Did you know that the average household has over 300,000 items… that’s a lot of stuff! Stuff consumes us. America is the birthplace of consumerism, we are inundated with products we don’t need on a daily basis.
I have accumulated a lot of stuff throughout my lifetime, a lot!. As a child I would collect all my favorite toys, one was never enough, I had to have the entire empire of whatever I was into at the time. One Barbie would not suffice, I needed 20. My room was adorned with toys and knick knacks on every surface. I was really into Tiny Toons at one point so I would make my mom buy me any and every thing that was Tiny Toons themed: watches, toothbrushes, notebooks, stickers, figurines, band aids, you name it I had it. As I got older those toys were replaced with clothes and CD’s and accessories.
When I moved out of my parents house after high school I had to get rid of most of my stuff, but that was due to me not having a place of my own and being homeless for a period of time. It wasn’t because I wanted to get rid of the stuff, I just literally had nowhere for it, all I had owned at that time was whatever would fit in my car.
I moved to Oklahoma in 1998 with one suitcase of my belongings and that was it. But it didn’t take long for me to make up for lost time as I started going on daily shopping excursions with my mom and began purchasing more stuff. Shopping was how me and my mom bonded, we were shopaholics. We weren’t alone though, studies have shown that women spend more than 8 years of their lives shopping!
I ended up moving to a small 2 bedroom duplex in Norman, Oklahoma that I rented and I began filling that place up with stuff. I had artwork, figurines, statues, knick knacks out the whazoo. If I saw something I liked I would buy it, not giving any thought at all as to where I would put it or if it went with what I already had. That was basically my motto: if I liked something I’d buy it.
A few years later I bought my first home and it was even bigger, 3 bedrooms with 2 large living areas, more room for more stuff! I quickly turned one room into an office full of bookshelves and every shelf was stuffed to the brim. My living rooms were an eclectic mix of religious statues, pinup girls, Flamenco dancers, and rockabilly style decor. I felt like my home was a creative expression of who I was and that I needed to showcase all the things that gave an impression of my likes and my personality. My closet was a walk in built for two people but since I lived alone I had it all to myself and I made sure to fill it so full that I could hardly pull out a garment without using the jaws of life to remove it.
I would watch those home shows on HGTV where they get a property ready to sell and the realtors always tell the homeowners to remove all the clutter and personal items to make the home more attractive to buyers and I thought well there’s no way I could do that because I wouldn’t dare hide my stuff in boxes just to appease potential homebuyers.
I loved filling my home with things! I wouldn’t say I was a hoarder but I was definitely a maximalist.
Once I got married me and my husband bought our current house, an even bigger house, this time a large 3,000 square foot home with acres of land and a swimming pool. Once again I had more room so it was time to fill all that space with more stuff! I expanded my collections and purchased more clothes and home decor and oddities. I was really into gothic decor and I was beginning to accumulate a ton of Halloween themed ceramic houses, you know the ones with zombies on Ferris wheels and cemeteries that lit up. I remember looking at how big my collection was getting and thinking that my husband would have to build me an additional room in our house to display all of these because I wanted to show them off in an entire city scape complete with a working train set to carry around the zombie corpses. Seriously, another room to add onto our already 3,000 square foot home??!!
I stayed so busy throughout all those years doing housework, moving things around, rearranging my collections, changing out pictures, dusting and cleaning, getting bored with the way one area looked so changing it around just for the hell of it. Looking back it was exhausting! I never really relaxed when I was home because I was so busy doing “stuff” with my “stuff”.
I didn’t realize it at the time but all this “stuff” was distracting me and keeping me from discovering what I really valued in life. It was so easy to fill my days with shopping and rearranging and decorating that I wasn’t able to be very productive in other areas of my life.
Then my mindset slowly started shifting. I don’t recall if it was because of something I read or because I was looking for my next personal challenge but I felt a sudden need to start minimizing my life. Which meant minimizing my personal belongings first. That’s when things started synching, I stumbled across a podcast called The Minimalists, I started seeing things about simple living everywhere and I was really digging this new concept of living with less. I of course plunged head first into it (like I do with any thing that sparks my interest) and read every book I could find on the subject of minimalism. I took it as a sign that the universe was conspiring to help me to get rid of stuff. I took note and I became obsessed.
