I am officially sick of stuff. I’m overwhelmed by it all. As much as I try to limit the amount of stuff coming into my life, it still shows up on my doorstep.
Exhibit A: I walked out to get the mail yesterday and found Rock & Roll Elmo in a brown grocery bag with a note, “Dear Lucy, I need a home and new batteries. Love, Neighbor Lisa.” This is Neighbor Lisa’s second toy drop-off. Her grandkids no longer appreciate the joyfully high-pitched singing of this furry muppet, so she’s excited to see another small friend enjoy him. Super thoughtful!
And I must say, Lucy enjoys Lisa’s unexpected surprises. But in all honestly, Elmo’s arrival into our home is like a physical manifestation of the following theory:
“If you don’t pay attention to the stuff that makes its way into your life, that stuff will eventually take over your life.”
You see, Jason and I have tried to proactively limit the amount of plastic/electronic toys Lucy owns. Our thought is that if it requires batteries, then it probably doesn’t require much creativity or critical thinking. We would never have bought Rock & Roll Elmo for Lucy. But here he is, singing his little heart out and banging away at his guitar on the living room floor. (Lord, help me!) In fact, in regards to toys, we can count on two hands how many toys we’ve actually purchased for Lucy and yet somehow we still have three large totes filled to the brim that we rotate each week.
(Side note: The weekly rotating bins of toys has been one of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever received! There are fewer toys lying around the house AND she actually plays with them because they’re fresh. You’re geniuses, Colosimos!)
Stuff can be suffocating. And the more you have, the more space you need to hold it all. Think about how the size of homes has changed over the last 100 years. My grandparents lived in a house that was 900 square feet. The house I grew up in was 1,800. I know many people who have homes that are double that. Something tells me those houses are filled with lots of stuff.
Am I saying stuff is bad?
No. I’m just saying, why do you need it all?
Is it making you happier, or is it complicating things?
After 10 years of marriage and accumulation, Jason and I are taking a stand against stuff. We are going on a “Stuff Diet.” We currently have stuff in our home that we do not want or need. We’re going to watch our intake ever more vigilantly and exercise purging. It’s going to be refreshing to pare down the stuff in our household.
No doubt, the process can be overwhelming. Where do you start? Here are 6 ways to start a Stuff Diet…
1. Be On Guard
Watch like a vigilant hawk. Miss nothing that comes into your home. If it’s not a consumable product, then ask, WHY is this entering my house? Is there a purpose? If so, FINE. If not, catch it before it finds a place to collect dust. Be disciplined about asking the question.
2. Goodwilling as a Verb
Set aside a spot in your garage for a Goodwill box, a permanent place to put items you plan on Goodwilling. So, if something comes into your home that you have no purpose for, it now has an official spot until it makes the trek to its knew home. Important note: do not, I repeat, DO NOT, feel guilty about Goodwilling a gift you just received. Acknowledge the thoughtfulness and then let it go.
3. The Weekly Tackle Box
Pick one thing to tackle each week. A corner of boxes in the garage, a closet, or a dresser. Identify one weeknight and spend an hour tackling that one thing. Over the course of a year, you will have managed to work the equivalent of seven weekends worth of full Saturdays. It’s much less painful to give up one hour a week, versus seven precious Saturdays. (Hat tip to Jason’s parents who have been doing this as a couple for the last several months. They call it their “date night,” and have seen remarkable results.)
4. Finding a Home Within Your Home
Every single thing you own needs to have a home. If you have a tendency to have a full kitchen counter, a cluttered night stand, or a trashed car, stop drowning in the stuff by finding a place for everything. Things like unopened mail, your purse, and slippers often go homeless because you’ve never identified a spot. Analyze what makes up the piles of junk that keep multiplying. Find a home for it or pitch it.
5. Bye, Bye Beanie Babies
Collections are not horrible but some people outgrow their collection and yet hold onto it because they never stop to ask this simple question: Is this collection still meaningful to me? Maybe at one time in your life, the Holiday Barbies were a BIG deal. Now they take up half of the hall closet. One word: eBay. Make a little cash off of that one meaningful mound of memories. Acknowledge the good times once had, and use the money to create some new ones. If you’re having a hard time letting go, take photos of them all, make a memory book, then move forward.
Our friend Adam (aka Baker) has a great, insanely affordable product for anyone looking to make money by cutting down on clutter. It’s called Sell Your Crap, and it not only delivers detailed step-by-step instructions (with pictures!) for selling your unwanted things on eBay, Craigslist, and Amazon.com, but it actually deals with why your stuff is suffocating your potential and helps you to remove the roadblocks that keep you from letting go. And Adam and his wife Courtney know what they’re talking about: in 2009 they sold nearly all of their possessions and set off to travel indefinitely overseas. With a toddler in tow!
