While in Ohio helping mom move, I muttered often under my breath about all the stuff she had accumulated. I judged Mom and patted myself on the back for being much more sensible about stuff. I silently thanked the “Stuff Empress of the Universe” that I am not a hoarder. I don’t have piles and piles and piles of papers, books, and used padded envelopes. I don’t have all my son’s school work and old lunch tickets. I don’t have boxes of preschool crafts labeled carefully as to which of the kids made the craft and when. I don’t have a basement full of spider-web-covered junk that makes walking down there a hazard. Two moves across the country and several smaller moves forced me to purge along the way.
However, when I got home from my journey to help mom pack and purge, my sense of self-righteousness faded. Unloading the van where I camped while traveling was lesson in humility number one. My annual spring garage cleaning was humility lesson number two. And trying to spring clean around the junk stashed in the 5 bedrooms in this house was humility lesson number three. It seems that I have stuff-disorders of my own. It may not manifest that same way as Mom’s, but I am also stuffed.
So, what are my materialistic weaknesses? In the kitchen, I have four sets of dishes, 3 sets of flatware (and newly acquired silverware from grandmother), stacks of baking pans (I rarely bake), numerous small appliances, and a full set of unused wine glasses and champagne flutes.
In the medicine cabinet I have hordes of first aid and hygiene supplies, including Calamine, Pepto Bismal, Alka Seltzer, 5 kinds of pain relievers and PM versions. Since I now use essential oils for aches, pains, scrapes, cut, bites, and colds, I do not need those icky chemical things anymore. Also in the bathroom I have Band-Aids, hundreds of Q-tips, mounds of hotel toiletries, and 3 dozen disposable razors.
I won’t bore you with the full list of garden stuff packed into the garage; I think you can image what it looks like with such things as 10 pairs of gardening gloves, piles of empty plant packs from the nursery, plastic bins (6), 5 gal buckets (12) and tons of plant stakes/trellises. As if my own efforts are not sorry enough, other people bring me stacks of newspaper for lining the garden paths and bags of empty coffee cans to protect plants (which I don’t use). These accumulate all winter.
I cannot forget to tell you about home decor stuff: vases, holiday decorations, western-themed things, southwestern themed stuff, and so on. I like to rotate decorations during the year. Right now I unearthed my blue stuff, which includes a blue table runner, 3 cobalt blue vases, blue place mats, white silk flowers, and a blue pitcher from Mexico my mom recently returned to me.
And I love to collect (hoard) blankets. I have numerous vintage wool blankets and comforters. I don’t hoard clothes much anymore, although a recent survey of my closet revealed that I have an inordinate amount of men’s oxford shirts, scarves, sweats, leggings, Teva flip flops, and jeans (in 3 sizes). I have already created a list of my camping gear, so I won’t bore you again with that.
To be fair, I have improved. For one thing, I had a lot more in each of the above categories. For example I had 8 sets of dishes, and last year when I started my quest to simplify I purged several. Additionally, there are some things I never collect (hoard) anymore, including clear Pyrex pans and bowls. For a while I tried storing emergency food supplies, but that did not do much for me. Who needs food when you dozens of disposable razors.
Likewise, I do not have nearly the craft supplies hoarded as I did in the past, although I do have several large bins of yarn and boxes of beads. I used to have hundreds of books and many CDs. When I got my Kindle, I said buh-bye to those weighty items. Of course, I buy electronic versions now, and I am working this philosophy: if you can’t see it siting around because it is in electronic format, it is not hoarding.
So which category of stuff is the worst part of my stuff syndrome? What do I buy without forethought or without putting on my green thinking cap? That depends on the time of year. In the spring and summer, I tend to accumulate random garden stuff. In the cold winter months I sit inside and hoard craft supplies. Camping gear is also a seasonal obsession.
And where do I get the stuff? Sometimes I am a yard sale junkie or thrift store sleuth. I seem to have adopted another important theory: if it comes into my home second-hand, it’s not hoarding. However, the second greatest source of unneeded junk is online buying. How easy it is to click this, click that and get two-day delivery out here in the boondocks.
As I survey the junk in my own home, after so mercilessly judging my hoarding mother, I ask myself once again: what needs/emotions play into the buying, accumulating, and hoarding of stuff? As I look over my list above, I see common denominators. Most things are for nesting, nurturing, care-taking, cooking, gardening, blanketing, creating, and healing. Establishing safety through possessions is another angle on the matter. But I wonder who I am care-taking: myself, my son, others? No one lives here besides me and my dog, for crying out loud! Tango certainly does not feel any safer having mountain of Q-tips and multiple sets of flatware.
I know that simple desire also plays a role in accumulating. We middle-class Americans have learned to respond to advertisements and marketing campaigns that create needs and wants that did not previously exist. We have been trained to think that having stuff is the equivalent of success and security. We are constantly asked to choose between being a “have” or “have not”
Last year I made a decision to become a “have not” by getting rid of the majority of the stuff I own. This decision was part faith-based, part green thinking and part freedom-seeking. I am also nearing 60 years of age, and I already can see that someone must someday dispose of all this stuff. I asked myself what do I really really need at this point? I started feeling burdened by the stuff.
I went through these gyrations last year right before the church rummage sale in May. So, that annual sale, conveniently located next door, became my dumping off place for round one of de-stuffing. During the winter, round two consisted of hauling bags and boxes to the thrift store (I noted the irony that this stuff mostly originated at other yard sales and thrift stores). Also last year, my son finished up his service in the Marines and he needed lots of stuff to start up his own home. So I dumped more on him. I wondered if I was doing him any favor pushing castoffs onto him and helping him nurture his own hoarding instinct.
And, what happened after I purged is odd. It seemed as if new layers of accumulated junk floated to the surface. I had skimmed off one layer, only to find more and more coming up for air. It was like thinning out day lilies, where new shoots rapidly filled in the empty spaces.
Still, I saw progress. Sitting in my living room at night with 50% less stuff felt highly satisfying, like eating a York peppermint patty, complete with that nice breezy, minty feeling. Opening a bathroom cupboard that was mostly empty was uplifting. Having the space to organize the kitchen and find the things that I really needed was simply an epiphany.
Which brings me to this year; it is time for the annual church rummage sale, my hope and my salvation for my stuff disorders. I have not accumulated too much new stuff in the past 12 months, at least compared to past years. However, the stuff that floated to the surface after last years’ de-stuffing is calling out to me and will now find new life at the rummage sale when some other hoarder lugs it home. And the church benefits, or more accurately, at least it can pay my salary over the lean summer months. Will that salary recycle back to more stuff this year? Not really (except my travel trailer). I am on the path to simplicity and there is no looking back!