Friday, March 22, 2013

The Curse of Stuff

this is not our house...just so you know!
Do you have too much stuff? Is your garage so packed with things that you can’t get your car in there? Are your closets overflowing with so many items that it’s hard to find what you are looking for? If the answer is yes, you are not alone. We have a collective problem in our society and we might as well admit it.  Because the more stuff we accumulate and the more space it takes up in our lives, the more overwhelmed we become, and the heavier the burden in our minds, our hearts and our souls. Perhaps it’s time take action. And for those of you (and I know a few) who have already mastered clutter- free, spending-controlled living, I laud you and applaud you. Maybe you can share some tips on how you do it.

Our family home is a decent size and I must confess that sometimes I feel like we are drowning in our stuff. When we downsized about five years ago from an even larger home, we had a great opportunity to purge, and purge we did! (the strollers, the car seats, the old IKEA furniture from earlier days). My intention was to keep our garage free and clear of junk and to use the laundry room and the furnace room to store seasonal items and occasional products like wrapping paper and Christmas decorations.

As our sons grew older and their interests evolved, the space quickly filled with band equipment, vinyl records, large speakers etc. Then there are the tools. My husband, the sometimes handyman, has collected enough tools to fill a barn.I’m exaggerating, but we do have an awful lot of tools and gardening equipment. My own downfall is clothing. I know I should get rid of old pieces when new ones come in, but I can’t bring myself to do it. Hence, an overstuffed closet that can make it challenging to find what I’m looking for.

I don’t consider the penchant for accumulating stuff as just a physical space problem, but a grave psychological problem as well. I am no psychologist, but it seems clear to me that we are gratifying some need by accumulating stuff and then holding on to it much longer than it’s needed. Maybe we have a deep-rooted fear of another serious economic depression like in the early 1930s, when jobs and stuff were hard to come by. Maybe we think we are protecting ourselves from starvation or something by clinging to material goods.

We tend to believe that much of our stuff has sentimental value even if it doesn’t have material worth. That chipped china in the box in the garage that our grandmothers used to serve Sunday dinner on, or the overstuffed chair that is splitting at the seams, where great-grandpa used to smoke cigars and read the paper. A professional organizer might suggest we set the table with the china, take a picture of it to help keep the memory alive and then chuck it. Same with the chair – do we really need to keep that bulky piece, taking up space and collecting dust, just for the memory?

 In the 1950s, the average American home was about 900 square feet and in 2011 the average size was over 2500 square feet. And families were larger back then. Despite the fact that we have more space now and less people to share it, we have more stuff than we know what to do with. Some people rent self-storage units so they don’t have to deal with the overflow. There is over 2 billion square feet of self-storage space rented out in the U.S., and a proportionate amount in Canada. Sometimes those storage units are abandoned and the items are auctioned off—are you familiar with the popular television show “Storage Wars?”

I was happy to see daytime talk-show host Katie Couric doing a show on “getting organized” not too long ago. And I was particularly pleased to see that she herself has a "stuff" problem. She brought the viewers into her home office and openly and honestly went through the messy and over-packed space with a professional organizer. She had a hard time letting go of things that she hadn’t seen for years or even remembered that she had. That short TV clip gave a very strong message about society’s need to cling to things that really don’t matter at the end of the day. Here is a clip from the show about 5 things you can do to prevent clutter: FIVE RULES TO PREVENT CLUTTER (scroll down to the bottom of the page)

Who is to blame for this societal weakness? Advertisers...commercial developers (more stores and more selection)...the Joneses? Or ourselves?  Well it’s springtime now, although it doesn’t feel like it in blustery Toronto, and I think my family should invest some time in finally dealing with the curse of our stuff. By summer we might feel a little lighter and a lot happier. And I might have more room in my closet for some new clothes...just kidding!