Homemaking when Life isn't Perfect -- when you are drowning in stuff -- part 2 of a series

Number of days we have lost with our daughter due to the negligence of the state of Illinois: 47

In the first part of the series, I introduced the idea that we are never going to live a perfect life and our homemaking is going to reflect that. So often our tendency is to wait until things get better to really live our lives. We need to accept our imperfections and move on.

Does that mean that we need to turn belly up and not do anything, though? No, of course not. It just means that the perfect circumstances for really living how you want to live will never happen. We may never have the perfect circumstances, but we can still do something about our environment if it is making us unhappy, and remember the first step is determining what is making your unhappy.

I would venture to guess, based on my own experience and my completely unscientific study of talking with friends and reading facebook, is that 99.9% of what makes people unhappy with their environment is that it is too cluttered and too messy with too much stuff. We are slaves to our stuff. We pick it up. We clean it. We store it. We push it under beds and in closets. We move it from stack to stack. We try to clean around it. And we get annoyed with our family when they don't join in our full-time job of battling it. We only think stuff is making us happy, when the opposite is really true.

Think for a moment about catalogue and shelter magazine pictures. What do you see in them? Actually, the better question would be what don't you see in them? You don't see piles of stuff. You see flat, clean surfaces. You see chairs and beds without piles on them or under them. (You also see monochromatic bookshelves and closets full of clothes, but that's a whole 'nother issue.) We look at these photographs and wished we lived there. It looks so calm, so soothing. We think how easy it would be to clean that space! We think, I could just sit in that room and read and not worry about having anything to do! We look at the photographs and think, "I could breath deep relaxing breaths if I lived in that room!" Then we turn and look at the room we are living in and feel defeated before we've even begun. My house will never look like those magazines. If I only bought what I see in the pictures, then, then! my life would be perfect. And we put more stuff into our homes.

It's not the designer bedding, it's not the art on the walls, it's not the high-end furniture... it's the lack of stuff that we really want. If a room is clean and decluttered, with only the things we really want in it, the walls can be a disaster of paint, peeling wallpaper, and plaster and still be able to breath and be content with it. I share this example, because for the most part, I have removed the stuff I really don't want or need from y bedroom. When it is vacuum and dusted, I can sleep and sew and be in it without undue guilt or anxiety. I actually don't really care what the walls look like. Now, my walls may drive someone else batty and cause them not to be able to rest, but then they would probably have done something about them, oh long about 14 years ago. My point is, what we think is making us unhappy may not be the actual cause at all... there is a good chance that it is your stuff that is overwhelming you.

Now, there are possibly 1001 books available that you can read that help you organize your stuff, get rid of your stuff, and deal with your stuff. There are television shows showing you other people getting rid of other people's stuff. You probably even know that you have too much stuff and wish you could get rid of it. But here is a tip that I don't see written out very often. If you don't let it in your house in the first place, you won't have to get rid of it later. (It's the corollary of the best way to save money is to just not spend it in the first place.) For those of us who love to save money by shopping at garage sales and thrift stores, who think Freecycle is the single best thing about the internet, and who love it when people ask if we want their used stuff, this is a particular problem. We don't really need the stuff we're getting such a good deal on and our homes pile up with our good deals and other people's cast-offs and we feel guilty if we get rid of them because they were such a good deal.

Actually we feel guilty getting rid of them because deep down we know we shouldn't have bought or taken it in the first place. What we were doing when we took or bought that stuff was buy into the lie that at some point when we have purchased or acquired just the right things, our lives will fall into place. If we acquire enough homeschool curricula then we will finally have that perfect homeschool. If we acquire enough books, we will finally find time to read them all. If we acquire enough kitchen gadgets, we will find time to become really good cooks. If we acquire enough decorative objects, our houses will finally look like the magazines. If we acquire enough clothes, we will look like those people in the fashion magazines. If we acquire enough workout equipment, we will finally get in to shape. This list could go on and on. Once again, we are waiting, waiting, waiting for the perfect circumstances, yet in trying to find those perfect circumstances we continue to clutter our lives with unneeded objects and continue in the cycle of dissatisfaction.

