60 years of Stuff

60 years old is a major milestone in life. It forces you to realize that you are past the half way point and probably past the two thirds point in life as well.  All the decade marker years in my life are times of introspection – making sure my life is on course. Recognizing that time is growing shorter, I want to be sure that who I am counts, what I do counts, and that what I leave behind for my kids and grand-kids is a blessing.

When my parents faced the painful reality that they needed to move from their home of many years to an assisted living apartment it was hard. Hard for them and hard for us as we saw them grieve giving up so much. So off we went to help make the move from southern New Mexico to northern Colorado – close to both my brother and I. And what a move it was!

I would not have called my parents hoarders because their house was tidy – at least on the surface. But when we started digging into cupboards, closets and the garden shed a wholly different picture emerged. They had a lot of stuff! Stuff was stuffed into every nook and cranny. Dad had enough tools to start an auto repair shop, maybe two. More tools than even my brother and husband, who are tool lovers, could want. Mom had enough plastic margarine tubs to fill 2 cupboards. When I made a comment, I was told that they might come in handy someday. That’s when I remembered that they were children of the Great Depression. They both grew up with barely enough of anything. My grandparents saved, reused and made do with just about everything just to survive. They certainly passed that habit on to my parents who were actually prosperous all their lives.

 Cleaning out their possessions resulted in an evaluation of my own stuff and what I wanted to leave behind for my kids. I most certainly do not want them to have to go through the painful process of trying to decide what to keep and what to get rid of on the scale that we had to with my folks. As I researched this issue, I ran across the idea of minimalism. Over time, I have taken the best ideas about minimalism and simplicity and forged my own style of cozy, comfortable minimalism. I am not going to count my items, not even my wardrobe. I am not going to live a sparse, empty life. But I am going to keep decluttering, paring down, and cleaning out stuff. More importantly, I am resolved to buy less and like my grandparents, make do with what we have.

Here are my top five tips for decluttering and getting out from under all the stuff:

  1. There is no one way to simplify, minimize and reduce your stuff. From one extreme of owning no more than 100 items (honestly! I have more colored pens than that!) to hoarding, it is a continuum. You need to decide how to make it work for you and where you are comfortable without drowning in useless stuff.
  2. Stop buying more stuff for awhile – especially on a credit card. Take some time to appreciate what you already have before piling in more. Read some of the books in your stack. Make some of the crafts you have supplies for before you buy more supplies (yes, I am talking about my quilting stash here). Or, if you are never going to do that hobby again – give it away to someone who will love it.
  3. Clean out your closet and if it doesn’t fit or you don’t love it- get rid of it. Believe me, if you lose weight, you will want to buy something new to celebrate anyway. Keep the clothes that make you feel good right now. My closet went from 2 closets stuffed full, to one, half full, when I did this. And I love only having comfortable, good quality clothes to choose from!
  4. “It might come in handy someday” – it probably won’t. You can use the 20 dollar 20 minute rule here. If it will cost less that $20 to replace or take less than 20 minutes to get another one, it can go. You probably can’t find it in the junk drawer anyway! You will never use 200 plastic margarine tubs or 1000 plastic grocery bags. 5 might come in handy. Hundreds never will. Save 5 of each and get rid of the rest.
  5. Seriously, how many towels, sheets and socks do you need? This can extend to pretty much every area of our homes and all our stuff. How many sets of measuring cups are you really using at a time? I got rid of 4 sets of sheets because I realized that 2 sets is more than enough. I may go to only one – I haven’t decided yet. But that is the beauty of the decluttering process. It doesn’t have to happen all at once but I have to keep working toward the goal of less.

Consider what you really value. For me it’s a simple, open, clean space to live in. I want my home to be a place where my children and grandchildren love to be with no worries about something getting broken. I value my time too much to want to spend it dusting tchotchkes or looking for lost items in piles and clutter. I don’t want to be a slave to my stuff – I want only the stuff that truly serves my needs. This is where we have to be a little strict with ourselves. It can be hard to let your hard earned, might come in handy someday stuff go – but you will feel so much lighter and happier when you do. Really! I may even address my colored pen collection one of these days!


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