the stuff series | the purpose of stuff

Marian ParsonsDecorating, Organizing62 Comments

Guess what I did today?

Yeah, more packing.  I thought I might actually be able to take a break from it today, but before I know it, the day was filled with sorting through items and putting them in boxes, a trash bag, or the yard sale/donate pile.

And all of this packing has made me think a lot about stuff.  What we keep, why we keep it, why certain things are harder to get rid of then others.  It really is a fascinating thing.

So, let’s talk about stuff!  A whole series on stuff!!  Seriously.

Welcome to “The Stuff Series“.

Sooo…as I have been thinking about where to start this series and, as I’ve been making decisions about everything that goes into a box the past two weeks, I kept coming back to the same question…

What is the purpose of stuff?

Have you ever really thought about the purpose of the stuff you have in your home?  I mean…really thought about it?

After doing some of my own pondering, while packing, I arrived at a simple answer…

My stuff is there for me.  

Mind-blowingly simple, right?  It is simple, but when you recognize that each item in your home is there for you, it’s a game-changer.

Your stuff is there for you.

This means that your stuff shouldn’t feel like a burden.  You shouldn’t feel like you have to keep something just because you paid money for it and never used it or because someone gave it to you, but you don’t really like it.  You can let go of things that you used to love, but your style has changed.   You can get rid of clothes that are too small, and kitchen gadgets that you never use, and stuff in boxes in the attic that you haven’t seen in 20 years, but you thought you might need some day.  Get rid of the hasty purchases and half-finished projects, things bought with good intentions, and things someone once told you to keep.

Your stuff should make you smile.  It should solve a problem.  It should make your life easier and more comfortable.

Because, if your stuff isn’t there for YOU (and your family is included in that YOU)…

Why is it there?

Find more of The Stuff Series HERE.

the stuff series | the purpose of stuff

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62 Comments on “the stuff series | the purpose of stuff”

  1. When we moved across country, I thought I only took the stuff I really liked (I don’t want to say “love” because that seems a little over the top when you are dealing with things vs people). When I started decorating my new place, I saw that some of the former things I liked, didn’t quite suit the new space. I realized those “likes” don’t happen in a vacuum, but are in a relationship to a space (and perhaps even time – a time in my life). Not that we’re settled, I’m getting rid of more stuff. I should have listened to an older friend who moved often because of her husband’s job. She told me to be ruthless in my purging and she guaranteed I wouldn’t miss any things I left behind.

    1. We moved into a new construction from a 1939 cape cod and I found the same thing. Some of the antiques just screamed old now not antique in the new house. things also seemed more “dirty” than lovely patina to me too in this house with 36 windows. I found I had to bring in more newer stuff to make it work and not look like grandma was somewhere knitting an afghan.

      1. Same here! Moved from the midwest to Pacific Northwest and into a much newer home. I had jettisoned as much stuff as I could, on eBay, local consignment, donating, etc. , before the move. But once we found our lovely new home with 7 (!) skylights, some of the old/antique things just looked so dowdy and beat-up. We’ve bought new things for the first time in 38 years and we just love our new updated look — accented with a select few oldies. And I don’t miss the clutter!

        1. Yes, I agree with you and Shawnetta that stuff is good in a context. That’s why my rule of “I have to have a perfect spot for it” gives me the ability to sell things I love. If they don’t work in my house, I need to pass them along to someone else.

    2. Good advice! I am trying to be ruthless, but I still have a few more passes to make through my stuff. It’s getting down to the tough decisions, now!

  2. Ah-ha…. I just thought my purging was over….another layer of stuff will soon find a new home. Thank you, Marian.

    ummm….I also just had a semi scary thought. Are we unconsciously or consciously participating in a form of “binging and purging” disorder? And if so… should we be concerned?

    1. Interesting thought and I do think there is some of that happening…at least in my case. I buy and sell things for my business, so it is profitable, butI definitely purge and then manage to fill the space again!

  3. Moving will definitely give you a different perspective about “stuff” and the relationship to our “stuff”. I have purged, sold and donated a lot of things over the past five years especially as my taste and style as changed over time. I have seen first hand how excess “stuff” can create stress.

    We recently helped a family member who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s last year move from a home that he had been in over 30 years. He was a self admitted pack rat who never wanted to throw away or get rid of anything. As we were helping him clean our his garage and attic he looked around and saw all the boxes and furniture that been sitting there for years. He said I have no idea why I kept all this stuff. I really intended on using it or thought I would use it. It was a lot of stress of him between the moving and having to get rid of so much very quickly.

