Sometimes I think I want a do-over on the whole stuff-acquisition thing. I’d go back in time and tell myself some hard truths:
1. Don’t acquire things just because they are free, cheap or on sale. When you make price the sole determinant of what you allow into your house, you step onto a slippery slope. You can afford lots of things, if they are free or cheap enough, and as your income increases, you will be able to afford even more. You will not be discriminating enough to be sure that what you are getting is something you really want, and your house will soon be overrun with stuff.
2. Don’t acquire (or hang onto) things just because you have room for them. This is similar to #1. Just because you can store 100 boxes of free greeting cards doesn’t mean that you need to take them. Will you ever use that many greeting cards in your life? Probably not. (Even if you can, won’t you be sick of them long before you run out?) That space could be put to much better use.
3. Don’t feel you have to fill every empty space. There is something to be said for spacious, minimal rooms. Overpacked rooms tend to cause stress with their visual clutter. Open spaces rest the eye.
4. Don’t hang onto stuff you are not using. If you know that you are never going to go into the attic and pull something out of one of the storage boxes up there, why do you have them? Just let that stuff go.
5. Even if you are using stuff, it may not be worth the upkeep. Every item you own has to be maintained in some way: dusted, vacuumed, cleaned, sorted, moved, repaired. The less you have, the less you have to take care of.
6. You do not need to be the one-person local historical society. I know, I know, the 1963 Thomas Guide of your neighborhood shows that your street wasn’t even there yet, and the 1947 Fuller Brush catalog is horribly sexist in a fabulous way, and it’s cool to see how the first-ever Creative Memories products were different from those on sale today. However, the city and the folks at Fuller and CM almost certainly have kept that memorabilia – you don’t need to keep it for them.
7. The fewer items you have, the easier they are to keep track of. If you are traveling in Europe with a backpack and a Swiss Army Knife, you always know where that knife is. You use it and put it back in the same place. But when your house is overrun with pens, you can never seem to find one that works at any given moment.
8. Whenever possible, don’t buy. Rent or borrow, instead. I have fallen into the trap of buying books and movies, because the late fees at the library or Redbox are so steep and sales prices are so low. But it’s a trap. Once you buy those, you have to store them. Let the library store the books for you. Or, as Pam and Peggy Young say, let Goodwill store stuff for you.
9. If you have to buy, don’t buy new. Speaking of Goodwill, if you really need something, get it used. You are saving resources and putting things to good use. You’ll generally save money, too.
10. Don’t ever keep anything that hurts you. You don’t need inanimate objects beating you up when you look at them. If that unfinished project makes you feel guilty every time you lay eyes on it, finish it. If you can’t finish it, for whatever reason, let it go. Why suffer over and over again?
I still break these rules. Old habits die hard. But I know that they are just that – old habits – and that they will die, even if it takes a while.
What do you wish you had known when you started acquiring stuff?
- I’m grateful! for a good Girl Scout meeting, and for how lovely my co-leader Bethany was about everything.
- I’m lighter! I got over the first Girl Scout hurdle, I faxed in the tax forms, I returned stuff to people, I paid bills. It was a busy day, but very productive. I also got my leg worked on for the first time in two weeks, so I feel much better.