably.
Will I increase my collection in the future?
I truly hope not.
My new rule is one at a time. I can choose any incense I want, but I can only keep one variety on hand at a time.
Simple Living Action Step
You may not have incense as a category in your life, but there’s probably at least one category of possessions that you know you can downsize. For this week’s simple living action step, just find one category of excess and spend time thinking about it. What effect does it have in your life? Is it unmanageable because of it’s size? Is it something you used to love before it became too big?
This week, let’s share one collection that’s gotten out of hand, or how you managed to corral a collection back down to a manageable size.
p.s. Thanks to absolutely everyone who helped out with the minimalist list brainstorming session. It was awesome. Also, thanks to absolutely everyone who has contributed a piece for special celebrations. If you’d like to share your special celebration for the upcoming book, please do so over at the blue crab page.
p.p.s. I adore you all. Thank you for reading what I share here. It means the world to me.