6. Gifting Memories
Instead of gifting stuff, give opportunities and experiences. Things like a gift certificates for a new adventure (hot air balloon, boat ride, sky diving), tickets to a show or concert, or lessons to learn something new (musical instrument, cooking, ballroom dancing)… these gifts don’t take up space in the house and create both memories and chances to grow in knowledge and life experience.
Will you join us in paring down your household in an effort to win the battle against the distraction and overwhelm of stuff?
What will you do this month to start your Stuff Diet? What tricks do you have to share with the rest of us?
Great post, Kim! We’ve been clutter-conscious since we married, and try pretty hard, but need to up the ante if we’re to win. Thanks for the encouragement.
The rotating toybox system worked for us too, when we had babies. But 5-6 year olds have meccano, lego, trains, cars, doll collections s of all sizes, farm and zoo sets, dinosaurs, race tracks, teasets, musical instruments, pretend shops … and we home school so have science kits, art and craft, maths games etc. and a zillion books! The key is organisation, lots of clear boxes on wall-to-wall garage shelves, just a few in the house at a time.
We’re up against some fierce enemies, including over 20 gift-giving relatives (our own siblings and extended family). Nostalgia is a killer too. We don’t feel it, both happy to let go BUT bits of our childhood keep walking back into our house … like recently a metre high stack of board games my brother had saved in a chest freezer! Sure they’re fun, but thankfully a few boxes were mouldy, so it’s been easier to cull the pile. I feel guilty every time I discard a toy from MY childhood, because people I love made some of them, and Mum saved them for MY children.
Strategies which have helped us:
* We tell relatives what our kids are saving for, and politely suggest that they’d love money to help them reach their goals (eg. DD5 saved for a bigger bike. DS6 wants an electric drum kit, so we’ve had a lot of mileage from this $500 goal and a way to go yet!) Our thankyou letters reinforce this.
* Asking for lego or a dress is good too. People want to know what will be appreciated, so don’t be afraid to ask. I try to ask before I give gifts.
* Since the kids were babies we’ve shared the joy of generosity with them, so they’re always happy to fill an op-shop bag with us. We have been guilty of giving to other families, but do assure these people to op-shop whatever they don’t want.
* Regular sorting, as each time we open the archives of stuffed toys, we let a few more go, which previously we felt obliged to keep.
* Having one keepsake box per child, to ensure we don’t overdo the ‘keeping for future generations’ tradition. Big items like the 3rd generation HUGE handmade dolls house … I wish for an attic!
* A one in, two out policy … for each new ‘thing’ which comes in, two must move out.
* The library, toy library and toy-swaps with friends are good ways to enjoy variety without needing to buy and keep more things.
* Financial goals help us parents avoid the buy-it-now trap, and delaying the purchase helps decide which items will enrich our lives and dismiss those which will just add to clutter.
Still, we have a long way to go!! Downsizing to a caravan sounds good sometimes :)
Kristin Handwerk says
Awww…I’m a huge purger! I constantly have things on their way to others homes (outgrown kid clothes) and good ol’ Sally’s. My oldest has my purger gene, however my little one does not. So my way to deal with her liking to collect everything (including gum wrapers) is she has one box under her bed that she can save whatever she wants. When it is fulll either she can go through it and get rid of things or she can let me (she’s only 4). This works awesome and she knows if it gets left out of that box it is up to me if she gets to keep it or not. Sometimes there are things they still play with but that I decide need a new home so off they go to Grammys or Nanas for new toys at their house.
#1 I’agree with, but find the portion of my brain wherein that bit of wisdom is stored inaccessible when I am out and about and the OPWS (Oh! Pretty! Want! Syndrome) strikes.
#2 I’ve had great success with this, although I need to find a better place for the box, as it has on occasion gotten buried and forgotten.
#s3-5 I thought these up a few years ago. I still think they’re great ideas. *sigh* well, if I continue to have success with #2, perhaps that will encourage me with the others.
Now, one must address the not-often discussed fact that while we are away from home, the Stuff Gnomes come in and leave extra stuff. Sometimes they are bold enough to come in while we are sleeping. They only add to your stuff a single item or two at a time, so they get away with quite a bit before you realize your home has been invaded. :)
Try the flylady.net– some great helpfull hints on how to declutter– Sink Reflections for sure!