Are You Drowning In Stuff? A Challenge!

This article is a fascinating look at Americans and their things: http://realestate.msn.com/blogs/listedblogpost.aspx?post=e0026a0a-03df-4f70-b1e5-6eaaeec9ec86.   This article is an anthropologist’s look at “stuff”.  In particular was mentioned the accumulation of things that comes with adding more children.  One thing that was amazing to me was one particular child’s room contained 248 dolls!

I actually don’t know anyone in real life that has “stuff” to this amount of excess, to be honest, although I am sure it exists.  It is a sad commentary on American society if this is a normal state of affairs for much of the population. As we become more overweight, more depressed, more anxious – here we are, taking our homes that we are so fortunate to have in comparison to the rest of the world and stuffing them to the brim!

I love the summertime for doing major, deep, significant de-cluttering.  So, I have a challenge for you this week:  set aside a two-week period this summer, and every morning, work on getting rid of your stuff.  No, don’t just organize it! Get rid of it!

My biggest downfall is books.  I love books.  My husband loves books.  Our children love books.  But here is the kicker:  books are heavy, they can be dusty, they take up a lot of space.  My husband has done a great time transitioning to reading on a NOOK.   I have not.  I like turning the pages of a physical book.  I even (gasp and horror) sometimes like to write in my books – I mainly read non-fiction, so things get my gears turning.  Books are a real challenge for me, but I am totally willing to tackle them!

What is your challenging area in your house?  The overstuffed garage?  An full attic?  Too many plates, cups, mugs in the kitchen or kitchen gadgets you never use?

For part of the year, my in-laws live in a tiny one-bedroom condo in the Virgin Islands.  There are also not many stores on the island either in which to buy things.  And I look at that and think, wow, my mother-in-law can cook just about anything in two pots! Ha!

So, I would love to hear your plan for de-cluttering your home:  what rooms will you do on what days, what are you getting rid of, what is your biggest challenge with your stuff?

Many blessings,
Carrie

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28 thoughts on “Are You Drowning In Stuff? A Challenge!

  1. Great idea Carrie! I have 3 kids in a 2 bedroom townhome right now, so we do a big purge every so often. Holly at A Mother’s Rule of Life also recommends this as the number one step in home organization: get rid of everything you can!

    I don’t think that books are so bad though. Most of our books are in boxes right now, because we simply don’t have room for bookcases, but I would love to have books lining my home, almost as functional decoration. I think it’s great for kids as well to have books all over: I’ve even read some studies on it somewhere.

  2. Our church gives us a spiritual assignment to work on over the summer each year. This year’s assignment was to “cultivate something”. We are encouraged to think broadly about how we will define the assignment, so this year I am working on cultivating a sense of “enoughness” (not a real word, but that’s how I think of it.). I am working on knowing when I have enough of something and getting rid of anything that strays into the “too much” category. So this de-cluttering post is a further incentive to keep working on it. Thanks!

  3. hey carrie – great post! I just moved back to the States after a few years abroad and did a MAJOR declutter before we moved abroad, brought very little back home, and have been happily shedding even more items that I realized I didn’t need after living without them for so long. My biggest challenge is not buying stuff or hoarding stuff, but keeping the outside world from jamming my house full of things all over again! I have a large extended family, a loving church community – and many children. Every time I turn around its a child’s birthday or Christmas or Valentine’s Day, etc… and loving, generous relatives and church members shower the children with SO MANY GIFTS! Also, many gifts are frequently given for no reason at all, by family members, by fellow church goers, even the mail delivery woman likes to give my young girls little gifts when they run out to fetch the mail! We’ve tried to set some limits to the kinds and numbers of gifts given to our children where possible, and we also realize that we can get rid of anything that does not fit our values (including our values of simplicity and non-materialism) but often it is very hard on little children to receive gifts only to have a parent quietly or openly get rid of them. How have you dealt with the influx of gifts in a culture that is so affluent, generous and so eager to express love in gift-giving and things? I think it would make a fantastic post!

    • YES! That is our biggest problem too GIFTS. Our kids are very young and not keeping a gift just because it does not fit our values of simplicity and non materialism doesn’t work for them. We’ve tried everything, “hey could you pick out 3 toys to give to your friend.” they always pick out the more “natural” toys such as box of wooden blocks, cloth baby doll, paints, markers, wooden truck. If it’s plastic, requires batteries, lights up, makes noises, pees when you feed it expensive formula bought at walmart, or looks like a cell phone then they are crushed if they have to give it to a friend, drop it off at good will, or it mysteriously dissappears.

