Stuff and Nonsense: How Our Possessions Possess Us

A pile of random stuff. Text: Something for Sunday; July 7, 2019; Stuff and NonsenseWe recently got new carpet installed in every room upstairs. We’re excited about getting rid of the 30-year-old stuff, but what we hadn’t been prepared for was the task of clearing out everything from all those rooms so the installers could work. We could leave the big stuff (the beds and dressers) but all the drawers had to go, and the chairs, and containers, and everything on top of all that furniture. We crammed stuff in the family room, in the basement, up on closet shelves, and most of all in the second upstairs bathroom nobody uses now that the kids are grown.
The image shows a very small part of that room. Until we went through this process, we hadn’t realized how much stuff we had. It took days to get it all cleared out, and it will be weeks before we get it all back where it belongs.

Though we kept a lot we don’t need, we are not hoarders. Compulsive hoarding is actually a serious, diagnosable mental disorder, which involves keeping things to the point where it causes significant problems with health and safety. It is closely associated with anxiety disorders, including obsessive compulsive disorder, and sometimes with dementia or schizophrenia. Fortunately, that doesn’t describe us. When things are broken or no longer useful, we get rid of them. To take just one example, I recently donated two old cameras to the photography program at my school, even though I felt really attached to them. There are no rooms in our house too crammed to get into. Well, except that bathroom. As I write this we’re going through and discarding a lot of what’s there, including papers from my kids’ elementary school days, keeping much less than we’re getting rid of. By the time you read this, it will be once again empty and ready for guests to use.

That’s not to say we couldn’t still stand to get rid of more stuff. Like many fortunate people, we definitely have more belongings than we need. Researchers at the University of California have documented that middle-class Americans have more possessions than any other group in history, and that this can lead to high levels of stress. This short video describes the cluttering of America and the effects it has had.

Now that we are both retired, we’re going to start working through our belongings systematically. We expect we’ll want to downsize before too many more years, and that will be so much easier if we’ve cleaned things out a bit before then. Our future selves will be grateful for whatever we can do now. It’s time to take charge of our possessions.

Do you have too much stuff? How do you relate to your belongings?