Stuff!

by Beth Hering


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Somewhere between tripping over my son's Hungry Hungry Hippos Game and searching for an empty hanger on which to hang a coat I'd just washed, I decided that the time was right to add more storage places to our house. With great determination, I scoured the Home Depot catalog. There were bookcases, plastic bins, wicker baskets, and metal shelves, all glorious possibilities for organizing our lives. My husband nodded with each passing page (I think he was secretly adding in his head how much all of these clutter-busters were going to cost). Finally, after my seven-minute sermon on the necessity of a shoe rack, he broke his silence.

"Weren't we attracted to this house in the first place because it had such great storage room?"

"Yes," I replied, "But it is all filled."

"With what?" he countered.

"Stuff," I answered. Neither of us was very satisfied with this answer.

I stopped for a bit to reflect on this "stuff." Our house was filled with good-sized closets, a small basement, and a wall with built-in bookshelves and cabinets. We were not packrats with a collection of 50 empty butter containers or a stash of last year's junk mail. Where did all the space go?

I gradually realized that to answer this question, I would actually have to look at the things we owned. This task, I discovered, was much more involved than a round of pick-up; it was a whole different ballgame. Here is what I learned.

Lesson 1: Cleaning with the intention of getting rid of things is different from mopping or dusting. It is a rather emotional, eye-opening process. If you are not in the right frame of mind, do not attempt.

Lesson 2: Admit to yourself that the clothes you hope to one day fit into again are jamming your closet and wrinkling the clothes you actually wear. While you're at it, admit that you wouldn't really want to wear most of those clothes again if you could get into them.

Lesson 3: Take a moment to mourn that your child has outgrown some of the toys he used to play with regularly. Then, get rid of them.

Lesson 4: Forgive yourself for a few bad, but well-intended, purchases. (That processor to make baby-food seemed like a great idea, but those little Gerber glass jars from the store were just so much easier).

Lesson 5: Laugh that you still feel guilty for never using that cute tea set grandma gave you eight Christmases ago even though you never have (and never will) like tea. Your obligation to a gift-giver ends after a proper expression of thanks.

Lesson 6: Enjoy the fruits of your labor, whether that be no more chastising clothes or room for your kids to play without bumping into other toys.

Lesson 7: Vow to save money and space by really considering each future purchase before it is made.

Lesson 8: Ease the queasiness of getting rid of things that are still in good shape by donating as much as possible to homeless shelters, Goodwill, and the like. In addition to being able to write these charitable contributions off on your taxes, you will have the satisfaction of knowing that your items will be helping someone else. (Phone organizations first to see what items they accept and how to go about dropping things off or having them picked up.)

Lesson 9: Congratulate yourself for saving a good amount of money by not having to buy new storage units.

I must confess that I did end up creating one new storage area. A plastic bag now sits discreetly between my desk and printer. Whenever anyone in the household finds something he or she no longer needs, it is to be put in there. When the bag gets full enough to be noticeable, it will be time to make another donation. After all, I never want to overhaul all the storage spaces again; I'm too busy sprawling out on the floor with my son playing Hungry Hungry Hippos.


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