Getting stuffed and decluttering

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packing boxThis winter we inherited even more stuff than the stuff we have eliminated in the last 6 years.  Our ongoing attempts to remain minimalist materialists and assume a lifestyle commensurate with conscious living means constant pruning, purging and donating. But this winter we found ourselves as owners of lots of boxes of second hand stuff, stuff that evoked nostalgia and grief.

At first we simply stored the stuff because opening the boxes would mean looking at familiar stuff, stuff that had belonged to two people we dearly loved who are now gone. Now and then we would open one peek in and pull out a memento that led  to laughter and/or tears and then put it back and close the box.

The space is small and the boxes occupied much of it. Worse still our curiosity drew us to open the boxes more and more frequently renewing the cycle of grief. The boxes of stuff held power over us because we endowed them with the power to draw us near (attachment) or to send us scurrying away (aversion).

Well, this weekend I had had enough of the tyranny of the  stuff. I recognized the machinations of attachment and aversion at work within both myself and my husband  and decided we ought to open every box and keep only “the useful stuff”. My beloved agreed and we sprang into action.

He opened each and every box and spilled the contents onto the floor. I cleared a space in the midst of the spilled stuff and sat a large wicker basket in the center of it. Then we began to systematically examine every bit of stuff piece by piece. Items we chose to keep went into the wicker basket and all the rest went back into the box. We sorted through box after box and as each one filled I taped it shut and he carried it out to the truck.

Throughout the sorting process we discussed the origin of this particular stuff, our personal memories of it  and those who had used it. We also discussed what a polluted and stuffed-up world we lived in and how many had sacrificed and continue to sacrifice to feed the North American drive for more and more stuff.  We discussed how we have come to judge people based on the amount of  useless stuff they can afford to purchase because the true costs are not reflected in the price tags.  Then we listed all the businesses, government, advertisers, corporations we would like to tell to stuff it!

Many boxes later it was Sunday and we had one empty box and a wicker basket filled with memorabilia of questionable usefulness. We asked each other: “Do we really need the stuff in the basket?” The answer of course was  “no”. Stuff may remind us of our friends and times gone by but we don’t need it and if anyone else can find an actual use for it then why should we keep it?

The final box was filled on Sunday and we delivered it yesterday to the recycling center along with all the others. As we drove home again we discussed how each of us had quietly accumulated extraneous stuff in our closets, cupboards and drawers that we ought to purge. By the time we drove down the driveway we had decided to embark on a program of doing a little spring cleaning every day.

Last night while going through some bookmarks I had accumulated on my computer I  found some that were directly related to “stuff”. This video below was the top bookmark and after the two of us watched the video, we wept and we hugged, then as we cradled each other and rocked away our blues we re-committed our lives to simple living.

I decided it was time for me to come let go of my attachment to grief, come alive again and start posting to this blog.

Story of Stuff, Full Version; How Things Work, About Stuff

Declutter 101: Where Do I Start?
Declutter 101: Strategies To Cut Clutter
Declutter 101: Staying Clutter-Free


  1. I’ve shifted a lot and sometimes downsized my living space, so a lot of stuff goes. Then as you say there’s inherited stuff. My mum is urging her children to please take her stuff while she’s still here. Years ago, when one of my boys shifted out, he pleaded with me to keep some of his stuff for him. Years later I realised he was never taking it back. I won’t describe what happened, but there was an ultimatum involved. I’d thank you for sharing, TT, but you might take it the wrong way and offer me some of your stuff. :)

    • Hi Mary,
      I think divesting yourself of all your stuff on a regular basis and keeping only what you really use and need is a virtue. That said I have a few items in my closet I cannot part with. One is a 1970’s heavily embroidered jean jacket I worked on years ago and it still fits. Every once in a while I wear if and get lots of compliments. So what I do is wear it on a day I when am feeling down and need a boost. lol :D

  2. This is so timely for me – I am a packrat, I’m afraid. I don’t buy much, but I do cling to things I believe will one day be “useful” (if not now, when?), broken things I have been given to “mend” (when I have the skills) or can “upcycle” to sell (when I have the inspiration and time). Lately I’ve been tempted to pour petrol on the lot and burn it, but that would be polluting :) So, I am currently doing exactly what you just described – albeit I am only at the peeking into boxes part. Wish me well. Your story has inspired me greatly.

    • Oh Bird,
      It’s so good to hear from you. Did I failed to mention my kitchen junk drawers full of stuff I once thought would be useful? We are clearing stuff out but at a slower rate than what we started at. So far we haven’t “acquired” any additional stuff. We just haven’ had time and haven’t attended any garage sales. Summer is happening, albiet it’s been cold thus far, but there’s grass to mow and gardening to do – yay!