    • Jessica,
      I guess at this point then, there is a two pronged thing to do: one is to stop it coming into your home by having a frank discussion with well-meaning relatives and the second point is to just clean it all out to a beautiful new playspace and put those things in a box. If things are asked for within a month or two from the box, even if it is a plastic toy, it has value to the child and the value is honorable. If it is not asked for, then it can stay in a box for a toy rotation, a toy for the beach or pool or sandbox, or it can go out. The book “Simplicity Parenting” by Kim John Payne has much more information about this and can be readily found at most libraries.
      Blessings,
      Carrie

    • PUT IT IN A BOX, GREAT IDEA CARRIE!!! We just did that! I told the kids we’re just going to keep it in the garage! Frank discussions for several years now have not worked

  4. How timely! We are in the process of sorting through a playroom that has no room to play, or even walk through. We too are victims of loving kindness and generosity. Our friends and relatives love to give things to my four children, but the time has come for a major purge. My husband is an avowed hoarder. He likes to organize and store items, whereas I like to get rid of them. We shall see who prevails this weekend.

  5. Oh Carrie, we are kindred spirits. I will never give up “real” books for a tablet, and I am almost incapable of reading without a pencil in hand.

    What is so funny – inspired by your last post (especially the part of your children’s rooms that currently have 5 books in them) – I just had my boys pick out 17 books (10 for the older/7 for the younger) to keep on their shelf. I just put a pile to go to the GW in my car and the rest will go in the attic to be recirculated. We are painting their room this weekend and I am determined to have LESS stuff in there.

    So yes, I accept your challenge. Love to you.
    Sheila

  6. My husband and I have done very well getting rid of unused and not necessary items–we like simple, functional and practical things. But right now, we are a bit challenged. Not by our own “stuff,” but by the stuff left behind by my husband’s grandmother. We are in the process of moving in with my husband’s grandfather to help care for him (and so he can be around the children more, he’s 89) and we are cleaning out his house (which truthfully should have been done 3 years ago when grandmother passed). The trouble we are having is with all of the family history things (letters, postcards, pictures, even furniture) that were kept by his grandmother from her parents’. Do you have any suggestion? There are probably more than one hundred handwritten letters from the early 1900′s, and we love seeing them and reading them. But she literally kept EVERYTHING and my mother-in-law is hesitant to throw anything related to her mother’s family away. My feeling is, the letters and such are wonderful pieces of history, but how long can you keep paper that is nearly disintegrating? My husband and I want to keep the house simple, functional and practical for family but his mother is insisting on us keeping so much that we don’t “need” (including furniture). At what point do we stop keeping history? If no one alive today knows any of these people, is it wrong to throw them away? I guess this isn’t the best place to ask, but this is our “clutter” of the moment.

    • Have you thought about scanning the letters and photos etc and making transcriptions of any text so you still have a record of them? I have a number of documents that I am planning to do this with when I have more time.

      Also once you have done this perhaps you could find a historical group or museum that might be interested in your documents. That way they would be kept and looked after rather than thrown away. If they reference people still alive I am sure you could specify that they couldn’t be displayed for 50 years or something.

  7. I had been happily de-cluttering, something that becomes much easier once children move from the toy-involved early years to their teens. Then I was faced with the challenge of cleaning out my parents’ house after their deaths, a smile and tear drenched month of re-experiencing memories. I donated, tossed, and organized as much as possible. Now my siblings and I find our homes packed with things we found necessary to save: photos, antiques, memorabilia. Hopefully saved for my own children to use when they have homes (will they even want silver services and china and 100 year old rocking chairs?) but it’s the opposite of simplifying and I feel the weight of these items everywhere.

    • Robyn and Laura,
      I think you two need to get together and talk! Robyn, I wonder about taking all of those letters and having them preserved on disc. My husband did that with some old pictures from my grandparents and it worked really well. It is hard to know what to keep and what to not keep. If you have a genealogy buff in the family, I wonder if those items would be of interest…
      I will think on it for you Robyn.
      Blessings,
      Carrie

  8. Hello dear Carrie, what a great post. For my first seven years of mothering, moving was the way to declutter, especially since we were moving from one side of the world to the other and then from island to island so our entire household had to go in a shipping container. It forced me to sort through stuff. Like you I am a bookie and the screen readers just don’t do it for me. I like to feel the pages and I make notes too. So the books need to stay. For years I have thought about devoting one room to a library of sorts with books from floor to celling all around with a few comfy chairs to sit in. The living room has the most inviting wall but it is the living room and I am not sure I want books there. I have long thought about making a little book room inspired by Eleanor Farjeon’s little book. Happy moving and de cluttering to you. Thanks for the niudge!

