Monday, March 11, 2013

{life lab} the stories we attach to our stuff


We all talk about de-cluttering all the time, don't we? We buy books, sign up for classes, do challenges, try for 15 minutes to clear out clutter, and wonder how we got so much stuff in the first place.

In our family, we have 5 people who are interested in so many things. We like to go to garage sales, we get loads of gifts on birthdays and holidays, and we have no problem buying the tools we need for our latest area of interest. And, I am not sure, but I am pretty sure that homeschooling might exacerbate the situation.



In the last few years I have gotten rid of nearly half my books. This was not easy, I love to read and browse through my shelves. It is also wonderful knowing I have a "just the book" on a variety of topics that might arise. But, there is still too much.

Cull after cull, there is still too much. I want to go deeper.

So, I have begun to think about the stories we attach to our stuff. And re-evaluating those stories to see if they still hold true.



One of my biggest stories is that I need to have a house full of resources for my ever curious children. But, after a little digging I can see that this is not really a valid argument. We live near a library that has thousands of books on its shelves. We also have internet access at home and a variety of people who we can call to ask for help or guidance on many topics. And, I have come to see that in many ways having all these "resources" actually limits my kid's thinking. They are rarely excited when I pull a book from the shelf and hand it to them, because I have in effect removed them from the process of seeking their own knowledge. So, although we still have tons of books, I have released many, many back to the world and have opened more space for exploration and investigation. I am trying to get rid of half. That is a big goal because I am now cutting deep into my collection and hitting a lot of nerves.

Another huge story for me (and I hope someone can relate) is that I am going to read novels. I collect them from the library sale table for pocket change. Best sellers, ones I have seen recommended on other blogs, pretty covered gems with the all the possibility of sweet escape. But, I rarely read them. I read nonfiction, memoir and essays with ease and hunger. Fiction, not so much. It seems like something that I should be reading, but I can rarely get past a chapter or two before falling asleep. So, out with most of the fiction that I know I will not read. I still have a handful or classics and specially chosen ones I do want to read, but I have at least 100 that I do not need.

I am so curious about the stories you hold regarding your stuff. Do you keep tons of fabric for the day you might sew all your own clothes? What about tools for projects that you think you might want to do, someday? School research papers that you will reread in your old age? Or boxes and boxes of recyclables for craft making?



The thing I am realizing, is that all this stuff, we think holds possibilities for better versions of ourselves.  It is like a drawer of clothes two sizes to small. We think if we hold on to these things, we can get back to something we once were or something we have always aspired to be. But, we are also letting the weeds grow over a million other possible paths, interests and experiences. It is like we have a huge field full of long soft grass and beautiful wildflowers - and we keep walking the same path, over and over, packing hard the dirt of comfortable possibilities and completely ignoring the vast field of all that might be.



So, with this post, I encourage you - and me, to get off the path, explore further, look in new places and a great way to start this process is clear out the crap (even the good stuff).

Now, if I could just release my vintage camera and clock collection...

Please share a comment about your journey with stuff...

____________________________________________________________________

want to go deeper with more of your stories and do some deep personal excavation? 


"This lab will help you find yourself. the self you lost or has become submerged in the constant din of quotidian noise and bustle. She might be awkward or sad after all these years, but she is still there, waiting for you to call her forth. "

27 comments:

  1. That's a good book removing achievement. Very inspiring. I read a comment on a de-cluttering site once from a person who felt that her enormous book collection was 'a legacy for my kids'. I felt sorry for her kids clearing out her house after she died. I'm from a book hoarding family -- each time someone dies the libraries get divvied up among the living who already have houses full of books.

    A lot of our clutter is about "things that might be useful one day". I'm trying to set tight limits on how much we keep (one crate of junk for making models; one tin of lids for our son to play with; one crate of gift wrappings to re-use; one memory box per person).

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    1. one person's "legacy" is another's burden, that is for sure. I have seen that too.

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  2. So very true, AMy. I had to chuckle about your fiction collection. I purged most of our books a few years ago. I felt a home had to have a library, but I noticed we didn't use them. We are public library regulars, so why duplicate the process. I went through clothing and donated those too small clothes and things I won't wear again even if they "come bak in style." I sold our china - I never used it. It will be interesting when we retrieve our "stuff" from storage. I do miss some things, but I know we can donate/purge a lot. This year of travel has shown us that we don't need a lot.

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    1. It is an amazing experience living on the road for a long time. You really see how little you need, huh?

      The book thing is liberating for sure. I mean, we live 5 blocks from the library which we can walk to every day!

