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It’s MINE!

By Justine Dorton

Don’t touch my stuff.

I’ve got very strong feelings about it.

I’ve spent all of my adult life collecting it, arranging it, organizing it, dusting it, worrying over it, and storing it. I’ve had to insure it, pay for it, move it from house to house, file it away for easy access, vacuum it, repair it.

I absolutely need all of it.

Except for those brief moments, in the dead of night, or in the chaos of summer, I hear my head yelling at me, “GET RID OF ALL THIS JUNK!” I always scoff at the thought. But I still use the table decorations from my wedding! I can’t get rid of those. I still need these extra cords from our old camera. They probably fit something we own now. And I couldn’t possibly part with the fancy bucket my mother gave me that has my name on it even though it just sits in the closet all day long.

I need all of it.

Except for those brief moments, trying to get the kids to do their chores, trying to remember where the tape measure is, trying to find a cord that actually meets my needs, I hear my head yelling at me, “GET RID OF ALL THIS JUNK!” I sometimes scoff at the thought. I might use these funny shaped nails someday. I might just make clothes out of these 479 extra yards of fabric I’ve accumulated. I could possibly need this scrap of ribbon for a fancy gift wrapping. Someday. It could happen.

I really think I need all of it.

Except for those not so brief moments when I’m trying to organize the office, trying to get ready for guests, or trying to find one single important receipt buried among 1,000 scraps of paper, I hear my head yelling at me, “GET RID OF ALL THIS JUNK!” I don’t always disagree with the thought. I suppose I don’t actually need to keep this old 35mm camera since we haven’t used it in almost 10 years. It couldn’t hurt to throw away one or two of the hundreds of blankets we’ve got stored. What could be the harm if I didn’t keep the shipping box from LLBean “just in case”?

I wonder if I really do need all of it.

Is my head winning? What would the absolute worst case be if I got rid of all the clothes I don’t fit into anymore? And what about the decorations for obscure holidays? My large collection of slightly used gift bags? Tupperware that might or might not have a matching lid somewhere inside house? Socks that I always say I’ll darn, but then never do? Financial records from the mid-1980s?

I’m starting to wonder if I need any of it.

Please tell me you’ll take my stuff.

About Justine Dorton

Justine is a mother to five children, and has a husband lodged somewhere (probably in the den). She is not very fond of speaking of herself in third person.

34 thoughts on “It’s MINE!”

  1. Stuff, stuff, stuff. Wow, I have a definite problem with stuff too. Why is it that I NEED the stupid Happy Bunny toy and I can get rid of the couch? What is up with that? I woke up this morning and decided I needed to redecorate and find my minimalist self. I gave away my couch and some shelves and a chaise and now I'm wondering what in the world was I thinking?! Why is it I need all the little stuff that clutters up my life and the big stuff can go bye-bye no problem?

    So sorry, I can't take your stuff! My dad always wanted to open a "stuff" store – I think he figured between my mom and I, we could stock it for years.

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  2. I hear that voice too sometimes. I know it comes from Satan. It must. Because everytime I listen to it and give something away, even something I haven't used in ten years, I find I need it the very next day. And then I hear that voice laughing.

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  3. Hmmmm.. I have recently had to do without all my stuff (and I love my stuff) It's all in Hawaii.. (long story) and the fact is that no you don't need it. In fact.. I bet you'd be surprised at what you can actually do without. Anyone can make do.. but if you're anything like me you'll miss it. Alot. So don't get rid of it. Unless you are moving to Hawaii. Then do… but you'll still miss it.

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  4. get rid of (most of) it Justine. Just call the dumpster company. You don't need it. If you don't love it and you don't use it and it doesn't represent an important relationship, then let GO!! Let it bless someone else's life, or send it to a dignified resting place out of your house. Clutter is a mental burden too. I guess I did flylady.net long enough to have absorbed some of her stuff-ruthlessness. I can't take it off your hands but I can help you cheer for yourself when you bag stuff up and say goodbye to it.

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  5. Yep, get a dumpster. And have someone else clean out your stuff. Ask your husband to clean out your things, and vice-versa. It sounds scary, but having someone who is not emotionally attached makes it so much easier. I have gone through so much of my husbands things and thrown out tons. He has never missed it.
    That's the thing to remember–YOU WILL NEVER MISS YOUR STUFF! I promise. Oh and move every couple of years. That will help you get rid of a lot of it.

