Image: David Castillo Dominici FreeDigitalPhotos.net
As we are sorting through the things we have collected in China, and deciding what to take with us on our move, I am reminded how much we have an emotional connection to stuff.
I think back to all the things we used to have and the process of our cutting back that took about 3 years to complete.
I think of all the people who have written to me trying to figure out how to cut back, but unsure what or how to give up their things.
Stuff is powerful – our emotional connection to it is huge.
But too much stuff in our lives holds us back.
I came up with 8 different emotions we, as a society, have connected to our belongings that make them hard to give up.
What if I need it? This created hording before Y2K and creates hording for people now. For some it may be years of canned goods, but for many it is extra blankets, towels, empty boxes, wrapping paper, or paper clips. ‘Better safe than sorry’ is the idea behind this.
Counter ideas: Being prepared is a good idea. But what is practical? For emergencies, what is government recommended? For other items in your house, how many do you really need or use in a 3 month period? What would you do if you didn’t have the item? Is there something you could use instead? Would a better way of sorting/organizing make less of the item necessary? How easily can you find the things you need? How much would it cost to replace if you did decided you needed it later? How much maintenance of belongings is spent on things you are holding based on fear? Are you comfortable with that amount?
What do you own to prove your status in life? I can agree to a point with the idea of ‘dress-for-success’ but is it necessary to have the wardrobe, the house, the car, the accessories, the vacations, the gifting abilities and more all just to show others your status in life?
Counter Ideas: At some point this takes over a persons life and the amount of money they spend maintaining their image becomes a revolving circle. Do you want your life to be spent working for an image? ‘Keeping up with the Joneses’ is not a competition anyone can win. Years ago I read The Millionaire Next Door by Thomas J. Stanley and it really changed my perspective. He shows that the people who actually have money are often not the people who look like they have money. Does it really matter how much money any of us have? Do we want that to reflect our value to the world?
How were you raised? How have you been living? Very often it is our habits that dictate what we own more than it is our intentional choices. These habits are related to the other items on the list to make them even stronger. Changing habits is very hard in any area of our life. But since this isn’t a health issue it often doesn’t show up in as obvious ways.
Counter Ideas: Do you want to be a creature of habit? What parts of your life have you chosen and which parts mirror the way you grew up or the way everyone around you has always done things? In many ways, habits are very good for our life, but we need to choose which habits we want to be creating and living out in our life. Making new habits in life based on what you want your life to reflect is always worth the effort.
“I can’t give this toy away, ____ just gave it to me ____ months ago.” — quote from my daughter. How do we keep the value of the relationships in our life without the connection to stuff? Keeping things people gave you because you want to value a relationship can easily turn into a house full of decorations you don’t like, clothes that don’t fit, trinkets from places you never visited, and very little room for things you really love.
Some of my favorite things have been gifts, but many things don’t end up being used or fitting the life of the recipient as the giver intended.
Counter Ideas: Relationships are more important than things and relationships are not defined by things. Gift giving does not prove value of friendship and treasuring a item isn’t the same as maintaining that friendship. ‘It’s the thought that counts’ is true. Both gift giving and gift receiving is fun and it is a way our society communicates but these things don’t need to stay in our lives. Consider giving gifts that are edible, or experience based, that create memories and communicate love that naturally come to an end.
Some memory items can be very special, but having a lot of memory clutter …isn’t special.
Dreams are a good thing in life. They can motivate us – give us hope. But sometimes dreams in our life end up as clutter… or worse, guilt. Holding onto clothes that haven’t fit for years is not adding anything positive into the life. Keeping old music or sports equipment but never using them isn’t motivating anyone. These things that represent things we were, or wish we were, just get in the way of our lives – physically and emotionally.
Counter Ideas: Embrace the current you. Realize there are many wonderful goals in life and that you could probably achieve each of them, but there isn’t room for everything in your life. Choosing what is most important to you at each season of your life means you are choosing against something else. Make sure you are making room for your most important dreams and remove the distraction from all the other ‘good’ things that won’t fit.
6. Perceived duty
Both physical and emotional clutter come from perceived duty. There are things we assume a woman should have and do, or a man should have or do. There are things we believe need to be provided to children. There are things we feel we should own or do based on religion, economics, politics, family history, profession, or even out of respect for the environment. All these things add up into a lot of physical stuff, scheduled calendars, and emotional baggage.
Counter Ideas: We live in a wonderful world where you don’t have to know how to sew to be a woman or own a tool box to be a man. Life, skill, time, and interest divide us all into very different people. Effectiveness and worth are not determined by fitting into societies molds. Doing one thing well is better than doing a lot of things poorly.
It is not cheaper to have a lot of stuff. Just because things are practical or we will use them someday doesn’t mean they need to stay in the house. Food bought on sale but never eaten, clothes that don’t fit well, games never played or extra bottles of shampoo. These are practical things that we all need. At some point we would probably use them. Even a 5 year supply of body lotions will eventually be used. But the space and energy that is needed to hold all this extra isn’t worth it.
Counter Ideas: Keep what you will use in the next 3 months and get rid of the rest. Most extra items in the kitchen, bathroom, or closet end up cluttering the house up for years only to get thrown away when they are past their due date or no longer in style. Holding onto them for the extra years didn’t help anything. Having the space for this extra storage could easily cost $100’s a year and often these items are very cheap.
8. I Deserve It
Getting things because of accomplishments or because of stress is a bad habit. Celebrating and finding ways to destress are great, but shopping out of celebration or stress is a poor way of handling emotions and a terrible way to treat the wallet.
Counter Idea: Celebrating with people or time. Find ways to deal with stress that can help lower the stressor not add to financial stress. Realize that what you do deserve is to create the lifestyle you want.
What are some ways you have changed your thinking to simplify your life?