It’s Just Stuff

I’m surrounded by “stuff” and often times it makes me uncomfortable.

Unsettled.

Anxious.

For me, getting rid of “stuff” brings a great sense of relief. I feel less… burdened. Like a weight has been lifted. I’m always pulling things out of drawers and closets, the garage, or the kids playroom to sell, donate, or just pitch… so long as it’s gone and out of my house. I don’t deal well with clutter. Don’t even mention “knick-knacks” in my presence.

To be honest, I really don’t believe I need a whole lot of “stuff” in this world. With each passing year I believe this somehow becomes more real to me.

This character trait was perhaps developed over time as a youth in response to, and in direct conflict with, my mother’s persistent accumulation of “stuff”. I don’t blame her though. As a single working mother, raising three kids on her own, she always feared she wouldn’t have enough for us… whatever “enough” is. She never wanted her kids to go without, so she kept things around “just in case”. She lived with this fear and hanging on to things for us was a way of coping. Up until the last few years she didn’t part with much unless I coaxed her into letting go. Her solution to the problem of too much “stuff”? Buy more, and bigger, plastic storage containers to organize and store away all the stuff you don’t use anymore… just in case. I call her the most organized hoarder in the world. (Just so we’re clear, she’s not a hoarder.)

Lately though she’s changed. She no longer wants to feel that burden of excess belongings and has unloaded untold mountains of clothing and furniture. With what she’s given away recently you could single-handedly clothe 10 families and likely furnish most of their homes too… assuming their tastes never left the 70’s and 80’s.

On the flip side of that, sometimes it’s pretty cool when I venture into mom’s basement and rediscover childhood things like my Star Wars toys, baseball cards, awesome artwork, trophies, cassette tapes… you name it. It’s all down there, stowed safely away inside mothball-laced, Rubbermaid cocoons. There is a sense of nostalgia associated with some of these items. Others I simply don’t recall ever owning. But mom does. I guess parents can get a bit more sentimental than kids some times. I get it though. Today I sold my kids’ John Deere battery-operated Gator on Craigslist. My boys would ride that thing around the neighborhood like crazy a few years ago, laughing hysterically as they ran into mailboxes, or maniacally as the ran down each other. The past summer and a half however it has sat dead in our garage, collecting dust. It’s time had passed. But as I helped load it onto the buyer’s truck I couldn’t help but feel a bit of sadness. As he counted out cash I felt… I don’t know… hollow, even dirty? Like I was selling my kids… not my kids’ stuff… but my kids. As I came in through the garage door and met Aimee in the kitchen I glumly proclaimed, “Well, the Gator is gone.”

And we both just stared at each other, sad faced, bottom lip all sticking out.

It’s just stuff, right? I mean, the memories are what count. Ugh. I don’t want to start buying plastic storage containers. Maybe one or two… just in case.

Americans seem to spend a lifetime working, accumulating “stuff”, and perpetually purchasing bigger and bigger homes to accomodate more and more stuff, only to end up getting rid of all the stuff to live in smaller condos or townhomes or, heaven forbid, nursing homes. 

So why don’t we all just start and end with a modest townhome so we don’t ever have to downsize when we’re older? Why continually collect things that we ultimately don’t need and can’t take with us?

A number of years ago my father and stepmother spent a great deal of money expanding their Texas home in order to make it more spacious; to allow them to accomodate more people, and of course more stuff. Now they’ve come to the realization that, at their age, they have too much to maintain and will soon have to downsize… which means they’ll be getting rid of a vast majority of their accumulated stuff. A daunting task given the sheer volume of stuff they’ve collected over their individual, and collective lifetimes.

Many of my father’s belongings were originally here in St. Louis in the home I grew up in. I remember the day moving trucks bound for Texas came and loaded up his things. There was a part of me that was upset that many of the material things that comprised my home were now gone. This “stuff” helped create a sense of home, and now there were just indentations in the carpet where some of them once sat. As a kid I felt a twinge of emptiness, like I somehow needed those things there to create that sense of home I had come to know.

Ironically, some of those very things will likely find their way back on a truck, headed back here to St. Louis, as dad looks to give away many of his belongings to his kids.

You know what I want? I want to live in a modest, beautifully decorated home where I don’t own a thing. I would just pay rent to live in this pre-furnished and decorated home, with nothing more to my name than what fits in an oversized travel backpack. As my interests and tastes change I simply pack up my backpack (our more accurately, our families backpacks) and shuffle on down to another one of those properties, conveniently located in most cities across the country.

You know who else would like homes like that? Drifters. And people in witness protection. Or anyone needing to move quickly in the middle of the night.

On a side note, I lived out of a backpack for nearly three months once. Granted it was while travelling solo around Europe, but that freedom from “things” that I experienced is undeniable all the same. You simply don’t need stuff to survive. You don’t need stuff to be happy. For me it’s the exact opposite. The more stuff I have, the more anxiety I feel about having to take care of that stuff. The less stuff that’s around me, the more relaxed I feel.

I’m 38 and ready to downsize.

Aimee and I talk about one day building a home. And downsizing. It’s funny how our vision of a home has evolved over time. For one thing, we wouldn’t need as much space as we currently have (not that what we currently have is that big). More specifically, we would build a home absent wasted space.

The best example of the type of home I’m referring to is from one of our boys’ best friends. His family recently built a beautiful home, and each room in that home has purpose. Seemingly no space is wasted. Every room is utilized. Everything was thoughtfully planned and built to their specifications. It doesn’t appear to me that additional rooms were needlessly added on to boost market value, or because “that’s what you’re suppose to do when you build a home.” It’s unique and it’s tasteful. It’s beautifully constructed, without being extravagant.

In our home we have a sitting room that no one sits in and a formal dining room that no one dines in, yet we talk about finishing the basement to create a large, open “living room” type setting. That would effectively trump our current living room, making that a living room that no one lives in. Nice.

So I keep coming to the same conclusion… less is enough. There’s no need for excess… neither excess space nor excess stuff.  Yet our culture constantly, relentlessly pushes excess as the norm. Our right. More, more, more. You deserve it. Gotta get more stuff. Gotta get a new house and some new stuff. Gotta get new stuff because the old stuff is, well, old.

In the end it’s all just stuff. Stuff that’s destined for boxes in a garage or basement, on Craigslist or at Goodwill, or maybe in a “bonus room” that doesn’t seem like much of a bonus anymore. We can’t take any of it with us no matter how hard we try. I’m reminded of the old adage, “there’s no U-Haul behind a herse.” I like that.

So I’m downsizing… constantly. Ever whittling my worldly possessions down to a backpack-size amount, you know, just in case.

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4 thoughts on “It’s Just Stuff

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  1. Nice blog!!! Makes me want to get rid of ALL OF OUR CRAP and live in a box!!! ha

    Really though ….. you made me think ……Rich and I have talked alot lately about selling our house and downsizing. I bet it would be a great feeling!

    */Kris Sieve/**| Accounting Manager* RLK & Associates, Inc. | /Home of promo-madness.com / 840 Westwood Industrial Ct. | St. Charles | MO | 63304 636.939.6060 | 636.939.6161 |rlk-inc.com

  2. I can connect with a lot of what you say, thank you for sharing. I almost for got about the time I lived out of a suitcase for three months. More recently I spend a few days travelling by bike – something that has to be done lightly – and it makes you realise just how little you need.

    1. Thanks Brian! There’s so much freedom in that type of travelling.
      Just checked out your blog and you have some very interesting ideas on digital hoarding that I had never considered. I’m going to spend some time reading/reflecting on those entries. Good stuff.

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