    I have a friend who has a storage unit that she has rented for over five years. While she has many nice antique pieces and furniture in the unit the reality is she is just realizing that she cant sell it for what she has spend in storage fees for five years.

    1. Very good point about the storage fees. I feel that way about moving some pieces. We have to pay for each “extra” foot if we need a second trailer, so I want to make sure we’re only paying to move stuff we really want and will likely use!

  4. Oh how I wish I could get rid of some of my “stuff” ~ BTW George Carlin did a great monologue about “stuff” – hysterical. My “stuff” is antique/vintage and difficult to find a place to sell it now that my antique booth is closed. Ebay/Etsy is very time consuming with a full time job, but I have sold some things there. I am slowly getting better as I have been taking boxes to Goodwill and our Catholic resale shop which benefits the church and school. That makes me feel better…..I will keep on keeping on!

  5. With ur permission, I would like to keep this quote, “Your stuff should make you smile.  It should solve a problem.  It should make your life easier and more comfortable.” I’ve always use the last 3 qualifiers for purchasing or keeping stuff but I never used ‘Smile’! From now on I will. If the last 3 qualifiers work but don’t make me smile, then I’m not buying or keeping.

  6. Oh my! I’m getting ready to pack and move so this comes at the Perfect time for me! I have been telling myself if I don’t Love it, use it, if doesn’t fit me or my new house, it goes! If I need to I will replace it with something that does!! So excited for this process! Thank you!

  7. HOLD UP! As soon as I get rid of something, I need it, or wish I had it, or find another use for what I got rid of.
    This is my fear! Yes, I have experienced this before.

    Someone else’s stuff always looks good! That is what makes the many forms of re-sale FUN!

  8. A good amount of my “stuff” is there because as soon as I throw it away or give it away my parents will ask where it is. Somehow all the crap that gets sent to my house from theirs is a priceless treasure from Great-Aunt Nevermetter and they’re personally offended if I get rid of it. Except it’s not a treasure in any way. Someone my parents loved owned it once. Or my parents owned it once. Or it reminds them of something someone owned once. Or it’s broken, but once it wasn’t. I can’t win – either I have boxes of things I never wanted in the first place (I’m 40 – I don’t need 2 blood pressure monitors!), or parent-guilt. One thing I know – I’ll NEVER do this to my kids!

    (Another thing I know – there’s a Dumpster in my driveway right now. There’s a good chance those boxes will end up in there, guilt trips come as they may.)

    1. Please don’t accept that guilt. If your parents love it so much, they should keep it. And if they are unwilling, then they don’t love it so much after all. That’s a terrible burden for you, stuff AND guilt.

      1. Yes, Robin and Laura B, exactly what I was going to say! It is difficult to do, but really, if the people who gave things to you don’t want those same things themselves, WHY are they burdening YOU with them? It’s unfair. It’s a difficult boundary to make and to hold, but it is healthy. Good luck!

        1. Yes! Well said! If they don’t want it in their home, why do they insist you have it in yours?

    2. Yes, I’m going to address this very thing and encourage the “keeper of the stuff” that their house is not a storage unit and they do not need to let other people treat it like that. 🙂

  9. It’s hard to explain this simple truth to a computer geek / packrat that one lives with though. Old computer equipment “may be very valuable in the future,” you know. I won’t hold my breath until they open Antiquated Computer Equipment Museum! 🙂

  10. I like to call it “letting go” because “getting rid of” sounds so finite. Akin to throwing it in the trashcan. Alas, once we let go, someone else can “find a treasure” and love it for a while…. the cycle continues and this is why we have antiques!
    Ebay is a smart way for those “letting go” to get rewarded for doing so!
    Onward — as we sort, organize and “let go”…..

  11. Absolutely! I had 3 yard sales before moving, 2 since our move and building a house. Now going through boxes one last time, what I thought I would keep doesn’t quite work on my new home. Amazing.

  12. I am moving also, from a home I have been over 20 years, to a small 3-season camp (summers) and a regular home in Florida. Since we have owned both of these additional homes for a few years, they are already pretty full, and full of appropriate items. My home that I am leaving is full of antiques and primitives that either won’t fit, won’t work in the other spaces, or it would be too expensive to move that far (Florida). I have been going through my “stuff” and determining what can be donated, sold, given away, and/or trashed. It’s hard and in some cases sad… things I love so much just can’t go with me, at least not ALL of them. Such problems we have in this consumer society, huh?

