The Idea of Having

26 August 2008 · 5 comments

“You know our house isn’t really cluttered, right?” Kris said last night.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“When you write about your battle with clutter, it makes it sound like we live in a house filled with junk. We don’t. Our house is pretty clean. You’ve just got a lot of stuff you’re holding onto that you don’t know how to get rid of.”

“That’s true,” I said.

Our house isn’t cluttered. Sometimes it gets messy, but that’s my doing. For example, the dining room table has been covered with personal finance magazines for the past week as I worked on a forthcoming article at Get Rich Slowly. Or before that, I had all of our exercise stuff (yoga mats, exercise ball, stretch bands, etc.) strewn across the floor. But it’s not like we have junk all over the place.

Instead, I have piles of Stuff in my office, in the guest room, and in the workshop. Even these piles are moderately neat.

“And you know why you can’t get rid of Stuff, don’t you?” Kris continued.

“Because I want it,” I said.

“You think you want it,” she said. “You like the idea of having certain things, but you don’t actually use them. You’ve got dozens of books stacked in the guest room. They’ve been there for a year. Have you needed any of those books in that time?”

“No,” I said.

“That’s my point. You can’t bring yourself to get rid of them, yet you don’t use them, either. So they sit there. You wouldn’t even notice if you got rid of them. You should just do it.”

As always, Kris Gates is right. The difficulty is forcing myself to move from acknowledgment to action. Tiffany has offered to help me get rid of my Stuff. Maybe I’ll take her up on the offer. Or maybe I’ll just pile everything in the workshop and let it sit there for another year or two…

1 Lane August 26, 2008 at 07:46

The following saying just popped into my head:

“The idea of having allows the idea of sharing.”

As an example, the Watchmen book you loaned me. Your “having” enabled “sharing”, which improved both of our lives.

Now, “having” a stack of old personal finance magazines could allow some “sharing”, but that may not be likely in your circle of friends.

Unfortunately if you take this saying to heart, it will prevent you from getting rid of some stuff, but it may strengthen the quality of stuff you retain.

2 Tiffany August 26, 2008 at 09:16

Jd,

I use an idea that might work for you with the books, every time you open/reference a book, write the date in the front cover. I know you have pencils all over the house. I have used this idea for clothes. This way, I get a realistic idea of the last time I used an item or the lack of recent use. I find it much easier to get rid of a shirt if I know I have not worn it for 18 months, because chances are I will not pick it up to wear in the next 18 months.

3 Denise August 26, 2008 at 15:25

Don’t let them stack up in a workshop or garage where they can get dusty and wet – they could then be damaged and become useless. Then you just have junk instead of stuff and all you can do is throw it away instead of giving it away so that others may find use for said stuff…that is not yet junk.

Just take a deep breathe and donate.

4 Amy Jo August 27, 2008 at 12:19

There is a great essay lurking here. Paul and I talk about the stuff we have gathered over the years from time to time. We both have some many interests, and certain things like books keep up connected to those interests or at least give us the illusion that they do, but they also clog up our lives and make us less efficient at doing what we are and want to do right now. It is hard to let go of things that we believe represent parts of ourselves, or we hope represent us. In many cases, these things represent who we WERE or wished to be at one time, not who we are right now.

5 kelli August 29, 2008 at 02:10

i have a very different idea for you. archiving has helped me a lot. if the question is “have you used it in the last year?” then the answer is “no.” but that isn’t the right question. that question focuses on the past. getting rid of stuff has to do with the future. it’s hard to let go of something we want to do in the future. if you want to remember what books you’ve read, for suggestions or references, you can archive them as a list on goodreads.com, as an excel spreadsheet, etc. you don’t have to keep the actual book when things like books are so readily available in this age. maybe it’s not the book you care about keeping as much as it is about the resource. maybe it isn’t the comic books you want to keep as much as it is that you want to research their value and sell them at the top price. maybe it isn’t about the quilt as much as it is that you want to show your kids that your great aunt knew how to make great quilts. that’s my example, and i took a picture of it. i didn’t want the country looking quilt, but i wanted a reminder of a lifestyle and a story that i hope to tell someday. i’ve tried to keep the (sometimes intangible) stuff i really want to keep without always having to keep the actual stuff.

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