Wednesday 26 March 2014

Does Your Stuff Own You?

I'm decluttering and decluttering and decluttering.  I've been doing it for two months and I'm still nowhere near done.  Stuff was taking over my life!

That sad part is, as a professional stager, it was my job to go into someones home and pry their junk away from them so the house looked nice enough to sell for the best possible price.

All my bookcases aren't enough to avoid these stacks of books on the floor. ~

I know all the psychology of helping someone let go of things that are weighing them down and making their life more difficult.  Yet, in my own situation, I don't stop and think about how difficult it is to run a vac over a floor that has books stacked on it.

What I like to call a craft room has become unusable for anything other than hiding stuff. 

Fabric spills out of shelving units ~

and can't be made into anything because the sewing table is piled high with stuff. ~

When the table is full, just pile it on the floor. ~

It wears me out.  It makes everything more difficult, if not impossible, in all this mess.  

I tackled my bedroom first and it felt so light and airy with all the clutter removed that I was inspired to make this craft room usable.  It's not finished, but two days of hard work have made an amazing difference and there is light at the end of the tunnel.  

All the time I worked, I thought of the difficulty in balancing sentiment and practicality.  You can't keep every single thing that meant something to you in the past.  Some of the kids art work has to go, right along with the birthday cards, fabric scraps and almost empty spools of thread.  Some things need to be passed on to someone who can use them, too.  My sister called and told me she was going shopping. When I asked her where, she said, "Your house.  I need a lamp and an end table and you have all kinds of them stored over there."  True enough.  I could give her a choice of four lamps and as many end tables.  It was a relief to see it gone!

I also thought of a young fellow that worked for me at my recording studio in the 80's.  He seemed to have no attachment to material possessions.  He lived in a single, rented room in someones house, didn't own a car and kept everything he absolutely needed to function, in the army surplus backpack he carried everywhere with him.

I never saw the slightest hint of jealousy or competitive behaviour in him and he was helpful to everyone he worked with.  He cared deeply about the music he worked on and was the ideal assistant engineer.  Money was never an issue with him.  He didn't really need much.  Time wasn't a problem either.  No matter how late the session ran, he kept right on working and was happy to catch a nap on the couch in the lounge before the next session started.  After all, he had all his stuff in that knapsack and he could be right at home no matter where he was.  

He became a recording engineer and was so well respected that a world famous engineer invited him to work as second engineer on a very prestigious album being recorded in England.  It was a simple thing for him to pick up that knapsack and cross the Atlantic.  I would see him when he came home to visit his mom and he never changed a bit.  I think it was still the same grey wool coat he wore and I'm sure it was the same knapsack that came back with him every time.  

In a few years he rose to the top of his field and moved on to producing albums that were critically acclaimed and earned him an enormous annual salary.  He bought a flat in an expensive London neighbourhood and had it professionally done up.  He deserved the success that he had earned without ever hurting anyone to get there.

One day he had a call from a musician in Africa, asking if he would come and work on an album with him. Today, this musician is considered a pioneer of modern world music.  But, as popular as he was in Africa, the budget for making an album was very small.  My friend admired the musician and was a fan of his sound but he couldn't walk away from offers of millions to earn a few thousand. He turned the project down.

That night, he came home to his flat and stood there looking at all his stuff.  He picked up the phone and started calling everyone he knew.  Did they want anything?  A stereo system, couch, artwork, dishes?  He gave all of it away.  Every single thing!  He called a real estate agent and told her to put the flat up for sale immediately at a price that would ensure it sold quickly.

His last call was to the African musician to tell him he would be on the next plane and ready to work as soon as he arrived.  

"No, don't worry about getting me a place to stay.  If there is a couch and a shower available at the studio, I'll have everything else I need with me.", he said.

His stuff wasn't owning him anymore.  

It all fit in here and was ready to go wherever his heart led. ~

Isn't there a little part of us all that wishes we were him?

I think I can let go of quite a few more things and maybe my heart will sigh a big sigh of relief!


  1. That is an amazing story! I shop my house, my sisters house and my Mum's place, I think we all have a little of the hoarding but a couple of years ago Jules was offered a job in Sydney and the idea of trying to get rid of most of our stuff to move interstate actually made me feel ill and anxious. When something else came up in Melbourne and he decided to stay in here I can't begin to tell you the relief. On the other hand I really do need to get rid of some stuff. It serves no purpose and if it's been in the garage for more than a year then (something have been in there for 7 years) then I really don't need them.

    Good luck with the declutter xo

  2. I loved reading the story about another inspiring individual and I hear you Maureen. I'm a hoarder but I truly try to live by the William Morris quote, that I have to love a thing or it has to be useful. Music is obviously his passion but interiors are mine and I would feel at a loss without stuff to play with !

  3. That is such an interesting story, Maureen. I've been in cleaning mode this week too and with all the 'stuff' I've collected/inherited I'm ready to let go of some of it. My problem is some of it has some value and I don't want to just give it away. I guess I'm still greedy and would like some money for some of it but I don't know how to sell it. KIJIJI??? lol So, it sits in closets and boxes waiting to be disposed of. A dilemma. I totally understand what you're saying. We are too comfortable with our things and we could do with a lot less. Great post!

  4. I've been really struggling with this lately as well. I keep looking around our house and thinking, wouldn't it be lovely if we cashed it in and got a tiny little place, big enough to have the family over if we cleared the stuff out of the living room and put up a table, but not so big that the cleaning alone would be overwhelming. Spending our time and money on experiences that lit up our souls? Sigh.

