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dear reader | to the one with a “stuff problem”

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Dear reader,

A few minutes after I put my sons to bed a few weeks ago, I heard the sound of feet on the steps. “Mommy?”  My oldest son had crept out of bed with something on his mind.  I walked around the corner to the bottom of the steps.  “What is it, buddy?”

Earlier in the evening, we talked with him about buying a new bike.  He had outgrown the one he had in ability and size.  I thought he would be dreaming of the new bike, but instead, he was distressed about the fate of his old one.

As we got into the conversation a bit further, with a frog in his throat and tears welling up, my tender-hearted nine year old confessed, “It’s just sometimes hard for me to let go of things that I’ve had for a long time and I really enjoyed.”

His moment of raw emotion and honesty about that bike so clearly articulated how a lot of us feel about our stuff.   Even a too-small bike with a broken pedal and chain that is always coming off can be hard to let go of.

A few months ago, I wrote a post about styling tips for the home and many readers responded with the same issue…they had a “stuff problem.”

Much like my son and his bike, the idea of decluttering and getting rid of some stuff seems really hard.  For some reason or another, you have some emotions deeply entangled in that stuff and even the idea of selling it, donating it, or pitching it feels like a personal loss.

The big problem with relying solely on our emotions to determine if something is worth keeping or not is that you can end up buried in your stuff.  Can you imagine if we kept every single bike our two boys ever own?  And all of their clothes, school papers, toys, stuffed animals, etc?  We would have to have an entire room of our house just dedicated to the past.  And there would be so much stuff that it would be impractical to even interact with that stuff in any kind of meaningful way.  It would just sit there, for the sole reason that sadness was associated with letting it go.

I, personally, don’t want to have a relationship with stuff that’s dictated by negative emotions.

Believe it or not, I used to feel a lot more connected to my stuff.  I know it’s hard to imagine that the girl who will sell furniture straight out of her house would be hesitant to part with something, but it’s true.  I used to have a “stuff problem.”

The more stuff the merrier!

I remember one day, though, when I was flipping through a decorating magazine and paused to take in images of a home that I just loved.  Instead of just looking at the pictures, I decided to read the article as well.  It stuck out to me that the home owner/designer talked about how selective she was about the things that she had in her home and her “less is more philosophy.”  A few well chosen items were preferable over a lot of stuff, even a lot of good stuff.

I actually thought that was a little radical for me.  I liked all of my collections of stuff and the idea of parting with some of it seemed unthinkable.  I had so many things I would “never, ever get rid of”.

As the years have gone by and I have purged and paired down and sold most of the things I would “never, ever get rid of”, I have come to know the joys of letting go – the freedom from feeling an obligation to keep stuff that I don’t need, use, love, or have the perfect spot for.

If you’re ready to address your stuff problem, here are a few things that helped me…

 

You’re not getting rid of memories or people when you get rid of stuff.

This is a really hard one for people and it was for me, too.  (And that was the root issue for my son and his bike.  He had a lot of great memories associated with it.)  We know in our heads that we don’t need a thing to remember a special person or event, but our hearts beg to differ.  Getting rid of an items feels like we’re getting rid of the memory or person it’s associated with.  I realized at one point that I had a lot of stuff from my Oma & Opa’s attic that didn’t mean anything to me.  I only had it because it was theirs.  But, I did have some things that belonged to them that I use and love…the rug in my home office, the little wooden rocking chair in my boys’ room, my Oma’s sterling flatware, and a large ironstone soup tureen to name a few.

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I didn’t need to keep everything I dug out of the attic.  So, I slowly started letting things go and it gave even more value to the pieces I decided to keep.

You should not feel obligated to keep stuff you don’t use, need or love.

Your house is not a storage unit.  You do not need to be the keeper of stuff for all of your extended family who “gifted” you with the “family pieces” that no one else wants, but they’ve insisted that “someone in the family needs to have it.”  I decided a few years ago that some beautiful antique pieces I inherited from my great aunt just weren’t my style.  So, I offered them to other family members and, if they didn’t want them, they were going to be sold.

It felt so good to give myself permission to not keep things I didn’t want.

A beautiful space is not just created by what’s added, but by what’s omitted.  

I think it’s true that a lot of people have all of the components to create a space they really love, but there is so much extraneous stuff that the beautiful space they dream of is buried under it all.  A shopping trip is not in order, but rather some editing.  Just try it!  Try removing things from a room and only put back what you really, really love.  You might be surprised.

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Stuff is just stuff.  

My Oma was a big time collector and was very sentimental about things.  I knew that already, but was reminded of it when I helped clean out their attic.  She had boxes full of keepsakes…autograph books, newspaper clippings, ticket stubs.  It had all been stored away in an attic for decades and the memorabilia was eaten away by silverfish.  I had a few teary, quiet moments in that attic.  In the end, it’s all just stuff.

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So, keep the things you love.  Use them, cherish them, enjoy them, put them on display.  And let go of the things that don’t add anything of value to the home that you’re trying to make or the life that you’re trying to live.

This does take a lot of work in the beginning and then upkeep through the months and years, but once you get a taste of the freedom from your “stuff problem”, you’ll want to keep it up.