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  3. "In many ways having all these "resources" actually limits my kid's thinking." This is an interesting way to look at it. I'm all about de-cluttering (still working on that here) and I know for myself that simplicity fosters creativity. I totally agree that handing a kid a book or a pre-packaged kit or a class is a way of limiting their own process of discovery, but I'm not sure that having resources at hand is a limitation. As my kids have gotten older, they've found the resources they need online and in the community as a result of their own efforts, but they've also mastered so much using the resources we have here for our own purposes. Things like plasma welders, stone carving tools, recording equipment, and other obscurities. I wonder if it has more to do with "handing" our kids the right book or right tool? Maybe stepping back from the process of exploration as they get older empowers them to search more on their own, which restores the vital element of discovery/challenge.

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    1. Maybe I should rephrase, having too many resources can be limiting. Don't get me wrong, we are still full of opportunity here :) We have a stocked garage, sewing room, office, music room.... it is just easy for it to all get out of control.

      And I have resigned myself to the idea that I might get rid of something that I will have to repurchase someday.

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  4. Thank you for this post. I really needed to read this today, as I step over the myriad of toys in the living room (and I seriously try to limit what we have). I love the idea of "we think holds possibilities for better versions of ourselves"--it's so true, for me especially with books and craft supplies. I'm off to purge a bit later.

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    1. good luck Kathleen! I hope it is productive!

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    1. Thanks Andrea. Now, if I can just remember what I am figuring out before I buy anything else!

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  6. I have been purging a lot lately, and have come to accept that my boys have had almost zero interest in any of the books I've gathered or saved for them. They are bright boys, love the library, and basically have a world of interests that are vastly different than mine. I've also noticed the wear on a lot of my older books, not to mention dust. I'm terribly allergic to mites, and am to the point of barely being able to handle my older books.
    I love what you say about our stuff holding possibilities and so forth. You are so correct and hit the perfect way to say it. Personally I'm still holding on to lots of fabric, craft supplies and the like. My question is always do I purge and let go, or is t a sign that I don't allocate enough time for myself and my creative life? I'm glad I read this today...I have a room full of things I need to make decisions about, and was thinking I'd go to the thrifts. I'll stay home and save my money and rethink some of this stuff instead

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    1. I have been getting rid of fabric too! I am not a strong sewer or quilter. I would like to be. Just like I would like to be a great dancer or amazing chef. But I am not willing to put the work into the skill and I am not going to keep it all for my old age when I might revisit or cultivate new interests.

      We still have fabric that we use for simple crafts - but it needs to be cleared out more too.

      I think of the purging as giving myself more space to create. I do not need loads of material to make things anyways - just pencil, paper, paint and a small collection of do dads.

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  7. exacerbate, not exasperate

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    1. thank you kind editor! i wrote them down, looked them up and made the change and learned something new. :)

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  8. Love the post. As a perfectionist, I am constantly on a quest to have things organised and decluttered. As a child, I was a Hoarder! I always had something and anything anyone might need at any particular time...I could never pinpoint what changed exactly, but now, as soon as something comes into the house, into the closets, into a space, something needs to be given up. I have donated half of all my books to our village library over the weekend and I have never felt more free and happy to be able to share my love of books and the abundance of knowledge contained within their pages with the hungry minds of our community.

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    1. i love your notion of sharing. instead of thinking of the lack when we give things away, lets think of sharing or gifting to others.

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  9. I tend to keep a lot of things "just in case" we need it later. And SOMETIMES we do need the random stuff I keep, which just reinforces the keeping (empty 64 ounce yogurt containers make good car trash cans/barf buckets, as well as good watering cans for little kids in the garden, as well as great pool toys, etc. etc., but we do not need 50 of them. I guess. Old magazines are good for collage projects. WHEN we do that. Plastic shopping bags are great little garbage can liners...until you have too many. Old towels are great for SO MANY messes you don't want on your nicer towels. How many to keep, though? ETC.).

    I have gotten a lot better at tossing stuff. The problem is when a whole flood of memories comes back when you're going through stuff...it makes you want to have that experience again (lest you permanently forget the memories the stuff is evoking?), thus not want to toss or give or sell or donate... so I try to keep only the most pertinent memory-inducing stuff. But it's HARD.

    We're having a big garage sale in the Spring. Not sure what we will do with the money, if any sizable amount is earned, but I am really looking forward to having more free space in the house!

    I joined your "book about me" lab and can't wait to process stuff more there. It comes perfectly timed with a book I'm reading about the soul/bre-birth life planning. None of our STUFF really means ANYTHING, really! The goal of life is love; are you feeling it in its many forms? If not, what's impeding that? If so, what's enhancing that? Probably not your stuff. (My husband thinks this stuff really makes me sound like a pot-smoker, but it resonates with me.)