  3. […] now the owner of two flower presses. The second press was my friend’s and it was one of the sentimental items I rescued from clutter in a  cardboard box and placed in my wicker basket.  I won’t be giving it away because I have strong feeling that […]

  4. Hello Viviana,
    It’s good to hear from you and of course you are right. The process we went though confirmed to us that memories are all wee need and we have them – no stuff required.

    Stuff may remind us of our friends and times gone by but we don’t need it and if anyone else can find an actual use for it then why should we keep it?

    I hope you are doing well.

    With love,

  5. It is interesting how we tend to accumulate stuff and realize that cutting out all that clutter opens up a whole new world of discovery. We can hold on to memories, our experiences, thoughts, and feelings without holding on to stuff.

    Thanks for sharing.

  6. This is such a sad yet beautifully uplifting post. It takes real courage to deal with this stuff.
    One of the most difficult things I have ever had to do was clear my mother-in-laws home after her death. Things that were of no intrinsic value but dear to her were the hardest to let go of. There was so much stuff, boxes and boxes of it.
    I try today to live by the rule, for every one thing that comes into our home, two things must go. Idea is within 2 or 3 years we will have pared down enough to sell what is left, hitch up the caravan and go travelling for a couple of years.
    “There are no shelves in a coffin nor pockets in a shroud”..

    • @Ladygoodwood
      “There are no shelves in a coffin nor pockets in a shroud”…
      The quote is dead on (pun intended). It was an extremely painful winter and the decluttering process was a difficult one to go through. Going through one’s own stuff is one thing but going through another person’s stuff is quite a different matter. As you went through the clearing up process after your mother-in-law’s death I’m sure you know what I mean. In this case those who passed over unexpectedly were my best friends and every item brought back memories of hopes and dreams we had shared. Thank you for visiting this blog and also for commenting. I’m having a very busy week but I will be visiting yours next week.

      May peace with with you always,

  7. I’ve repeatedly been forced to declutter (sometimes even start all over with nothing,) so I don’t find it very difficult anymore. My move to New Orleans was very small & compact (& I haven’t accumulated much since then…except for my darned funky glass collection, which I have little control over.)

    • @Lana
      When I was younger I did move frequently and that led to frequent purges of accumulated stuff. However, I haven’t moved for a long time not and the cracks and crannies are filling up with useless stuff.

      P.S. Your funky glass collection sounds very interesting. :)

  8. Hi TT, It is common to want to hold on to things,
    I admit I do hold on to things sometimes for sentimental reasons. But then remind myself they are just things. As a reformed packrat, (-I can always see a future use for an object) with too many projects going on and a list of potential ones…I have to really set limits for myself. I like how you put it…the “tyranny of the stuff”…it can overwhelm your life if you let it. It feels much better to be free from its control.

      I’m so glad you could identify with what I was describing and feeling. I still have clutter of my own that needs to be boxed and donated so I take a little time each day to do some sorting.

  9. This was a very touching and meaningful story. Thanks for sharing it. The grief ritual takes the time it takes, and you are entitled to take it. It’s been part of our de-cluttering process also. Now that we will absolutely not be able to keep so much stuff (because of our lovely new smaller-sized home) I think we will be able to finish it.

    • Hell Mike,
      Thanks for understanding how intense grief can be. It’s sad sad to witness the remnants of life’s leftovers in cardboard boxes. It’s not a linear process. I’m up and then down but the intensity is diminishing now. Best wishes with the new place and your downsizing too.

  10. Hi TT,

    It’s been a long time again since I commented on your blog, and this one made me smile and I actually did this a week ago, I got rid of my stuff and gave it to someone else. You’re right when you said “Stuff may remind us of our friends and times gone by but we don’t need it and if anyone else can find an actual use for it then why should we keep it?”

    I gave some of my things that are unused and needs some few repairs and keep only those I need. Nowadays there is this never-ending wanting attitude among people, buying things that aren’t necessarily and a real waste of money, over consumption I mean.

    Thank you for this post and have a good day!

    • Hello edgecrosser,
      It’s so good to hear from you. We are still sticking to our plans and every day we take a few minutes out to go through a drawer, cupboard or closet and put the stuff we rarely if every use into a box destined for donation.

      An elderly gentleman we know was speaking to us after one of the memorial celebrations of life we attended. He used to rattle around in a 4 bedroom home after his kids grew up and his wife died. Then he decided to build a small cabin for one on another small lot and when he was done he sold the big house and moved in.

      Now he has the minimal requirement for the needs of one person and intends to accumulate no extras. He plans to have outdoor dinner parties in the summer and his plans include placing plywood sheets over pairs of saw horses to create tables. He also plans to tell everyone he invites to bring their own chair, dishes and food and take them home again. The first party will be on Canada Day (July 1st) and I can’t wait to attend. :)

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