From a fellow former stuff-lover,

Marian

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Comments

  1. This article was meant for me to read. Thank you. I needed to hear this.

  2. Rebecca M says:

    Lucky momma to have such a sweet, loving little boy.

  3. Heather Anne says:

    I do so love this post! We are working on Financial Peace University with Dave Ramsey and taking the baby steps! My hubby has already amassed a pile of ‘stuff’ to sell and I am doing the same … we have goals and selling this unnecessary ‘stuff’ could help us reach them faster! It’s a little painful, but getting easier as I keep MY goal in mind – a decluttered home, and OUR goal in mind – financial peace! Are the Mustard Seed Pages still up an running? I loved re-homing some of my treasures to fellow MMS readers!

  4. Best article I’ve read in a long time. It is amazing how much “stuff” we accumulate.

  5. “Can you imagine if we kept every single bike our two boys ever own? And all of their clothes, school papers, toys, stuffed animals, etc?” –YES! I can, because that is my house! Sigh… I needed to read this post, for sure. Our stuff is overwhelming. We are getting ready to build a new house in a few years (we’ve lived in our current house for 15 years), and the task of sorting through all our stuff is looming over me. I don’t even know where to begin. I just want to close my eyes, and wake up to a beautifully, organized home. Ha. :)

  6. Lorraine says:

    Dear Marian,

    Recently we moved halfway around the world, and for the first time in my life I did a major purge. I have held onto EVERYTHING in my life and had so much stuff that I couldn’t even find things when I needed them. Had I not had a good friend to help me, I would never have managed it all. What was left has been packed into a storage locker, and I started my new life with six suitcases of clothes, jewellery, and journals. It was a real lesson in how little we actually need to be happy.

  7. I find that when I have a major cleanup of stuff from my home I don t even miss it down the road.
    I think all of have too much. My style over the years has become very streamlined and quality over quantity. I stay away from trends and stick with the classics especially in my home decorating.

    My paint room on the other hand……..omg.

  8. Melissa Mundy says:

    I think people of all denominations of faith have been touched by the Pope and his message of giving to the poor. I know I have. I found a thrift store whose proceeds go to an animal shelter and price their wares so low a child could buy clothing with their allowance. When I came across something beautiful, I always kept it, figuring it would go with something. Now, I have realized the poor need exquisite pieces to brighten homes that have so little. The Pope said if a shirt has not been on your back. It could have been on the back of someone who desperately needs it. The poor. The frail. The elderly. I whipped thru my closet with newfound vigor. When I looked at something, I pictured a tired pregnant woman finding it. Or a child with a beautiful painting of a ballerina on her wall in a golden frame. I think finding a place to donate that matters to you makes it that much easier to enjoy giving.

  9. I recently gave up most of my collections. I feel liberated rather than sad! A former “stuff” addict

  10. Marilyn Craighead says:

    Thank you for a great reminder about our collections of stuff. My husband and I recently moved, as in a month ago. We have downsized considerably. But all for a good cause……..being closer to our children, a new job for hubby and a new grandson for us! As I sorted thru our 34 years of marriage, hubby’s beautiful paintings, and leftovers items from my floral shop, I too had some emotional moments. But a whispered prayer and I was able to let go and enjoy the experience. Now my hard work has paid off….. being able to settle in to our new space quickly and find new pieces to fit our much smaller home is a joy and not an emotional burden. So I can certainly appreciate your little man’s heart, I know that his new bike will bring him much joy. A photo of him on his old bike tucked into a picture frame on his bedside table will remind him of all the good times! Thank you Marion for a wonderful blog full of fun and encouragement!

  11. Valerie Reynolds says:

    I am only now, five years after my Mom died, beginning to let things of hers go. Even items that aren’t my style or don’t have a personal memory of her are difficult to let go of just because I knew SHE loved it. My Mom rarely bought things for herself, so when she did purchase something it was highly prized. Will the next person who owns it love it as much as my Mom did? As time passes I have come to realize, of course that doesn’t matter. My Mom enjoyed the item while it was hers, and I know she would be the first to say “Let it go, sweetie. It’s time for someone else to have the pleasure of owning it.”

  12. I love this! I definitely “edit” the rooms in my house when things start feeling too busy. On a side note, I have an alabaster lamp almost exactly like the one in your photo. How did you get yours so white? Mine seems yellow-ish :( I bought it hoping I could easily get it cleaned and whiter.

  13. Judith says:

    Gosh, you hit a nerve, actually, a lot of them. My son lives across the country from me. Frequently, I hear -“mom, don’t leave all of that mess for me to clear out.”
    I am a collector – translated – I love to find stuff that people have put out at the curb. They all need a little TLC. But, it is fun.

    • Listen to your son. I worked in estate planing and settlement for many years,
      The kids never take the stuff, they always look for the cash value.

  14. Beautiful thoughts, thank you!
    Sometimes,when something from my childhood breaks or anything that has sentimental value to me,I try to save a small part of that object,such as a bell from a bicycle ? and then I’m ready for my heart to let it go. I hope that your son has fun making new memories with his brand new bike!