  9. I would love to hear how you declutter your books!! I’ve been trying to declutter my books for the longest time, but I always get hung up. There is just so much potential hidden the pages of a book, I feel like if I give it up I’ll end up missing some important life lesson I could have gleamed from its pages. I know that’s not exactly realistic though and most of the time the books are just taking up space. If I haven’t read it in the last two years, chances are I’m not going to read it in the next two. Then, I know it’s crazy, but I think of disasters happening, and how we wouldn’t have access to the computer, but how I would have all my books to learn from and entertain :) I think books are the last thing I’ll think about in a disaster though. Then don’t get me started on children’s books! The thing is, I think the kid’s books would be treasured more if they didn’t have so many of them.
    On another note, I do have a Kindle and I enjoy reading on it. No, it doesn’t have the pages, but the magic of the book is still there in it’s words.

  10. Timely because we just today sat down and blocked out some time each day for decluttering over the next few weeks. I am non collector, bordering on minimalism, married to a hoarder. It’s really tough because I’m the main housekeeper. We have made progress, though. I have come to understand how binding having so much stuff is… It’s so much work! There truly is freedom in less. I hope I can pass on my approach to my kids rather than my hubby’ s!

  11. We’re preparing to move across the country in the early fall. I’ve been tackling one section of the house and property each day – for instance, a shelf, or a drawer of clothing. If I try to bite off too much at a time, it just doesn’t get done, so breaking things down into tiny pieces has been working well for me. The best part is that I can do it in 5 or 10 minute chunks of time while the kids are busy playing.

  12. I too love books – the turning of pages, the way they smell, the way they look lined up on a bookshelf. I also have an almost 2 year old who still nurses to sleep for nap and bedtime. Nursing is my prime reading time and has been since my son was born. I made the switch to a Nook when my son was about 6 months because I just couldn’t hold a book and turn the pages one handed. You can still type in notes on a Nook – not the same I know, but better than nothing. I also like that I can increase the font size in dim lighting and continue reading but not disturb my son with a bright light. It’s been fantastic for flying too – no heavy bulky books to carry.
    As far as “stuff” goes, we moved about 8 months ago and did some big decluttering then. We will be moving again in about 8 months so more decluttering as that gets closer.
    I struggle with toys for my son. I’ve started circulating some toys and it seems to help. What’s hard for me to determine is when a toy has been outgrown. My son plays with newly introduced toys for a few days because they are “new” or when I sit and play with him, but otherwise some are ignored. Are those the ones to remove permanently? Or will he find a new way to play with them in 6 months when he’s older? I find it hard to know or predict what may be a favorite in the future.

  13. My biggest struggle is with my daughters’ things. They have so much and just never want to get rid of anything. I don’t want to remove it without their knowledge. That’s feels disrespectful at their ages, 11 and 7. But they do not seem to have much appreciation for the things they do have and don’t take care of them, ie beautiful dolls left on the floor, books everywhere, toys left outside, etc. so my issue is not just about clutter but also about failing to have taught my kids to care for their things. Any suggestions would be welcome. I do think the massive piles of stuff does make it easier to have a less appreciative attitude for the things they do have.
    My personal challenge is to let things go that I haven’t used in years. I do box things up and store them in our pole barn for “some day” but that day never seems to arrive!

    • Melissa,
      I think yes and no to removing things without their knowledge..11 and 7 are still pretty small, and many children that age I know just want to keep everything. Some want to keep every scrap of paper they have drawn on as well….I don’t really look at it as being disrespectful if I go through and re-arrange or even box up toys that are never played with, or really old papers that have piled up everywhere..I look at it as a gift to have more space, a better sleeping environment in particular in their rooms, a chance to take better care of the toys and things that really are important to them.

      I think meditate and pray on it and see what comes up for you. Could you have a family decluttering day? would they follow suit and declutter if you were? Or would it be a giant battle?
      I think also to think about consequences..there are consequences for not taking care of things. Some families go through and pick up any toys left outside or in the house after a designated clean up time and the child does have to do chores or something to earn it back. The other thing to consider is rhythm (when are the clean up times during the day?) and where does everything go? One can’t expect a child to pick up if it is overwhelming piles of stuff with no where to put each thing.

