Our stuff has the power we give it.
About once a week, it occurs to me how much time and energy I spend on STUFF. Buying it, selling it, maintaining it, returning it, putting it away. This is particularly apparent on days when I wheel by the Salvation Army Donation Center to drop off a box on my way to Target.
This revelation is not a value judgment or praise or criticism or activist mission, just an observation...it takes many forms of stuff to live, to eat, to work, to navigate the world, to survive.
Yet still, I ponder...if I didn't have to "manage" stuff, how much more time/energy/money would I have? Here are 8 things that came to mind...**
Where Your Treasure Is...There Your Heart Is Also
If you've ever subscribed to any type of financial literacy plan, one of the first things you do is look at your checkbook (or online bank account activity or reward points credit card) to see what patterns emerge. This is likely an indicator of what you care about most, what you prioritize most, what might be a candidate for constructive habit change. This is also a Biblical principle.
So what do my "transactions" reveal? In addition to numerous entries for Amazon, evidently, my heart is committed to food and the stuff that goes with food. Trader Joe's, Publix, Chick-Fil-A, a farmer's market or favorite restaurant. Cookbooks. Vitamins. Air fryer, knife sharpener. Javamania, Sawyer Wine Cellars, and Perini Ranch (oooo that expensive tenderloin was heavenly!).
The Amazon entries are deceiving, as you have to look closely to determine exactly what was purchased. Random stuff we can live without shows up in boxes on our doorstep a couple of times a week. You can always tell what my husband's latest "obsession" is by what he orders online (camera accessories, bourbon cocktail accessories, filters for all the appliances in the condo)...and you can always tell my latest interest or obligation by what is delivered for me (special occasion apparel, books, custom-made photo gift wrap).
** Our stuff can say a lot about us.
Donations, Consignment, Garage Sales...oh my...
When I get the infrequent urge to purge, I go gangbusters...Marie Kondo, eat my dust! And there is a system, because even though the goal is to remove the items from my life, I strangely feel more satisfied if I apply some contrived, intrinsic approach to this endeavor. Particularly for clothes. Which ones would my sister wear? I should box these up and send them to her! Oh, this dress is lovely and I'm certain people will recognize the brand, I just don't wear it anymore...Consignment. The Donate Box always has some clothes in it. It also contains a couple of florist vases, several pairs of out-of-style costume earrings, and some random kitchen utensils. And some shoes not "perfect" enough for consignment. Everyone wears a 7-1/2, don't they?
We don't have a garage, nor anywhere to host a garage sale, but that doesn't discourage me from having a dedicated Garage Sale Box. Because someone I know will have a garage sale someday. This box, of course, contains the items I feel certain are worth at least $2.00, so they are therefore "too good" for donation and "not good enough" for consignment. Etsy and Facebook Marketplace can be good substitutes for a garage if the items for sale are valuable enough to deal with customers you can't see.
** Stuff has to go somewhere when we're done with it.
Waste Not, Want Not
I know I can't save the planet single-handedly, yet I often ponder...what if each of us just turned the water off a little sooner? Or brought our paper bags back with us to Trader Joe's? Or saved jars, or switched to cloth napkins and washable microfiber makeup remover pads, or minimized single-use items, or printed on both sides of the paper? I want to do my part!! Reduce, Reuse, Recycle...the 3 R's!
Then what to my wondering eyes would appear on the day of an outpatient surgery where I was surrounded by nurses, techs, anesthesiologists, transporters, and a doc or two? Every single one of them wearing disposable everything from head to toe. Jackets, pants, shoe booties, masks, gloves. I even asked a nurse (just to make myself feel worse), "do all of you throw all that stuff away every single day?"
OK OK, even post-Covid, I get it! But it sure makes intentionally reusing a baggie feel a little less validating.
** Stuff is ultimately going to end up in the landfill or ocean, but even a little less is still less.
Coming And Going
It's rare for me to come in or go out without some form of stuff in tow. I'm carrying a purse, I'm carrying the trash out, I'm carrying an armload of packages to return, I'm carrying in groceries. I'm dragging a suitcase.
When I'm dragging a suitcase, I'm also dragging the stuff I simply cannot live without for a few days. Even stuff I realize is likely not needed, but I packed it anyway.
Because I regularly travel to the same two locations, I also have stuff waiting for me in both places, which I keep there so I don't have to pack as much. Which I do anyway. Often, I notice I've dragged the same top/pair of shoes/accessory back and forth between the same places several times. It makes me laugh! It also makes me glad my luggage has spinners.
Recent family life events have spotlighted yet another curious perspective on stuff.
New babies require tons of stuff, stuff they will only need for a relatively short period of time, stuff not in their parents' possession prior or even considered until the new circumstances become the reality. Specific items designed exclusively to meet their specific needs.
Old people also require tons of stuff, stuff they will only need for a relatively short period of time, stuff not in their possession prior or even considered until the new circumstances become the reality. Specific items designed to meet their specific needs.
** Sometimes stuff is necessary, sometimes it's superfluous, sometimes it's obsolete. Sometimes it's just stuff.
Healthy Respect vs Disrespect vs Who Cares?