What to do? Well, it's easy enough to say give away at least half you stuff. (Other estimates I've seen suggest it takes getting rid of 75% of our possessions to really reduce their hold on us.) If it were easy, no one would have a problem with this, but it's not easy. It is scary to get rid of stuff. We worry we will miss it too much. We worry that we will need it at some point in the future. We worry that we aren't being responsible with our resources. We worry we aren't getting rid of our stuff 'correctly'.

I will admit that I am in a constant state of getting rid of stuff. No matter my best intentions, extra stuff comes into my house, people grow and we cease to need certain things, things wear out, things lose their importance. It is not a one-time thing, but a continual process. I have a place in our house where I routinely put things I'm giving away and when the pile gets to big I get rid of it. It has become habit whenever I pick something up to ask if I really want it enough to bother putting it away. Sometimes I think,"You know, I've never really liked this," and put it in the give-away bag.

Here is my homework for you for this installment:

1. Don't bring new stuff into your house if you don't really NEED it or you don't really LOVE it. Just don't do it. Be aware of what is coming in and why. It is so much easier to control the stuff problem if it doesn't arrive to begin with. Say no to people offering you their stuff unless it is something you specifically need. For instance, I said yes to the used printer because ours had died and we really did need one. I've said no (thank you) to any number of things that we didn't really need, even if sometimes they might have been vaguely nice.

2. Determine if you are functioning with a mind-set of scarcity or provision, and ask yourself which is more Biblical. If you are operating from scarcity, realize that you aren't getting rid of stuff because you are afraid that you might need it later and that God won't provide it in some way. This is different from being responsible with resources, instead it is just plain hoarding. Even the Israelites were not allowed to take more manna than they needed for the day. When they tried, it turned wormy. Has your stuff done the same thing? Besides, by giving your unneeded stuff away, you could be someone else's provision. It's worth thinking about.

3. Don't get hung up with how to give it away. Sure in a perfect world, we would wait to find the perfect recipient for each of the items we wish to give away. Or we keep it thinking how much money we could get from it if we sold it all. Remember, though, we don't live in a perfect world, and I have a feeling that what happens is that stuff piles up, accusing you of not finding the perfect recipient. Or it piles up while we get around to that garage sale that never happens. (I'm not really good at garage sales and they never seem to pay enough to be worth the effort. I know others are much better at it.) Sometimes, especially if the situation is dire, you just have to have it out of your house. Take it to a thrift shop; say yes to the trucks which come around every month or so; donate it to people or organizations who are good at garage sales. But the key point is, once you've decided to get rid of it, actually get rid of it.

4. Remember that this will be an ongoing process with seasons where you can focus more on it and seasons where the emotionally energy required just isn't there. Give yourself some grace if the latter is the case. If you are in crisis, or you have a child in crisis, or for any number of reasons life seems precarious, don't add to your problems by trying to organize as well. It won't go well and you'll just feel guilty. Acknowledge your season of life and focus on that. (Though you can certainly still observe #1.)
Can't get enough of reading about getting rid of stuff? Evidently, I can't get enough of writing about it. A quick search pulled up these past blog posts about it.

Stuff, part 1: Lessons from the Playpen
Stuff, part 2: Lessons from the Too-Small House
Stuff, part 3: That's Entropy, Man
Stuff, conclusion: The Hard Part
Clutter, part 1
Clutter, part 2
Clutter, part 3
Clutter, part 4

See what I mean? I haven't reread them, but a quick glance here and there assures me that at least I am consistent. And these don't even touch on the cleaning and organizing posts...


Dede said…
This is a constant struggle for me. I do so well at times and then I slide back into clutter (so many reasons). Thank you for this inspirational post.

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