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    1. Kristin, we have that too. We seem to be able to find any screw/bolt/thing a ma gig in the "magic" garage. But it is stuffed and we can not use it as a workshop - which would be so much better.

      What is the book you are reading? It sounds interesting!

      And, I can not wait! Just a few more weeks!

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  10. It's a fine line. ONE book from my grandfather's collection of quirky novels is a treasure. Keeping his entire collection would be hoarding. Sometimes, the story and connection is worth the small amount of space on the bookshelf. I've been on a purging binge for four months now and am (yet again) purging through the books. And the fabrics. And the... stuff.

    Great post!

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  11. I try to purge things a few times a year. Moving into a house about 1, 000 ft smaller has forced, well, helped us to reevaluate the things we need to have. Also, digital books and library convenience has helped. My kids are also very receptive to getting rid of things when they can pass them on to family or friends.

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  12. dang it, you are talking to ME! we are looking at a move in a matter of months, and i just spent my morning rearranging the books, papers, articles, games, and what-nots that are filling my living room shelves. total denial. and i am aware that at least one of my kids is a keeper, not willing to throw anything away, and i'm not modeling a cleaner way of living for her! yes, i've got it all - fabric for that quilt i'm going to make, so much paper, because i have a paper obsession, games that my kids aren't quite ready for and may never have an interest in, notes, letters, old papers, entire desk drawers emptied into a box for one more move...and yet i LOVE the simplicity and freedom of packing what you need into a backpack and making do. you can always make-do. my stories are mostly of the "but what if my kid needs..." and the "someday i'll want to look back on..." variety, but so very little of the things i move from here to there say anything about who i am right now. thanks for the thought-train!

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  13. I am getting better and better at this approach to life. I do have all my old college papers. I even have high school short stories. Maybe it is time to let go?

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  14. This is great for me to read as we have just moved into our first home and its twice the size of where we were previously living. I have two huge bookshelves in our "learning room" (we have a learning room!!!) that are half empty I want to be so careful with what comes in to that space. I was always constantly purging in our previous home but then always at the same time finding new things for our kids to "use" in their learning and exploring. So true that so many of my things are in the hopes of a better self. I own a sewing machine but dont know how to sew!! :) Lots of food for thought here.

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  15. I can absolutely relate to this post! You're absolutely right.. understanding what stories we attach to our stuff helps explain what we're *really* holding on to; cause really stuff is just 'stuff'.

    I'm slowly making progress.. and this has definitely inspired me to take it further! I think I'll tackle books next! I like donating to our local library cause then if i ever want to reference it, I can see if it's there - assuming it makes it into their collection! I donate all my pregnancy books to my local midwives office library!

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  16. Hi. My name is Kathi and I am a collector of collections and projects.

    I have an entire house full of "STUFF." My son-in-law hinted the word "hoarder" to me the other day. I am NOT a hoarder! Or maybe I am. I am at the point where my stuff is getting the best of me! I have no room to work on my projects.

    I was making progress decluttering my living room then my sweet kids bought me a new TV for Mother's Day. It is too large to fit in the armoire where the old TV was. This required moving the armoire to the side and placing an antique dresser in its place. I would like to have the armoire in my craft room for storage but there are too many things in the way to get it in there!

    I see "potential" in everything. I appreciate your thoughts about why we hold on to things. I have toys for future grandchildren that I may never have. I have collectibles that my Mother collected. They are too valuable to throw away but I really don't want them anymore. I have tons of "useful" things that are not being used.



    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I'm inspired to complete one project today, hanging my new bamboo shades in the living room. I may encounter more mess in doing this. The blinds need to be trimmed. I don't know where I will take on this task? Maybe outside? There is definitely NO space to do it anywhere else!

    Maybe next weekend I will box up those "precious" pieces from my china cabinet and take them somewhere to be appraised? Maybe I will take the stuff off my dining room table and paint it as I planned? Maybe I will clean my kitchen and get rid of everything that doesn't belong in there? Maybe I will find a path to my craft room and make space for the armoire?

    Maybe I will have a garage sale, or maybe I will spend another weekend looking at things that need to be done and take naps? I want a clean house with at least one flat surface that is not piled with stuff. I need help!

    That's my story. Do you think there is hope? :D

    PS. I did take my old TV to the thrift store! One less thing to worry about. One less thing cluttering up my life!


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    1. Of course there is hope! One step, bag, trip to donate at a time! Think of what it will fill like with some cleared off surfaces!

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