  15. I read an articles once about letting go of things with sentimental value. One of the suggestions that was helpful to me, was to snap a photograph of the item, before giving it away. Perhaps that would help your tender hearted son have a way to treasure and remember his bike.

  16. Thank you so much for the reminder! Your timing was perfect.

    I am a long time reader that rarely comments but, you struck a cord that has been resonating with me. My husband and I are buying our first home after two years of marriage and I have been wrestling with the way I want our home to feel. I want a home that is full of joy and memories. If pulling out my great grandma’s flour sifter brings me joy, it is welcome to stay. If an article is something I am constantly moving out of my way, I text my mom and have a “remember when?” conversation and let it go. It has been a bit of a process but, it has really allowed our personalities to begin to shine through. Books, boxes of photos, family china, and instruments seem to be the items that are unwavering.

  17. Alissa D says:

    So true! It took the strong possibility of my husband’s job moving us to make us commit to the first tough purge. After we realized we didn’t really need, use or want the items, we (mostly me) started to purge more and more. Two years later & I am still seeing/seeking stuff to donate/sell/toss. We’ve added to the family twice since that started. I’ve brought in as few clothes as possible & purged baby items whenever I can. The extended family keeps adding to the toys even though we’ve expressed not needing or wanting, sio the kids get to try playing with it, but tend to gravitate to the items we originally had for them…so the “flashy” stuff makes an exit ASAP.

    I’m still trying to purge, even with a newborn, 18 month old & 7 yr old in the mix. It’s slower, but still happening. A few 18-20 gallon totes with kids really help. If it fits, it goes in these. Makes it easier to take to the van once it’s time for a donation run ?

  18. B Folk says:

    Marian,
    Thanks for another “Dear Reader”. I have missed those.

    I held onto my mom’s shoes (a full size larger than my own shoes) for several years after her death, because they were hers and I missed her so. I finally gave them away when my old foot fracture insisted that I no longer wear high heels. I have several pieces of her jewelry, some scarves, and a skirt, all of which I wear throughout the year. I have cards and letters from loved ones, but no large items, and not much stuff from any of them. I keep photos, they don’t take up much space. As for things that people gift us with…if I haven’t used it in two years, it goes to someone who needs it. Our church’s annual garage sale fundraiser helps me clear clutter:)

    We have silverfish in the Pacific NW, too, eeuw! They are in all the nooks and crannies! I spray insect-killer every three months, but they return before the third month. I think they live in the apartment walls. One reason why we did the Dave Ramsey course, too. We want to get out of and stay out of debt, and buy our forever (silverfish-less) home.

    Thanks for another great post.

  19. Rebecca Kiser says:

    That was great – thanks for sharing. I don’t consider myself to be a “stuff” person, but another experience that motivated me to be even more selective was cleaning out my mother’s home at her death. I imagined my own children having to do that when that time comes. I don’t want them to wonder, when they go through my effects, if something was meaningful to me or not. If it’s not, out it goes!

  20. Perfect timing on this post. I have been trying to get motivated to”purge” and this article speaks volumes. Thanks for sharing.

  21. Patricia says:

    Great post! One I’ve needed to read… To spur me onward in what I’ve been thinking about — now com s the doing part!

  22. Jill Hilbrich says:

    We are in the process of moving and I am experiencing this right now (It’s also why I’m a little behind on reading posts)! The first thing we decided to do when we realized we are moving out of state was purge and have a garage sale. So much work! And so much stuff I had to make hard choices about – gifts from family, things we got for our wedding, memories, which made it harder to part with them as we’re parting with family and all of our adult lives up until this point. And yet, when I walked in the house after the garage sale with the woman who came to stage our home for showings, I still felt like we have so much stuff. We quieted (edited) the rooms for photos and showings and the house somehow felt refreshed and looked like a show home! It was calm and uncluttered – even from a decor perspective. Real life homes need baskets of toys and artwork on refrigerators, but this process is teaching me the power of editing! I loved this post, thanks for sharing!

  23. Marilyn C. says:

    Great article – I needed this. I’m not there yet with the letting go. I have some of my mom’s stuff from when she passed away just a little over two years ago. My parents didn’t have much in the way of nice material possessions, but my mom was proud of her china and her china cabinet. She was so proud of it that she never wanted to use it, she was afraid it would get broken. They didn’t have an automatic dishwasher when I was growing up, so everything was washed by hand. I guess I could understand why she was hesitant to use it. After she died, my family went through and got what they wanted. Mom had specific things written out as to who she wanted to have certain things. She wanted one of my nieces to have her china and china cabinet. I didn’t care that she wanted my niece to have it, but my niece doesn’t want it. So I have it. Here’s the problem – even though I may not be too attached to it, I almost certainly feel like if I were wanting to get rid of it, a family member would try to talk me out of it or give me a hard time about getting rid of it. I also feel like I would be letting my mom down as well. I’m still in a grieving stage at times and I miss her terribly. I just wish she was here and she could have her stuff!!!

  24. Pam Tamkin says:

    I really appreciate this post, so timely for me and I certainly needed to read it.
    Many thanks indeed.
    Pam in TX.

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