We all tend to live “ash heap lives”; we spend most of our time and money for things that will end up in the city dump. Francis Schaeffer in No Little People
Not a pretty picture, is it? All our precious possessions in a smoldering heap, surrounded by piles of everyone else’s refuse. And yet, much of what we accumulate will one day end up either thrown into a dump or recycled into something else.
Not that owning stuff is bad, of course. We all need clothes, coffee cups, and car keys, but our attitudes toward our stuff, and our reasons for accumulating more of it, are probably a little warped.
The too-much-stuff problem hit me in a new way when I visited my son’s apartment. He has lived there less than a month, and the place is still pretty empty. He has yet to acquire living room furniture, let alone throw pillows, wall art, knick-knacks and all the other stuff that fills our rooms (in excess, most likely.) I am proud of him for resisting the urge to rush out and buy a cheap sofa or a couple of junk chairs just so the space is filled. Instead, he and his fiancée are taking their time, shopping for furniture they can enjoy for years to come. Bravo.
The problem with too much stuff
Those of us who are past the beginning-adulthood stage have a different issue with household stuff—we have too much of it. And all that stuff may be more of a problem than we think. Why?
First of all, everything we own costs us time. Our stuff needs maintenance. For example, we must: wax the car, repair the leaf blower, winterize the boat, paint the shed, clean the garlic press, weed the flower beds, ad infinitum, ad nauseam. Also, our stuff needs to be organized and stored, requiring bookcases, filing cabinets, storage units, boxes and labels, most of which take up floor space. (And if we don’t organize, we live surrounded by chaos and end up spending money for things we already own but cannot find.)
Second, our spending habits are rarely in sync with what actually makes us happy. When we spend our money on stuff we don’t really need, we don’t have money to spend on what actually matters.
Want to enjoy more dinners out at a favorite restaurant? Have money for that pottery class you’ve always wanted to take? Spend less time cleaning and more time playing with the grandkids?
Maybe you need to de-accumulate.
Four ways to de-accumulate and regain some control of your time and money
- De-clutter. Get rid of anything that is no longer useful to you. If you don’t love it or use it regularly, give it to someone who will. Remember, the less stuff you have to clean, fold, grease, file, or put away, the more time you have for other things.
- Set boundaries. Define how much space you are willing to devote to certain items and force yourself to curate the collection to that fit space. One of my biggest accumulation weaknesses is books.
- Make a budget. Then follow it. It is all too easy to buy more than we need, or pick up something shiny that catches our eye. Just say no! The easiest way to de-accumulate is not to buy it in the first place.
- Rethink gift-giving. Admit it, many gifts we receive turn into stuff that sits around and is rarely used. Start a trend by giving consumable gifts or experience gifts rather than quirky gadgets or decorative doodads. (For example: a certificate to a favorite restaurant, a box of some food item they will love, or an invitation to host a dinner for someone and four of their friends.) Maybe your relatives will catch on and return the favor.
Less really is more. Try a little de-accumulation. You won’t regret it.
What are your secrets for de-accumulation?
Real happiness is cheap enough, yet how dearly we pay for its counterfeit. Hosea Ballou.