      Just some thoughts, if you put “toys” into the search engine on this blog, many posts will come up from the past regarding how other families have dealt with this issue.
      Many blessings and much love,
      Carrie

  14. I am in a very similar boat to you Mama bird. I like to live more minimalistic, some people see me as that at least, but my hubby has also hoarding tendencies. We have made some pretty decent progress though in the last few months and he has actually gone through all the stuff in the garage some more.
    My weak points are also books, ….I am absolutely the same way as you are Carrie, minus writing into them. I just love books, now at least I manage to stay out of bookstores and I think about every book purchase for at least two days before buying the book. This at least has dramatically cut back on the growth of our library, which by the way we all love.
    I started de-cluttering about a week ago, as this was also on my summer to do list.
    I de-clutter regularly at least once a year,….until my hubby goes ‘crazy’ on me and puts a halt to ‘my madness’ (at least that is what he calls it). ;-)
    I plan to bite the bullet this time ’round and I will have to go through our library as well and at least get rid of a handfull of books….., o.k. maybe three or four.
    Our photo collection also needs sorting and de-cluttering.

  15. I love this challenge! Perfect timing for me, I’m going to do it. I periodically work on this. I do pretty well with my 4.5 YO DD’s room, we buy and sell stuff through our local resale shop. I admit I quietly sneak away with the stuff she doesn’t play with any more. It is is easy, though, because I have a rotation system, and I simply never rotate back in the things I’ve noticed she hasn’t played with when they’ve been “out.” Doesn’t bother me a bit to do this. Luckily she isn’t very attached to very many “things” so it’s never been an issue. I never try to rotate her dress-ups, silks, etc., that wouldn’t work too well, because she always wants them! I think once she asked me about something, and I just said, “It was someone else’s turn to play with that, we have other things to play with now.” That was enough for her. That’s the sort of language I use when we take things to the resale shop.

    My two areas of greatest challenge are how-to books and CRAFTS – books and materials for. I have stashes for sewing, knitting, felting, scrapbooking, soft toy/doll making, painting…I will have a passionate phase in one area, then the trail cools and I don’t work on that for two or three months, or maybe a whole year while I work happily on another area, then I am fully engaged in something else again. And many materials in my stash I will suddenly find a use for in a different craft…so my craft stash is very fulfilling! I try to just limit the amount of space I dedicate to my various stashes. But it is hard :) I even buy exploratory books, thinking I’ll get into a new craft (various forms of woodworking being the normal culprit). I save them and review them, thinking soon I really will start it up. I just love making things. Clutter isn’t just “things,” it’s things that don’t have that positive, energizing quality. I guess my two areas of challenge actually really rev me up :)

    I use a Kindle, but not for how-to books, where I need to see the pictures. Or reference books, for example, a book filled with activities that I want too thumb through and select the best one to do with my little one. Not a good choice for my Kindle. But something I don’t expect to read very many times, where I don’t need the pictures, I really try to get that one on Kindle. So much better for the planet and my space not to get a “real copy.” I actually love using the “highlight” feature, then I just read the collection of highlights to quickly remember all of my favorite points in the book. Much easier than looking for my pencil underlining in a hard copy!

  16. Thanks for the inspiration Carrie! I just went through the closets and took out about 2/3 of the kids’ clothes and about 1/2 of mine (I didn’t have much to start with). Now we won’t have to sort through all the clothes we don’t like to find our favorites.

  17. Hi Carrie, Yes, I definitely have to do this! When I’ve lived in countries with libraries, I’ve given my books away to them. I have no idea if they actually made it on to the shelves but I hoped so. Why? So that if I really wanted to read that book again, I could borrow it back! This tactic really helped me give up my books and would presumably work for kids books too. Funnily enough, I never did feel to urge to read those books again and that’s why I never found it if they were on the shelves. But it gave me a kind of safety blanket feel when I gave them away! Just a thought!

  18. You continue to inspire me. Cookbooks, fabric and clothes were on the chopping block yesterday. I reduced a 6-shelf-cookbook-disaster (that I saw every time I walked into my kitchen) to a little shelf with only the essentials – that would be four (4!) cookbooks. Thanks again for the nudge.

  19. Love this! I’ll take it :) Just stuffed a bag full of books this morning while my daughter wasn’t looking, lol. I think kids books are the hardest, b/c everyone thinks they’re such a “good” present, especially when we don’t let family give plastic junk presents.

  20. I always remind myself that every object I have in my home needs to be taken care of. If I bring in a new toy, piece of clothing, kitchen appliance, it needs to be cared for. It needs a place, it needs to be cleaned and kept in good shape, and it needs to have a space in my life. I try to be conscious of that responsibility and I feel the weight when I have too many things in my life. Looking at it this way has made it much easier to keep our belongings to a minimum.

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