Thursday, April 12, 2007
Taming the Stuff Beast
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.
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.