On Accumulation and Downsizing

People spend their entire lives accumulating stuff. Sometimes that stuff is useful, sometimes it serves to help define who we are as people, or can augment our personalities, make us feel at home. But most of the time, it is just stuff; stuff we don’t need, and even sometimes stuff we don’t really want anymore, if ever, but can’t get rid of it. They were gifts, or heirlooms, or memorabilia from that “special day”.We buy things that we think will help us organize our stuff, contain it, and allow us to keep it. Even if we don’t look at it in years, when we find it again, we have memories and emotions that keep us storing these items that add no true value to our lives beyond their mere existence. We feel like we are somehow not normal or lacking as a human being if we even think to discard the things we accumulate in our lives.

I have been living in my current house off and on since I was 12 years old. I moved in with my mother, who owned the house. We moved out when I was 16, and then I moved back in with a friend when I was 17. I moved away for a few years, joined the military, got married, had a son and moved back into this house at 22.

Over the next few years, my mother moved in with all of her stuff, and I had my second child. All 4 of us (and for a short time my daughters father) and all of our belongings, were trying to live together in an 800 sq ft, 2 bedroom, 1 bath house. I felt that we needed more space, specially so my mother could have a space to call her own.

Perhaps I went a bit overboard, but in 2004 we ended up adding another 1700 sq ft to the house, a two story addition that included 3 bedrooms, a living room, dining room and office.  We now had a roughly 2500 sq ft house!

Having such a large house worked out wonderfully when Michael moved in. We had plenty of room for all the kids, and managed to move all of Michael’s belongings in with little issue. For the next seven years we lived slightly cramped but comfortable in this huge house – all 7 of us. Over time we have added cupboards, shelving units, and bought storage bins to hold our stuff.

Now that all but one of our kids have moved out, the house is much to large and we have far too much stuff. And with our plans to move into our approx 1000 sq ft cabin in the woods, we will have to reduce the lifetime accumulation of junk that 2500 sq ft has allowed us to acquire and store.

Once again my research mode kicked in and I looked up the many ways people use to help them downsize or purge their accumulation of belongings…

  • The sticky dot method.  You buy dot stickers and put them on EVERYTHING in your home.  As you use these items you remove the dot. At the end of a predetermined amount of time, typically a year, anything that still has a dot goes.
  • The bin method. You pick one room in the house and put 3 bins in it.  You fill all the bins until nothing is left in the room (except maybe the furniture you are keeping)
    1. Good will box (or yard sale box, if you choose yard sale, anything that is left at the end goes to good will, or has a free sign on it)
    2. Trash box (or just your trash can). This is seriously for anything that needs to go in the trash. Stained cloths, broken or chipped items, personal items you don’t intend to keep, such as the candy dish you made when you were 4. Old receipts, tax statements, bills, etc.
    3. Keep box. You can put the stuff away when you are done.
  • Similar to the bin method is the list method from Life Hacker: “Ideally, you’ll make three lists: Must haves, can live withouts, and things I could replace. Your must haves obviously need to come with you. Your “live withouts” are the things you could sell, donate, or get rid of entirely in some fashion—or at the very least aren’t necessary. That doesn’t mean you’ll get rid of them, just that if space becomes a concern, they’re the first ones to go. Your “could replace” list should be reserved for things that you could potentially sell and buy something smaller that you’d like, like a smaller TV instead of the massive wall-hogging monster you have now, or space-saving furniture compared to the huge sectional couch and recliners you may own today. Plus, taking a full inventory of your things is a great way to make a detailed home inventory, for that renter’s or homeowner’s insurance that you should absolutely have.”
  • Scaling Down: Living Large in a Smaller Space: I purchased this book to help walk me through some of the more emotional aspects of scaling down. Some of the things that I own, that I really don’t NEED are the things that my mom left me when she passed away. Having to decide whether to part with things that I have lived around since I was a child is very emotional. Michael and I both have family heirlooms and furniture, and an accumulation of memorabilia, etc, that will be difficult to part with.

Some things I need to downsize that should be easy:

  1. Clothes and shoes that no longer fit or that I no longer wear. (When I lose the weight I will NEED clothes to fit into, right?)
  2. Probably everything stored under my bed. (every time I look at these I find reasons to keep them.)
  3. excess dishes our smaller household no longer needs. (I have trouble with this too… what if a dish breaks???!!!)
  4. Excessive craft items. (but I might take up scrap-booking (or jewelry making, or gourd crafts, or…) again when I retire and have more time. Homesteading will give me LOTS of free time… right?? Hello??)
  5. Photos and photo albums. (Because I need all those pictures I took on our road trip, from the car window, at 70 mph, so what if they are blurry and look like every other set of trees on the planet… what’s your point?)
  6. Extra extension cords that might fit something I might find later, because I can’t remember what they go to, but they must go to something, so I will keep them in this drawer until I find it.
  7. Ok, I can’t even think about it anymore cuz my brain hurts…

As part of our property here, there is a second house that currently is under construction. In the next year, our plan is to fix up this smaller house and begin moving in. This will help force us to make some of the tough decisions regarding what is truly necessary. The idea is to keep only those things that truly ad value to our lives, and in so doing we can begin to unburden ourselves of this huge house with it’s equally sizable utility bills, and physical, mental and emotional upkeep.


3 thoughts on “On Accumulation and Downsizing

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