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  6. I vote get rid of it, too. The more I get rid of, the more free I feel. My problem right now (besides just basic dishes/laundry maintenance) is making TIME to sort through the several years of neglected filing. I have no DESIRE to keep it, but I know there are a few crucial financial documents that I must keep, and I've let things stack up so much, it's no two-hour project.

    Marie C. Rick, from http://www.houseoforder.com says to let your things bless others' lives (oh! like jeans said above). When/if you need them again, they will come back to you. I've seen it happen. One of the very few things I've missed after getting rid of it (and I've gotten rid of TONS) came back to me at a white elephant exchange. Another I found on sale recently.

    Our accountant friend said keep financial documents for three years, but NOT utility bills. Put that shredder to use! 🙂

    I'll cheer you on, too!

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  7. tonya, I'm stiff reeling from the fact you gave your chaise away to someone else and not to me!

    Justine–good luck. I can't tell you how many times I've wanted to order a dumpster myself. I do go on binges of elimination, but it's scary how fast things accumulate again. I'm so tired of stuff! The few days we spent in a two bedroom cabin/condo at Mack's Inn were divine. I thought, "I can manage this much (little, actually) stuff." *sigh*

    Best wishes!

    p.s. I'm very sorry about your basement and all the rest. Good luck with that.

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  8. Parting with stuff can be so hard! I read an article recently about a man who is whittling his personal stuff (not family stuff) down to 100 items. I had the briefest thought of doing that until I realized there was NO WAY I could accomplish that.

    I moved a couple months ago and made a pact to throw out half my stuff. I am almost done with that, and I don't miss any of it.

    Googd luck!

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  9. A very dear friend once told me that our stuff doesn't just take space in our homes, it takes up space in our head. Ask yourself if it deserves the space.

    I am a recent convert to getting rid of stuff. We moved out of our house for a remodel and I decided to get rid of lots of things (ie..fondu pots, extra fabric, etc, etc). I told myself I would live on the bare minimum for 3 months after we moved back in and at that point anything that I still wanted or needed, I had permission to buy.

    Guess what? I only bought a muffin tin and crock pot. I don't miss the other stuff and I know I can get it again if I want it.

    You could do what I do with my 8 year old daughters "stuff". I edit her toys and bag it up and if she can tell me what she is missing, she can have it back. Maybe have someone bag your stuff up and if you can tell them after a month the things you still remember or miss, you can have them back, the rest goes bybye. You will shed 20 mental pounds overnight.

    You will never go back.

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  10. I can't take your stuff. "Stuff" stresses me out. If I own something that I no longer use, it yells at me. "You don't appreciate me! I don't belong here! I'm useless here! Get rid of me!"

    It's easy to keep your house clean when you hear voices. 🙂

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  11. Our family has been discussing the possibility of engaging in a 30-30 experience. I read about this somewhere, don't remember where. Each day for thirty days, you pick up thirty things and either throw them away or put them into a save box. At the end of that time period you are free of 900 things. Whatever you have in your save box, put it in the bottom of a closet, and if you haven't felt a need to look in it for a month or 6 months or a year, then throw it out too, because obviously you didn't need it. That's the idea. We haven't found the moral courage to do it yet, though. We're still in the talking about it stage.

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  12. I actually read about that 100 things guy in the news, too! There's this whole movement of people doing it. Those stalwart minimalists probably don't have five kids, though.

    I really like the idea of having someone else bag stuff up and seeing what I remember, or if I really do indeed come to need it.

    I've gone through several times where I completely rid the house of excess, but Dalene is right. It creeps back into your life SO FAST!

    Wendy, I've got a pile of stuff "to file" that is almost as tall as the filing cabinet. It's so overwhelming to even think about tackling it that it stays hid away in the office so I don't have to look at it! I'm sure I could safely shred 95% of it, but it's finding the important 5% that's killin' me.

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  13. ooohhh, that 30-30 thing sounds good, too! It's so funny, because I wouldn't consider myself a collector, or a hoarder or anything, but I could still probably get rid of 900 things and not even bat an eye!

    I just spent two hours going through the girl's bedroom with them. We've filled three large black yard waste garbage bags. I don't know if they're done mourning, but I'm grinning from ear to ear!!

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  14. Move to another country–and pay for it yourself. Then move back five years later and pay for it yourself. Do this with four children.