  5. Ok, I think i love him....

    and Yes! There are too many wonderful things in the world to have, or make something with, and it's so hard to toss things when you can imagine it a certain way or helping someone... but the fact is... having an uncluttered space is even more wonderful.. for me it's quite a struggle to keep from holding on to "stuff"


  6. I've been working at downsizing since last summer and it's amazing the difference it has made. I will never just live from a backpack, not my style, but less stuff is very freeing. Now I'm trying to impart that to my Mom as we downsize her!

  7. This is a wonderful story Maureen. It actually gave me goose bumps because our/my need for stuff has always intrigued me. I've discovered that I thrift more in the winter, which is funny because that's when I have less space to store things. I guess it's a nesting/hibernating thing. Not really sure, but it gives me a strange comfort somehow. That said I do only thrift things that I love or think I can use, and I try to stick to the rule of 1 thing in and 1 thing out. Every spring I do an annual purge when I spring clean and it feels great. Looking forward to getting to that soon. I'm waiting until I can open up the windows and let some lovely fresh spring air into the house.

  8. For me decluttering has become a way of life with a donation bag on the go at all times. I am love the feeling of space! That said, I need to leave right now to go do some decluttering. Great inspirational post - thanks.

  9. We got rid of a ton of stuff last summer. It was hard to let go of some of the cards and letters the kids had written me, but I scanned them "to the cloud" and they're available to me whenever I want them. And I don't have to shift boxes out of the way to get to them! High school stuff was hard to part with too, but again the scanner took care of the most important things. We're blessed to be in a situation where, if I've gotten rid of something it turns out I need, I can replace it.

  10. What an encouraging story about that engineer... it is amazing how belongings put a charge on us so its hard to give away. I am always decluttering and again like you, if anyone in my family needs anything they come to me first to see if I have it hidden somewhere in my house! I love the fact of him carrying all he needed in his bag, but he didnt have people to carry with him... but the idea is fine.. I believe that I can start over again any time and if it was all to go tomorrow, I could start over and be happy enough.. we cannot take it with us, so just enough, should be the best way to live... now I better get back to the room calling out for me to take the bags to the charity shop!! Hugs from across the pond.. janzi

  11. The following is a link to an article that, for me, was life changing -- which is not to say that I need someone with a machete to come to my house and have at it. But it has helped.

  12. WOW- I LOVE that guy. I wish I had a bit more of that in me...that I didn't LOVE my stuff...that I could freely give away all I could and live a simpler. less complex life. I think God would approve of the way your friend gives of himself and asks for nothing of import in return. xo Diana

  13. ok Maureen - this is so very bizarre - I'm sitting here surrounded by crap - and contemplating listing items ( furniture ) for sale - and your face comes to my mind - and I get up and come over for a visit and YOU HAVE THIS POST UP ??????
    I've got chills ( they're multiplying )
    I can't tell you how I devoured every single word of this AMAZING post - and I'm sitting here shaking my head.
    You just made it so much easier to get rid of some pieces I've been holding on to ( for no reason other than that I like 'em - there's no sentimental value to them even - which is even more pathetic )
    WOW - I still can't believe this!

  14. Oh what a wonderful and meaningful post! What an admirable young man! I have often been attracted to the minimalist style, but am afraid i could not do it! I know I'll find lots of stuff when I move and I'm hoping to make quick decisions on keep or donate! You go girl and i'm looking forward to that finished craft room post!

  15. What an incredible post!! We have far too much stuff. I get rid of stuff and more stuff comes in. I need to get on that.


  16. Oh this post brought tears to my eyes. A lesson learned. Thank you!

  17. Great post, Maureen! So inspiring and so much truth about all the stuff we accumulate. I'm not a saver, but I still have lots of goodies I can't pass up. Even those I've been selling in order to clear out.
    Mary Alice

  18. Love this post Maureen ... I don't think I will ever to really declutter. I bring in more than I get rid of. This past summer, I had a huge garage sale and gave away lots of stuff, but you would never be able to tell it. I keep trying, but failing. You are inspiring and just maybe I will follow your lead.
    Audrey Z. @ Timeless Treasures

  19. Thanks for visiting me today, Maureen. I don't know why your blog keeps dropping off my list. Did you know that you are a NO REPLY when you leave a comment again?
    I am decluttering, too. I am visiting my daughter's house and I am helping her declutter while I am here. Right now we are sorting kid's clothes for a big city-sponsored kids' clothing sale. xo Diana

  20. Thanks for the post Maureen. I have been doing just that too. Trying to declutter. I have way too much stuff. I can't find my dining room table anymore. And that "craft room" is so cluttered that I can hardly open the door. My daughter and I eat on TV tray in the living room. A lot of the stuff is from my parents. I have been selling some of it on eBay and at church yard sales. I just went through half of my closet and I have at least 3 large trash bags filled with clothes that I can not wear any more. I have been washing for days and listing on eBay. Wow! What a job it is to declutter. Easy to bring home, but hard to part with. Good luck to each and every one of us trying to declutter.

  21. Hi Maureen, In the end we can't take it, but the 'stuff' sure piles up. I have been working on making 'less' stuff but can only deal with my own stuff. Others in the home have to make their own decisions. I have just spent 2 weeks boxing and removing stuff. Small dent. Very inspired by your post.

  22. I love this post, it speaks so much to how I feel. I keep thinking that I'll make some thing or need and item. I HAVE to get rid of some of this STUFF before it gets rid of me!!! Thanks for the beautiful and inspiring post.