Why is it so hard to get rid of stuff?

Our Weekend Stuff Pile

This middle age journey I’m on is forcing me to deal with some new realities. One of them is that at some point Rachel and I are probably going to sell The Big House and move to The Baby House. We’re working towards becoming debt free, and we know that this current house is bigger (and costs more to upkeep) than we need.

There are still alot of options and the move might not take place for years, but we know at some point we’ll trade ~2,000 sq. ft of living space, 2-car garage, and 10×12 backyard shed for 640 sq. ft. of living space, no garage, no shed, and very limited storage. It will probably be the next big step in our lives.

One of the natural laws of science (and life) is that only so much stuff will fit into a given space (my daughter packing her suitcase notwithstanding). If we want to avoid being featured on one of those A&E TV shows like Buried Alive or Hoarders, it stands to reason that we’re going to need to get rid of stuff. Downsize. Minimize. Reduce excess possessions. De-materialize. Streamline. Un-stuff.

We spent part of this weekend un-stuffing. We did pretty well, but there were a few moments when the realization sunk in that we were choosing to release things from our lives that we once deemed important. Some of it was bitter-sweet; yes we are moving on, and yes there are good memories represented in that stuff. But the truth is, it can be a tough thing to get rid of stuff.

How do we get so much stuff? It seems like it just sneaks up. Stuff is sneaky. Sneaky stuff. We’re living our everyday life, doing our everyday things, and then it’s like a stuff-avalanche. Stuff is everywhere because it can hide in plain site. We have boxes of stuff, and closets of more stuff, and attics of even more stuff, and sheds of even way more stuff. We never see it until it jumps us. We open a closet to get a coat and get stuff-jumped for no reason. There’s a kitchen smudge so we look under the sink for the Smudge-Off and stuff has taken it hostage. Stuff sneaks into our car at night and hides until we give someone a ride. Then it’s a mobile stuff party. Some people who have too much stuff sell their stuff on Saturday mornings to other people who have too much stuff. It just goes back and forth like that. Some people give up or run out of space to hide stuff. Then it’s called clutter and they’re called hoarders.

And stuff can morph. Like a shape-shifter. Or the pods in Invasion of the Body Snatchers or Gremlins. It starts out as something cool and Must Have and then ends up in a box or closet or under the bed as stuff.

There are smart people who know alot about having stuff. Authors have built their entire profession on writing about stuff. There are professional Stuff Managers for hire that will deal with your stuff for you. Apparently U.S. homes have more stuff per house than any society in global history. It’s called Hyper-consumerism. The average home has 300,000 items in it (no way. I started counting). That’s a wicked-lot of stuff. Some people need more space to store stuff and they pay for it. The U.S. has roughly 50,000 storage facilities (5 times more than Starbucks) and there’s 7 1/2 sq. ft. of stuff storage space for every man, woman and child.

I confess: I hate stuff. It’s one of my hot buttons. It makes me insane. I once had a job that required me to go to people’s homes; maybe a thousand a year. Some had so much stuff there was nowhere to sit. I would fantasize about taking a push broom or firehose to the whole place while laughing maniacally and when I was done they would gather round and clap and cheer and thank me for saving them. Stuff makes me grumpy.

I was in the Coast Guard for 20+ years; much of it lived on a ship. There’s not much space for stuff on ships. Maybe that’s where my anti-stuff persuasion comes from. Most of the time stuff is very hard to describe (What’s in that box? I don’t know, just stuff. What kind of stuff. Just stuff stuff).

We save stuff over the years. Most of it is useless, but we save it anyway, because it’s perfectly good. We use words like perfectly good or might come in handy someday to describe things we’ll never use again but feel the overwhelming need to keep. We also use just in case and then describe a ridiculous situation that has never happened and never will (we’ll save it just in case we win the lottery and move to Mexico and can’t find a 2006 iphone case). 13 unused spiral notebooks (just in case we need to write a letter), 31 elastic banded pens that all work (might come in handy for writing all those letters), 7 nail clippers (just in case the other 6 break), every book we’ve ever read (throwing away a book is a sin), old eyeglasses (just in case my eyes ever go back to my prescription 7 years ago), various cables (just in case we need to hook something up); all perfectly good stuff that might come in handy just in case.

Pictures are the worst. The worst. We have boxes and boxes of pictures that we don’t look at until we’re deciding to get rid of them, which we never do (I threw away pictures this time. Rachel is pretty sure I now have it in me to be an ax murderer).

We have to Go Through stuff before we get rid of stuff. That’s the rule. It’s just about the only time in life that we ever Go Through anything, which automatically defines it as stuff. We have to be in the right frame of mind to Go Through stuff. Some people Go Through stuff but that’s as far as they get and it makes them feel like they’ve done enough for today.

Sometimes getting rid of stuff feels like we’re being disrespectful. Or wasteful. Or careless. Or cold. It’s our stuff and it belongs to us. We might not want to display our stuff, or use it, or ever really even see it, but we want to know it’s there. Where it’s safe. Under our control. Getting rid of it is so final. Stuff represents our past and reminds us of our mortality. Maybe that’s part of the reason we have so much stuff. Marie Kondo advises that we hold each item in our hand and thank it for the enjoyment it brought us before getting rid of it. Some people might need to thank a whole dumpster.

Stuff can cause big fights if both people aren’t on the same stuff-page. Some people are stuff keepers. Some are stuff get-rid-of-ers. Some people over-identify with their stuff; it becomes who they are. I tend to be a little reckless on the stuff reduction front and am definitely a get-rid-of-er. It makes me feel good (I hear the Rocky theme in my head). I’ve gotten rid of stuff that I shouldn’t have. I know I shouldn’t have because I got caught (stupid trash man).

I learned a lesson once from my grandfather about stuff. He explained that life is like a garden. We need to tend our Life Garden, and on a regular basis purposely pull out everything that’s not helping us get what we want. Weeds, bugs, last year’s old crop, too many of one thing, harvesting: at some point we need to remove instead of add. This removing process is natural and healthy, and makes us better and more purposed people. The tendency is to want to keep growing and growing, adding and adding, but that’s not how life works (and would make for a really messy and unfruitful garden). Stuff is like that. We add and add and if we don’t regularly remove, it’s going to get really messy and hard to grow.

I mentioned in an earlier post that we’re learning that right and hard can be friends, and just because a thing is hard does not mean it’s not right. Overall, it felt good to downsize and get rid of stuff. We still have a good amount of stuff to Go Through, but so far we’ve emptied the attic, 2 big closets, and most of the garage shelves. Some we donated and some we threw away. We’re doing a little bit each month. There were a few bumps but it’s fun to be taking tangible steps in moving towards our dream.

Published by

MiddleAgeMark

Observations, lessons learned, perspectives, and anecdotes from the Grand Adventure of Middle Age as Rachel and I chase our dreams. I welcome you to follow along and join the adventure.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s