    I promise you will have a completely different perspective of what you should and shouldn't keep.

    And you get to help out others in the process.

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  15. I think about this topic a LOT, because I have the mind of a neat freak but the heart of a pack rat. I think if you have an emotional attachment to stuff it's not effective (maybe not even possible) to do like the less-attached say and just toss it all; I think you have to give yourself time to pick away at the piles and grieve as you go. And I really don't believe in throwing away kids' stuff ruthlessly; I think they need to be able to learn to do it for themselves, and also have their space and stuff respected (of course if they are leaving their stuff all over and have been warned, they can lose ownership privileges, but they need to know why.) I say this because I had friends whose mothers would just toss their stuff without consulting them, and they did not like it at all — in some cases, it may have even turned them into pack rats.

    I just managed to toss a large box and several bags of my old clothes, and it was a lot of emotional work for me to do it, but felt great afterwards. One thing I would tell myself is that the things that seemed hardest to part with since they seemed to have the most value were the MOST worth passing on to someone else who might need them — I tried to think more in terms of what I was giving to someone else than in terms of what I was depriving myself of. It also helps me to do it a little at a time — just keep a D.I. bag handy and put things in whenever I have the emotional strength to do so.

    Other math games I play with myself to help me toss things are:

    Think of the space you will acquire by junk-tossing as having a value — even give it a large dollar value, if it helps. Then the dollar value of the items you'll be clearing out of it can be small by comparison, and it will be worth it to do the tossing. You can also think of the space as having an emotional value (it will give you more space for entertaining friends, for your kids to play, for you to do crafts in — whatever brings you pleasure.)

    If you fear you'll miss something later (and I HAVE missed things that I got rid of,) think of the ratio of missed items to non-missed items — and tell yourself that having to replace ONE missed item is worth not having had to deal with the clutter of the other 50 or hundred items that got tossed at the same time.

    I do find it ironic that sometimes we assign so much moral superiority to those who are able to live with less and miss it — since there are many in the world who live with much, much less, and not by choice. And my thought about the man who's paring down to 100 items was "Well, he's a man" — since, as a woman, I like a lot more variety in my wardrobe and possessions (I've traveled enough that I KNOW I can make do with less, and I even enjoy the simplicity of fewer belongings while traveling — but then I'm happy to see my stuff again when I return home, and have more variety again.) I also heard once of a man who advocated a $100 Christmas and was carving walking sticks for his family for their gifts — and I just thought that was silly, and Scrooge-y too — because I KNOW my kids don't want walking sticks for Christmas, and I can't imagine his kids are that much different from mine — so I think he's selfishly imposing a very ascetic ideal on his family.

    I do think that for those of us who do live in such abundance, we can still have a hard time believing we'll really be provided for, so we can act more impoverished than we really are. On the other hand, since as Mormons we DO believe in being thrifty and provident and setting things aside against a rainy day, I really don't think there's an easy or obvious balance to be found — or, at least, I think that those of us (like myself) who struggle to find a balance are dealing with actual challenges and not just mental or emotional frailty. (For those who don't struggle — lucky them.)

    See, I told you I had a lot of thoughts on this subject. 🙂

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  16. Justine, maybe we should have a file & shred party. My sewing desk is covered with bins and boxes full of my filing from the last three years. ARGHHH!!! If we could get Bonnie to take the kids for a week . . . 🙂

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  17. I don't think the problem is so much holding on to stuff as it is buying stuff we don't need in the first place. As Zina pointed out, there's a lot to be said for being thrifty and storing things that we really might need and use in the future.

    Oh, but the stuff we accumulate! For some reason we think we need so much more than we really do. I've seen things like Christmas and birthdays get so out of hand. Our kids get two things for Christmas. Two. We tell them that it's just greedy to expect more than that when Santa has the whole world to take care of.

    My husband travels a lot to very impoverished areas of the world and the stories he brings home has helped our children gain a broader perspective on how the majority of the world lives in contrast to the vulgar excess of middle and upper class America. There's also a great book called Material World: A Global Family Portrait that highlights in a very visual way the difference in the amount of "stuff" people have in various parts of the world.