  13. I read that we spend 2/3 of our life accumulating stuff, and 1/3 trying to get rid of it. I just turned 60, so I better hurry. I am truly sick of STUFF.

  14. Stuff, to me, is memories of a very long (I am in my mid 80’s), often adventure-filled life. I read articles in which people recommend that one photograph the stuff, then keep the pictures and discard the stuff. They’ve missed it (or they have awfully boring stuff [or lives]). I want to run my fingers over the baskets I bought in Mexican or Greek outdoor markets, and smell the vague remaining cedar scent of the piece of weaving I got in Kosovo or Spain. Finger the scarf from Sweden and press the mohair of an Italian-acquired throw to my cheek. I smile as I dust a cheap pottery pig–the good-luck wish (pigs = luck in Germany) from a now-gone friend on the occasion of a German operatic debut. Stuff in my house is a three-dimensional history of who I am, because I am a composite of what I have experienced in my life. My hopes, my dreams (some successful, some crushed), my adventures, my memories — MY STUFF.

    1. Well, it sounds like that stuff is serving you well, then! It makes you smile and evokes memories and, therefore, worth keeping. 🙂

  15. Dear Child,
    Let me tell you!! At the ripe age of just turned 82, the stuff will bury you! Two years ago I moved from a large 2 story to a easy to care for little ranch. As of today, I still have “stuff” taking over the garage while my car boils in the hot sun. Not only is that inconvenient but a car sitting in a driveway makes the neighborhood look tacky. Today I went to my first estate sale, my gosh, a house full of stuff that didn’t follow the hearse. People today don’t usually entertain with fine china and Waterford crystal, who needs that much of an obligation to stuff. Do you really think your kids want that Hummel collection which you treasured? Those Lladro figurines, which you so cherished, just collects more unwanted dust and certainly takes up a lot of space. As a creative sewer, I have yards and yards of fabric which never turned into that dream outfit or that drapery, there’s hundreds of dollars invested in that stuff that nobody else wants. Oh, yeah, so now all those “wonderful bargains” are languishing in a closet and the thought keeps me awake at night wondering what to do with all of my stuff.
    Do yourself or those you love a big favor and stop collecting. Start trucking what you don’t NEED to the Salvation Army because you’re not going to be able to sell it, besides, it probably was only a whim when you bought it. You can try but you’ll be wasting more of whatever precious time you have left. Ask me how I know!

    1. Wonderful perspective, Alice, and very well said! I agree that going to auctions and estate sales was a great reminder to me that “you can’t take it with you.”

    2. Child? I’m older than YOU! I never, NEVER think of whether something will sell or not sell — I’ll be gone, so what do I care? I DO entertain with fine china, sterling, and crystal. I even eat with it when I’m here alone (which I am, most of the time) because it brings me such joy, esthetically. It is simply a different perspective. I think perhaps my attitude is shaped also by the fact that I didn’t collect “bargains and buys” at this or that sale — I traveled a great deal during my lifetime, and the things I bought were reminders of specific trips, locations, and such; they were bought because they exemplified the folk-art creations and history of a specific land and people — artistry now vanishing. I feel “hugged” by my experiences, being surrounded by the visible reminders of happy times.

      1. Like you – I love being surrounded by my “stuff!” Wonderful things from my family and my travels. I enjoy using crystal and having beautiful things. I was never a bargain hunter either – and I want to keep these treasured items forever! (so I’m going to get rid of the excess – and keep all of the special stuff!!)

  16. My husband and I just moved to a smaller house. Same neighborhood, different house. We lived in the other house for 25 yrs. I learned this lesson the hard way.

  17. A good reason to “let go” of something that has been your closet and not worn for two years, even though you still love it!!!

  18. Almost three years ago we moved from a smaller home to a larger one. That was partly fueled by a desire to have a more comfortable dining room, a larger office for my husband who works from home and a view. I don’t regret it at all (Ok, we ended up with more square footage then even I thought we needed). I keep the ‘stuff’ from my parents and from my in laws. All of my grown kids have a few boxes in my house. I have my grandmothers dishes and I have my own. And I use it. Anything else I have needed for this house I have bought at the consignment store. It’s a house full of memories and a house that has a place for guests and family.
    But, I learned a lesson when my mother in law died and we found antique family pictures that she should have given her children to preserve and take care of instead of leaving it in an old box to fade. Especially the pictures that belonged to her late husband , their father. Give it away while you’re living!

