Dealing with “Stuff”

Mary Lloyd

Mary Lloyd

Living in a consumer culture has one drawback. It means you end up with a lot of “stuff” after a while. This can go on for years without notice, but when it’s time to move, the horror of what you’ve accumulated can be downright terrifying.

I just moved. I’m painfully aware of “stuff.” Since I’ve moved into space someone’s already occupying, there’s also the challenge of dealing with that stuff. So I’ve been making up “rules of engagement” as I try to fit what we need and love in our current space without making it look like a warehouse—or hoarder’s warren.

As basic guidance, I’ve been using a recommendation I found in a self-help book a while ago. (I think it was Martha Beck’s Steering by Starlight—but it’s still packed so I’m not sure.) Only keep what you need, find beautiful, or cherish.

The first hurdle–knowing if you need it to live—is easy. If you use it, you need it. If you don’t use it at all, you can let go of it. (Think holiday Jello molds.) We currently have fifteen bed pillows—and one fulltime bed. Not for long. When I’m not sure, I send this kind of stuff to limbo. I put it in my official “waiting” place, and if I don’t use it in a year, out it goes.

We won’t go in to the difference between what I think is beautiful and what my man friend finds uplifting. (That’s a whole column—itself.) That brings us to the third standard–stuff we cherish.

It’s the “meaningful things” category that’s the bear, especially if you are living with someone. I can assess how important something is to me emotionally. Or I can put it in Limbo while I think about it. But what about my guy’s things? (I’ve already dealt with what my kids left behind.) Those decisions are a bit more complex and involve some interesting explanations.

We need to keep that because it cost a lot of money. It’s not going to cost any more money if we let go of it. In terms of emotional expense, it does cost us to keep this kind of stuff. If it’s not our style or our choice, keeping it is a drain. In terms of overall cost, we’re ahead even if we have to give it away (but we can probably sell if it was expensive in the first place).

It’s family. When I made this move, I put five boxes of manuscripts in the storage unit–my father’s work. No way can I let go of them. I also have the toy box we had as kids—which is really just a crate from someone else’s china. And the bench four of us seven kids sat on at the dinner table. And the pump my uncles used to make moonshine during Prohibition. And … With family items, it’s better to repurpose them than let them go (unless a sibling or child is interested in having them). The toy box holds my writing notes; the bench has become a coffee table.

If you’re the last surviving member of a family with “nice stuff” you can end up living in a museum. A friend inherited all of his mother’s family’s furniture– passed down for generations. He also inherited his brother’s stuff—with some beautiful antiques. Yikes!

I might need it someday. I tend to stash stuff to use in art projects. I still have “plans” for that stuff—be it bird feathers collected in San Diego or gourds from a recent trip to Arizona. For this stuff, I have a different rule. If I remember I have it and can find it when I want to use it, then it’s okay to keep it.

Even with all these “rules of engagement” there’s a lot of stuff yet to decide about. So in addition to limbo, I’m starting two boxes, one for me and one for my guy. Whatever I can’t figure out goes into the box—to deal with later. The caveat, of course, is that when the box gets full you have to decide!


Mary Lloyd is a speaker and consultant and author of Supercharged Retirement: Ditch the Rocking Chair, Trash the Remote, and Do What You Love. For more, see her website:




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