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  18. For example (I've been looking through the book I referenced in the previous post), here is a list of the total possessions of an average family of six living in India (this is an average family, mind you, not one of the most impoverished):

    1. a wooden chair
    2. three jars containing spices
    3. a metal case containing family papers and photos
    4. a ladder
    5. two cots (one used as a couch during the day)
    6. 2 pictures of Hindu gods
    7. Firewood
    9. a bicycle (broken)
    10. 7 metal pots, 2 glasses, 4 trays, 2 ceramic pots
    11. a basket of crockery
    12. a basket of rice
    13. 3 bags of rice (harvested last season)
    14. 3 blankets
    15. the clothes on their backs

    And that's it! And the family looks amazingly healthy and happy. One of the things that most astonished our teenage boys when they went to Mexico last summer to help build homes for people who were, literally, living in cardboard boxes was the fact that these people had so little, yet were so happy.

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  19. Ohhh….I am totally with Zina on the mind of a neat freak/heart of a pack rat. I get that. Thanks for putting in to words one of my worst frustrations!

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  20. You are not alone…I want to get rid of books. They're a beast to move. Once I've read them I want them gone, but husband likes to keep them. But there are things I can't get rid of either. Like cute baby clothes that certainly won't be in style when my children have children. Kids elsewhere in the world, or down the street, could be getting better use out of them.

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  21. So Tonya calls me up today (before seeing my comment regarding her chaise) and tells me her sister is not taking her chaise after all and asks me if I want it.

    She (as in me) shoots! She scores! She does not have anywhere to put it but she has dreamed of curling up on a chaise wrapped up in a good quilt and with a good book in hand since forever!

    (And this is why I have too much stuff…)

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  22. I am a recovering pack rat.

    I still have pack rat tendancies.

    I just have to school myself and purge. Edit, edit, edit. I went through my two babies' room last week and pulled out four garbage bags PACKED with items bound for D.I. I gave away a rocking chair, a toy chest, and boundless toys. Out! Out! After a fit of deciding I do too much laundry, I cleaned out my closet in the most ruthless manner. Yes, I still hold on to some things but I am getting better everyday.

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  23. You know, I'll tell ya – I've never really had a problem with keeping lots of "stuff." I've always found it cathartic and liberating to get rid of clutter. I AM sentimental, though. I think this is because I lost my parents at an early age and thus always had a longing for things that belonged to my parents. So I keep every card I get from the important people in my life, save keepsakes from places I've been, and take and store lots of pictures.

    But I AM someone who HAS to have the junk drawer organized! lol

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  24. I'm going through my "stuff" in a slow, casual but effective process.

    I realised that I get so stressed looking for sticky-tape/school notices/paper clips that it would work better for me mentally to just have stuff where its meant to be.

    I also let myself forget about doing stuff I thought I should or would one day… like mount DS 1st birthday card (he's now nearly 11), fill in the details in his baby book (10 years of calendars anyone?), learn to paint (I can't stand sticky/oily stuff on my hands – straight jacket anyone?) etc.

    So I've been moseying through one drawer a week, when I feel like it. No pressure. Slow read through some stuff I have no idea why I kept, then toss it out. It is so good to see empty drawers. And once I clean them all out, I'm giving away the ugly drawers as well!

    You have to decide you want to get rid of the not important stuff, and spend your time on what you want to keep, and getting rid of the junk comes much easier.

    Make sure you have a reward for yourself too. Like the ribbon you're keeping – toss it out, then once you've got a drawer or box for wrapping stuff, go out and buy 3 ribbons or decorations you REALLY like… or a really good book =)

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  25. Thank you for posting this. In between housing, we are living with my husband's family for two months. They're great people, helpful, religious, and living in a 3,700 square foot house absolutely crammed with…everything. My MIL saves things because of sentiment. My husband's childhood stuffed animals are still in the attic. When we were newly weds and visiting I tried to sort through it with him, and get rid of them. She was there. We all cried. It was ugly. They all went back in the attic. There are only paths through some rooms, because of everything that's here. My FIL keeps things in case they may be useful someday. Except, because so much is saved, we never can find that "useful" item, and so another copy is bought, and then lost in its turn.

    I'm going crazy here. I never used to be a tosser; I was more of a pack rat. And then I married into this family (my husband isn't bad; he only has an emotional connection to books. Books I can handle; they look nice and neat on shelves, they don't stack up in hazardous piles, etc), and now I secretly throw things away. I secrete useless junk in the bottom of garbage bags, and then fill them up with my daughter's diapers so they won't search through it and "rescue" their belongings. I don't even feel guilty about this.