  19. Hi, Marian,
    My mom has recently been sorting her “stuff”. I have to say that I am amazed at the “stuff” she has saved over these years. I am thankful she saved a few things. The other day she found a shoe box assortment of bridal shower, baby shower, and her high school graduation cards. They were from 1950-52. She also has letters my dad wrote when he was stationed in Japan in 1952 during the Korean conflict. They have been fun to look through with her and has enabled her to recall some happy memories. It’s good heart medicine. I do tend to agree that “stuff” can get in the way. In her case, “stuff” served it’s purpose.
    Blessings as you pare down and sort your stuff!

    1. Well, see? That stuff made you smile, so it was there for you and for her to enjoy. That’s good stuff in my book!

  20. True Story. I once kept a fake fur vest for about 10 years (don’t ask me how I got it). I kept it because I thought that one day I might be asked to play Sonny Bono at a Halloween party. Not funny then, not funny now. Marian, can you do a house call and persuade my husband to part with the VCR Tapes? only joking
    Kathy Bailey
    Drowning in it in NH

  21. We have moved 3 times in the last 4 years – 2 long distance moves (over 1,000 miles). THAT forces you to really pare down. With each of those moves I have had to sell or give away plenty, always considering what will fit in the next house. Most of my extra “stuff” is holiday related and kept on a couple of shelving units in the garage. We have no attic or basement in the current house – that helps to keeping the stuff to a manageable size.

  22. I had this conversation yesterday with my neighbor. They have moved into their beach cottage for the summer full time and rented out their home in town. We walked through her rooms because she is overwhelmed. I told her to look at pieces with the idea of having a multi purpose. She had a wonderful steamer trunk from her mother and it was empty. I told her the rule of “save, donate, or throw!

  23. This discussion reminds me of one of my favorite quotes – from William Morris in the 19th century:

    “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.”

  24. What a fabulous post that really points to the purpose of our “stuff.” Thank you, this has inspired me to purge more. 🙂
    Lindsey

  25. My life became a whole lot lighter, and much brighter, when I read The Life-Changing Magic Of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. I learned the simple lesson of keeping only what brought me joy. I think you would love the book at this point in your life.

  26. I am at the moment purging and paring down my craft / work space .. so I can relate to this post 100% .
    It feels so good to give a new home to items that have only turned into clutter for me but can help someone else out in their crafting adventures !
    I have to admit though recently I decided to make an old vintage sign and wanted to add a couple of my old rusted hinges .. ( I had a small box filled with rusted vintage metal goodies )
    .. after a few days of searching and to my dismay .. I realized , I had let that box go to donation a few months earlier .. because I never ever had used anything in it ..
    Now when I absolutely need those pieces .. they are gone .. and do you think I could find just one old rusty hinge for my project .. Nope !!
    That is the one difficult hazard of letting go sometimes .. ☺️☺️☺️

  27. I’m experiencing the same thing. I donated or sold what seemed like tons of things only to get in the new house and find that some pieces still won’t work. It’s harder to let go (find a way to get rid of) in a new town where I need to find consignment or charities so I wish I’d done more in my previous town. I’ll remember that next time!

    I have to be honest that there are a couple of items I sold thinking we would not have space for in the new house. That house fell through at the last minute. The home we actually moved into does have space for those and I’m kinda kicking myself for that sale. I’m trying to let go of those thoughts, too.

    It’ll all settle in and feel like home again one day. I know I’ll be much more careful and considerate of what I bring into my new home. The stuff gets heavy in more ways than one.

  28. Sounds like a lot of us are in the same boat! We recently moved from our home of 32 years to a much newer house. I was able to let go of a lot of things that I was keeping only because of sentimental value. It was very freeing after I got over it!! Unfortunately, some of what we moved just doesn’t work in this very open floor plan. When you buy something for your home it is usually because you have the perfect spot for it. Not so perfect when you move it. It’s definitely a work in progress as I’ve sold some things we moved and had to buy others. One day it will feel as much like home as the last one did.

  29. After my Mom died I kept a lot of stuff that belonged to her. I was not ready to ‘let go’. After 5 years I realized the stuff was things that made her smile and not necessarily me. To me it was clutter. Each item was lovingly packed and sold and tho the stuff is physically gone the memory of it remains. It was also good for a good cry as I let go ….

  30. Dale, I had the same response to that bird painting! It is fabulous. Marion, do you happen to know if it has any info on the back as far as artist, name of the artwork, etc??? Inquiring bird lovers need to know!

  31. Can I ask about the hardware on one piece? It’s those file cabinet pulls. I love them! Any idea where I could find them?
    Thanks for your help!
    Coni

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