My new mission was to SIMPLIFY.
It was a sort of awakening, I was beginning to realize that my stuff did not define who I was. I could still like all the things I liked without having to buy everything associated with it. I was learning that less is more. I was learning that things don’t hold memories, our memories are inside of us. I was learning that it was okay to get rid of things that I had spent a lot of money on. I was learning that in order for new things to enter our lives we must first clear room for them. I was learning that life can be so much better once you surround yourself with the things that really add value to your life instead of too many things that can drain your time, energy, and resources. I was learning that your outer space is a reflection of your inner space. I was learning the art of letting go.
I turned my focus on creating a clutter free environment, a simplistic atmosphere with fewer distractions. I no longer was going to allow the good stuff rob me of the best stuff, like my family. Thinking about all the time I had spent going shopping for “things” that I didn’t need made me feel like I had missed out on so many other things I could have been doing. I looked around at all my stuff and asked myself why do I feel so attached to this stuff?
During this time I had also been studying Buddhism and they believe that our lives are full of suffering because of our attachment. Our egos love attachment and that’s why it’s so hard for us to learn to let go. We, as Americans, have become conditioned to be consumers and it’s normal to want things, better things, more things, lots of things. Buddhism helped me realize what was important in life and I admired the monastic lifestyle that the nuns had, they were so content and they put no importance on material possessions. They owned a few robes, a toothbrush, eyeglasses, and that was about it. Not saying I was ready to become a Buddhist monk but it sure did have some appeal and inspired me.
Over the next couple years I got rid of a lot of things. I made more trips to Goodwill than the shopping mall. It felt good, really good! I know my husband thought I had fallen off the deep end because every day he’d come home and see a pile of more stuff I had scavenged from our house to get rid.
Going through this process I’ve picked up a few tips and tricks when deciding what to keep and what to give away. I’d recommend taking a whole day to just dedicate to going through your house and doing a good sweep of your belongings, it seems to make the greatest impact when you can do it and see some real progress. After that just tackle what you can when you can. Some people tackle a drawer or a room at a time and that works for them so just do what works for you.
I found the Marie Kondo Japanese style of decluttering, and highly recommend her book called The Life Changing Magic Of Tidying Up (it’s even mentioned on any episode of Orange Is The New Black haha!) She states that the best thing to do is to remove everything and then only put back what you want to keep. So for example, in your closet remove ALL of your clothes, then take each piece and determine which pile to put it in: toss it, donate or sell it, or keep it. Once you’re done, repeat the process, because let’s be honest, that first sweep is usually not as good as it could be. That’s because you will still have probably kept a lot of clothes that you have rarely or never worn or are keeping for that “just in case” occasion.
When going through the process of purging and decluttering I like to ask myself if I didn’t own this item already would I buy it today? And if so for what cost? Typically the answer is no, I wouldn’t buy that item today so out it goes.
I also ask “does this add any value to my life?” if it doesn’t then out it goes. I’d rather pass it along to someone who could get value out of it than me hoarding it just because. When it comes to more sentimental items it can pose some difficulty, partly because we feel like the memory is tied to that particular item and it can be hard to let go. A good piece of advice on those items is to take a picture of the item, that way you can still look at it but it’s not taking up any space.
With two small children comes a lot of other “stuff” that I have to navigate through. Toys being a big contributor, and I truly feel like less is more. American children make up 3% of the global population but they account for having over 40% of all the toys in the world. Kids are so creative and can turn anything into a toy with their imaginations so I like to keep toys to a minimum but it’s so hard when every time Grandma comes over she’s got a bag full of “stuff” for them haha!
I now find it fairly easy to let go of most things and I am continually going through my possessions determining what no longer serves me. It is an ongoing process for me, there is no end point, it’s just something that I will continue to do and I still have a long way to go. I know I’m not ever going to stop buying things, but when I do buy something now it is with intention and purpose instead of just because I like it.