The accumulation of “stuff”

We have been living together for nearly five years. We first shared a house with housemates, where we had exclusive use of a bedroom, bathroom, living room, and shared space in the basement, kitchen, and garage. When it was time for a change, we moved into a studio apartment. Before the move, we didn’t think we had very much stuff, especially compared to the average person. However, in the process of packing everything and moving each box ourselves in a pickup truck, we learned just how much stuff we were still holding onto. There are still boxes that we haven’t unpacked. Chances are, we really don’t need whatever is in them. 

We have some experience working on inventorying the contents of houses that have been ravaged by fire. Through these experiences, we have seen the kinds of things that people keep- the things they store in boxes in the basement and attic, the collections they’ve built, the supplies that they hoard. Inevitably we find things that have not been touched in years, and often the homeowner has forgotten about them.

I will be the first to say that I understand living like that. I understand assigning meaning to each object, and the feeling that you need to hold on to everything because you could need it… someday. Growing up, I was a self-described pack rat. I love crafting, and amassed vast amounts of odds and end that I thought I might use for projects… again, someday. For many of those items, someday never comes.

My great-grandmother and great-great aunt had a huge impact on how I viewed stuff. As children of the depression era, they learned that everything has value, can be reused, and should be saved because you never know when you might be able to get another one. They would save the twist ties from every loaf of bread, the plastic bags from every package of deli meat, metal cookie tins, magazines, pens, cotton balls, you name it, they kept it. This survival-based way of living is valid, and it is easy to justify keeping the things that you acquire.

There is also a sentimental quality to tangible items. We might find that keeping a loved one’s gifts or former belongings keeps us closer to that person, and keeps their memory fresh in our minds. Anyone who has helped to clear out the home of someone who has died knows that the process of going through their things is emotionally taxing, and there can be a lot of guilt connected with getting rid of anything.

I kept nearly every school assignment I brought home, from kindergarten on through high school. I kept toys that I had stopped playing with years ago. I was afraid that if I got rid of any of these items, they would be forgotten and have no value anymore.


However. There is a tipping point where too much is too much. We have made a conscious decision to simplify our lives, and part of that process is downsizing our belongings. We’re not perfect, and I’m sure we will get rid of some of the wrong things, but I’m willing to take that risk.