Sometimes stuff becomes the tangible form of something else entirely. It can become iconic, revered, or "spiritual" even -- depending on what or whom it represents. In that spirit, was anyone else completely horrified and incredulous watching Kim Kardashian flaunting Marilyn Monroe's second most famous dress at the Met Gala? MARILYN'S ACTUAL DRESS??? I don't know why I cared. But I did...and maybe I still do, I will admit. Grrrrrrrrr........AS IF she simply had nothing else to wear?? And no stores to shop in either?
Deep breath. It's just stuff, right?
In real estate, you see the inside of a lot of people's houses. Which means you also see their stuff. And their stuff sends a message...are they messy? Neat? Up on the latest decorating trends (or not)? Do they read? Collect art? Have kids? Use Crest toothpaste??
A colleague recently tipped me off to a rare find in Clemson...a home near the University on a desirable street listed at $350,000. (Whhaaatttt? In this market??) I was intrigued. This home sent a clear message...its owner was elderly, probably lived alone and was now deceased, had a lot of stuff that had piled up over the years which was now piled up in the middle of the floor in each room. Rooms with outdated wallpapers and border prints, mismatched furniture, old, worn carpet. Yet, the floor plan was appealing...and the location, well, was fabulous. I was intrigued.
I stumbled upon what appeared to be a home office...books on shelves with cracked bindings and yellow pages, a small battered desk, some framed certificates hanging on the wall. So YEAH of course I'm going to take a peek! Who lived here??
Wellllll...who had lived there was a legendary Clemson alumnus and luminary...Colonel (now Brigadier General) Ben Skardon. I caught my breath when I saw his name on a Class of 1938 diploma, an Army discharge, some military awards. His remarkable story of surviving the Bataan Death March in WWII and how his Clemson ring saved his life has become the centerpiece lore of the student Clemson ring tradition...and he left this earth at the age of 104 just last November. I remember the day.
An old man's stuff in an outdated house was transformed into precious artifacts on sacred ground.
** Stuff can be emotional and sentimental when it triggers memories or attaches itself to people we love or admire.
** Secondary note...when you die, someone else will have to do something with your stuff.
Storage Wars & California Closets
A study by the Self Storage Association reports that 1 in 10 Americans pays for storage each month, and most of us are homeowners with an attic or garage. Market research indicates storage will cost us approximately $90 per month this year, for a total of $5 billion.
A self-proclaimed, staunch philosophical opponent of storage units in general, much to my chagrin, I am part of the 10% in this season of life. As I type, the second-hand baby grand piano purchased for me at age 5, along with my late father's antique childhood bedroom furniture, reside "temporarily" in a climate-controlled space in another city. Temporarily in quotes, as the 3-month special promotion at $75 a month has now evolved into a 3-year residency at an escalating rate of $182 a month. This just eats at me!!! If I was getting paid hourly for the time I've spent on relocating these items to a new (free) home, or if I added up the total dollars spent in 3 years (I don't recommend this, by the way), I could have purchased a new piano and a couple of new bedroom suits. Or saved $182 a month about 2.75 years ago by letting them go. Oh well. This is how we roll...we are Americans!
Meanwhile, back in St. Pete, the Jezeks decide our tiny condo with the tiny owner's suite closet is neither valuable nor optimized without a new California Closet system. Duh! If you're going to have stuff at home (and not in a storage unit), well by golly it should appear and also BE organized, right? So 3 months and $8,000 from now, all the stuff we require at arm's reach (like 25 logo'd ball caps, cowboy boots from college days, sweaters we never wear, and bags we never use) will have a spiffy new cubby, shelf, or rack. Not to mention what this will do for RESALE. I can't wait!
Luckily for us and our stuff, the market supports this. There are dozens and dozens of closet system vendors, DIY systems, even humans you can hire to organize your closets for you. The list is endless! I met an organizer/fashion counselor once at a Christian women's retreat who treats this guidance as a ministry...and it literally can be life-changing. At least until you stop folding, stop purging outdated styles, or stop hanging all the short sleeve shirts together.
** Stuff Management can make you feel less anxious and a little more in control. (It can also be expensive.)
And Piles to Go Before I Sleep (apologies to Robert Frost)
I'm a Piles Person. If you're unfamiliar with the term, you probably are not one.
Being a Piles Person means my work style on any type of project (paid or unpaid) is to build piles first, then address each one, whenever and however it makes the most sense to me in the moment. It goes against every single bit of advice you've ever heard or read on efficiency and productivity (both of which I consider core values, ironically). But for me, it works. I know which pile is for what and also what's in it (mostly). And why. I wish my piles to remain intact until I'm completely through with them, which also means my piles often remain exactly where I left them the previous day/week/month/year. This approach also applies to any kind of craft project, holiday gift wrapping, and preparation for a dinner party.
For the record, this practice drives my husband nuts. Those of you who know me (and him) are not surprised by this.
My talented, funny, dear friend Sheila (who is also an excellent professional organizer) taught me how to RAFT, which I've adopted as the overlay of choice for my piles of paper. This means there are ultimately only four piles (one of which completely disappears), which is a marked improvement.
Here's the system:
R = Read (read later, or as soon as possible)
A = Action (do something with this, as soon as possible)
F = File (find a folder that you can find again later)
T = Trash (drop in the waste paper basket and don't look back!)
A modified version of this can also be applied to other stuff, particularly clothing. (See Consignment pile, Sister pile, Donate pile, etc...SCOLD? ha)
** You don't have to be a neatnik to benefit from using a system.
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