Thursday, April 12, 2007

Taming the Stuff Beast

In January 2005, Dr C and I came to the conclusion that our lives were perfect in every way. Obviously it was time to take a 90-degree turn and do something else. Peace, great jobs, privacy, beautiful home, gorgeous healthy children notwithstanding, we weren’t particularly happy. There just wasn’t enough time in the day to be both rich and sexually satisfied. We can talk about noble aspirations to spend more time with the children, have an adventure, see the world. But what it was really all about is getting more and getting it more frequently.

At least for him.

Okay, for me too.

The first thing that became clear is we had too much Stuff. Having lived for nearly a decade in the same place, we possessed so many things we had filled our house, our garage, Dr C’s business storeroom, and the laundry room. We had things in cupboards and items in drawers. We even had Stuff that had its own stuff, like the vintage Mustang in the garage that had its own set of tools, battery charger, and spare parts inventory.

So we embarked on a furious weekend of purging. Yes, purging. This is the process in which you poke a stick into your house, and it vomits up bags of old clothes and dusty kitchen gear. Out came half packages of diapers (last child potty trained in 2002), toddler bed sheets, and three entire bags of baby toys. We unearthed unmailed Christmas cards from 2003 and a bag of bathroom supplies gathered at the last minute from our house in Philadelphia and stuck in a drawer in the bathroom in Seattle when we moved in ten years ago. Nine mini-vans full of “stuff” went to the dump or the Salvation Army, and I spent two furiously spam-filled weeks during which we freecycled enough junk to fill a yard sale.

Brushing our hands off, we looked around at the newly cleared house smugly, pleased that we had already taken a first, critical step in simplifying our lives. The problem came six months later when we were once again carefully threading our way through the basement, stepping over and around boxes and boxes of Stuff.

There is only one, inescapable conclusion to be drawn from this experience: Your Stuff is alive.

Once you accept this, you can easily accept the corollary: Your Stuff breeds.

Stuff multiplies, it divides and spreads like ooze over the healthy patina of organizational simplicity. It creeps into open drawers and between gaps in the suits in your closet. And like roses harshly pruned in the winter to encourage vibrant new growth in the spring, your Stuff rises to the challenge of the occasional purge. It surges up in a tidal wave of unused kitchen gadgets, boxes of high school memorabilia and unopened cans of refried beans purchased at rock bottom prices from Costco in a mercurial flurry of penny pinching.

If you attack your Stuff, it fights back. This is not a single campaign, mind you. It’s a war, and I am calling on all of you! Rise up and challenge this beast! Do not be fooled by the promises of mercenary soldiers in this war such as California Closet and Ikea, promising a neat and tidy solution. Ultimately, beating back your Stuff is a day-to-day, ground-level encounter that requires constant vigilance and steady nerve. You can’t do it in one weekend. In fact, we simplified our lives in fitful waves as my temper blew at tripping over something for the umpteenth time.

See, Toast? It All Fits
See, Toast? It All Fits
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.
Our most recent and frantic reduction in worldly goods came as we moved into the basement. We found tenants to take the top and main levels of the house while we consolidated into the bottom floor and on to our boat for the summer. While the basement is roughly twice the square footage of the boat, it is still a very small place. There is no room for Stuff. Everything needed to have at least two, if not four to seven, useful functions or it didn’t survive my latest scrimmage against it.

There are two bits of good news: 1) We fit in on the boat and 2) the total book value of what we donated to tax deductible charities this year will far exceed our annual income. The bad news is that I heard a rustling noise in the laundry room where Dr C has been stashing his “important tools.”

I think the Stuff is organizing for a comeback.


Anonymous said...

It's alive! I love it!

(You've got to do something about your timestamps, though - there's no way this was posted a week ago ;-) Written a week ago, perhaps - published/posted? Not so much...)

Toast said...

True enough! Now Toast learns how to pre-date articles. I'm on the road with the kids visiting the Elders in CA. I loaded up articles in advance and just published them from the black hole of 9,600 baud. (Swear to god, that's what I was working on...)

THANKS for the tip. I'll back fix several other posts.