    Also, they give about 20 things for birthdays and Christmas. Not one CD – five or ten. Not one movie – four or eight. Books. Clothes. Toys. And not just for my husband – for me, for my two kids. I'm going crazy. I try saying things like "I like use-able items." So then I get tickets to something, and clothes, and books, and….

    I'm sorry to vent on here, but my husband doesn't like to talk about it, because it's his family, and I can't blog about it, because it's not anonymous, and I lost my journal in their piles of junk, and I'm going crazy.

    So, to get rid of your stuff, move in with a family like this, and trust me, you'll be lining up to the dump with all your belongings in tow.

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  26. PS – any advice what I can do in this situation? We'll be moving out in a few weeks, but I what I mean is how can I limit their gifts and presents to us? How can I prevent either having to throw out half my daughters' belongings because of inflation of gifts from them? How can I do this and not offend them/keep everything nice and Christian?

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  27. Don't worry about limiting their presents to you; just think of how much the shoppers at Goodwill or Deseret Industries will enjoy last year's gifts from your in-laws.

    Set your personal quota for amounts of stuff. ("We own 20 movies") and anything beyond that goes to charity.

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  28. Anon, I'm going to have to disagree with your practice of secretly tossing your in-laws' junk. They are adults; it's their home; they're allowing you to stay in it with (I would think) the understanding and expectation that you'll respect their space. If it's truly intolerable, make another living arrangement. Even if there's a degree of mental illness behind the degree of stashing they're doing (which sounds likely in this case,) they haven't agreed for you to be their doctor. (But there are many ways people can be unwhole, and all of us probably are in some way, even if ours are less obvious or annoying, so it's often a good idea to start from a position of tolerance and compassion BEFORE we set out to fix people.) It's fine to try to persuade them that they need help, but IMO not fine to impose that help on them.

    So my advice for living with the situation: don't look too closely in the mouth of the gift horse. Try to confine your stuff to your own living spaces so it doesn't get lost in the muck, then bite your tongue and sit on your hands and just tough it out until you're back in your own space.

    Oh, and I've seen various comments on various blogs over the years where people are trying to control their parents' or in-laws gifting, and I tend to have an aversion to that approach, too — again, because gift-giving seems a very voluntary, optional thing to me, and not something where others should be dictating the terms (barring the gifting of truly dangerous items — like if your in-laws were offering your child drugs or firearms.) If you have a sufficiently trusting and open relationship (which you might have to work on if you spent your newlywed time trying to toss your father-in-law's childhood stuffed animals) then you can let people know what you prefer: "You know, I really have a hard time with having a lot of things in our house and having to keep track of them, so we'd love it if you'd be willing to limit our kids' and our gifts to [a designated number.]" Otherwise, you can just let your kids know that they'll only be able to keep the excess items for a designated amount of time, and then pass them along to a thrift store.

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  29. It sounds like you should get a freecycle account. Or post things for free on ksl and leave them on the sidewalk or something or the sort.

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  30. I would say that I'd take the fabric (as much of the 479 yards as you'd like to send – quilters love fabric!) The only problem for is I'd have to find room for it myself 🙂

    I'm with Wendy on the Shred Party. Set aside one week where we all do our shredding (I would say a day – except what are the odds of one day working for everyone's schedule?!?) We could be on to something.

    It is nice to know that I'm not alone in this problem. Somewhat motivating – dh would be SO happy if the clutter were gone. Ok… I would be to. I used to be able to find things, but lately it's gotten difficult.

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  31. Anon – I'm sorry you're feeling so frustrated in your current situation. My husband and I have been housesitting for my in-laws, and it's been difficult for me, and I don't even have them here very often! I've found it's really hard to establish boundaries when you're all in the same house – or at least, for me, when everyone is trying to occupy the same place.

    Now my husband and I are moving out, we've been going through our storage trying to decide what we need. I feel overwhelmed by our possessions. Finally my mother gave me permission to get rid of things, and for some reason having that "permission" helped me prune things I couldn't bear to get rid of two years ago when I put them in storage. My husband probably wishes I would let go of more of it, but It takes me a long time to be emotionally prepared to give up my stuff/junk. I need to get better at this before we have kids.

    I want to be organized and minimalist, but I define myself too much by my possession – I am my cd collection, my books, my set of dishes. There have been a number of good suggestions on how to free yourself from the burden of belongings. I hope I can implement them. Thanks everyone!

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