Prisoner of Stuff: Solving the Downsizing Dilemma

Do we hold on to stuff or does stuff hold on to us? So many people drown in their possessions, I  believe stuff has a gravitational pull, power to suck us down into buying, holding, hoarding and then adding more.

By Betsy Fletcher

And family photos have twice the gravitational pull of other material things. If the Internet hadn’t come along as a place to store family photos, the USA would be covered coast to coast in pictures of Johnny’s first birthday and Jenny’s recital.

Why does it happen?

Each of us has an Inner Hoarder and each Inner Hoarder has a reason. For my parents—it took two of us more than six weeks to clean out their house—it was all about The Depression. In The Depression, there wasn’t enough stuff–even soap and toothpaste were precious, so my parents held on to everything, even last month’s newspapers. And I’m still holding on to some of their stuff, but for a different reason.

The thing isn’t the person

I think I am confusing the possessions of a person with the person. If I give away the old books my mom collected, I will be giving away my mom. Well, at least being disloyal to her.

This is nutty thinking, or more accurately, nutty non-thinking, but I think I have a solution. I will keep one or two of them—a little curtsy to mom—and give the rest away to our local library so someone new can enjoy the words. A simple win, win.

Objects of someone else’s desire

When you give something away, you can console yourself with thoughts of the further adventures of the object. Who will read, wear or use it? I write little short stories in my head about where things will end up. Usually, my stories have happy imaginary endings and sometimes, real happy endings,  as with the many bookcases that have ended up in the offices of our local hospice.

And that is one way to cut loose from the magnetic power of stuff—think of the other people who could use and appreciate it. And the process is certainly green–recycling and keeping stuff out of the landfill, a destination my garage has been mistaken for.

Judging the stuff of others

Cranky Pants and I are gearing up for a move to smaller quarters, the downsizing of the geezer class. Of course, what I keep are the necessities, while what he keeps are sentimental objects. Then, after I finish judging his supposedly foolish choices, I say a little prayer of gratitude when I realize the sentimental choice he holds onto is me.

The joy of simplicity

Friends don’t let friends move without good wishes and casseroles served with side dish testimonials about how good it feels to be free of stuff because they’ve done it themselves. Friends are coming forward now to say they’ve stripped themselves of possessions and are happier for it.

Skip and go naked when it comes to stuff—that’s their advice and I believe it for everything you own owns you. You have to fix, polish, insure, repair, arrange, dust, wash and generally look after what you own. There are better ways to spend the rest of our years on the planet.

So, though I am not getting rid of everything, I am going around the house selecting what really really matters and trying to develop a let-it-go attitude about the rest. Think about it. There aren’t self storage units in heaven. Your kids will just throw it out or give it away, so we might as well say goodbye to all the boxes now.

Truth to tell, I expect to be relieved—the happiness of  a light backpack. Is that joy I see around the next corner of life?

By Cornelia Kopp

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3 Responses to Prisoner of Stuff: Solving the Downsizing Dilemma

  1. Konnie says:

    6 years ago we downsized from 3000 square feet in our home ( and that was a downsize!) to 1600 square feet and, you know what, this 1600 square feet feels too big…. too much stuff to dust and take care of. We are in our mid 60’s now and want to travel through the rest of our life adventure “lean and mean”…. with just enough to enjoy our home but not so much that it would not fit into a one car garage-size storage unit if we want to take off around the world! Thank you for your thoughts, Mel…we miss you in The Union! Konnie in Nevada City

  2. Penguinlady says:

    You’re moving AGAIN???

    I have several friends who are very good at ridding themselves of Stuff. For hoarders like me, it’s not a one-person job, and I intend to prevail on at least one of them to contribute the voice of sanity to my efforts. Actually, I think even hoarders can do this for each other – sanity is so much more accessible when it’s other people’s Stuff you’re dealing with!

  3. jan olofson says:

    check NYT 9/16/10 “The New Old Age” by Paula Span: When Possessions Lead To Paralysis. You said it with wit – the message important. Thanks.

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