With Black Friday looming on November’s horizon,

it is a good time to write about stuff. I don’t mean that in the vague, sort of I-don’t-know-what-to-say way. I mean, literally, the stuff overflowing closets, attics, basements, and—whoa, the garage we drove by last night (on the way to the store)—causing the need to rent storage. 

Americans have too many possessions.

That’s not news, is it?

The National Association of Productivity & Organizing Professionals (NAPO) started in 1983 and has 3,500 members. That a group exists for the purpose of getting people, and our goods, organized tells us that something is awry with how we live.

Americans hear that we have a stuff-problem the way we hear we have an obesity problem. What are we doing about the overconsumption of both food and purchases? What makes people keep stuff? Food included? What makes us consume more than we need? Instead of not-accumulating more, the storage rental business is booming. I chuckled when one was built beside Costco.

Hoarding became a household term, defined by The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, in 2013. Minimalist me has come across the occasional person who owns, to my mind, too many things for their inhabited space. I didn’t understand the extent of the problem until I gaped at Hoarders. The show has been running since 2009, but I’ve never watched a second episode.

We’re not neat freaks, but husband Alex and I are tidy. Our house is clean and clearly lived in. Flowers are drying on the baker’s rack, my getting-red-inked novel is on an end table, and one bathroom is under remodel. Visitors see that we live in our home. Except for our only storage space (split level homes lack) under the entry way stairs, there aren’t hidden stashes.

When do we eliminate belongings?

I started to actively, consciously, get rid of possessions after my twentieth post-college move. Dragging boxes home-to-home and state-to-state wore me out. With one disastrous Allied Moving Van experience under my belt (hmmm, haven’t thrown belts out for a while, I’ll do that), I’ve self-moved the rest of the time. AMV lost important items. Not dishes from Target. They lost heirlooms and broke my heart. Like the jingle bell bracelet Miles gave me in fifth grade. I wore that bracelet every Christmas. No lie, Miles, I did. It made me smile with kid enthusiasm.

Cleaning, I slipped on a t-shirt purchased during the Italian sister trip when our luggage was lost for seven of ten days. It’s faded to gray, the sleeves have shrunk to above my wrists, and the bottom hem is unraveling. I’m cleaning—should I buy special clothes for the task? I don’t think so.

Large array of colorful clothing strew across a bed
There’s a reason for the luggage explosion

The Griffith men are the epitome of anti-consumers, as are Alex and my brother-in-law, John. They share the Dad and brothers-Griffith trait of wearing clothes until the word frayed doesn’t begin to describe their condition. I remember holding a Dad t-shirt (Fruit of the Loom, grey, pocket mandatory to hold his pack of cigarettes) up to the light and seeing his face through it. He grinned and said, put it back in the drawer, I’m not done wearing it.

John? I’ve seen him leave for work wearing a shirt that once had long sleeves. After he blew out both elbows, Jackie cut off the arms converting it to short sleeves. He is a master stonemason, so his attire during the workday matters only to him.

Alex. Could I simply say that as a two-time Pitt grad, he has college t-shirts that could compete with Dad’s for transparency?

Where do I fall in all the behavior of collecting stuff?

I hate shopping so retail therapy is not a habit I embrace (too many years working in malls). There are exceptions.When the Borders two miles from us closed their doors, I wept. I enjoy browsing housewares and oddly, I admit, hardware stores. Not much comes home, but I enjoy the aesthetics of looking. 

Having sold or given away over 200 books in said moves, I buy more via my Kindle these days than in print. When I buy a print book, it’s because I intend to re-read it, to find joy in loaning it to a friend, and happiness when they return it. I frequent the library’s used book store, paying $2.00 for a hardback, reading it, then donating it so they can sell it once more. 

Cleaning & Clearing

When I cleaned the kitchen cupboards this summer, I packed up so much for St. Vincent’s DePaul’s charity store that we had an empty cupboard. Granted, it was the skinniest one in the room, but still, I was proud of the achievement.

Like that shabby TerraNova, Italian t-shirt, I had one pair of pumps leftover from my office days. They’re Eitenne Aigner, and I loved them so it took until this summer for me to admit it was time to pass them on.

The one-in, two-out rule works well for me. If I ever replace those Eitenne pumps, I’ll need to toss out something, continuing to cut down on the chattel in my life. When I sense things accumulating, I think of that TV show and vow not to become any version of a hoarder.

Mental crowding goes with home crowding

Understanding the stuff in my brain has helped me understand the odds and ends I cart around. I’m proud for getting down to three storage bins, keeping only books I love on my shelves, and for donating office clothing to the local Dress for Success program. I’m moving my possessions along to other people who can use them now that I can’t.

My head, full of non-stop ideas, seems to be calmer as the items around me shrink. When I sit to write, I follow the Michael Connelly habit of nothing on my antique library table but that project. I eliminate the distractions so they can’t work against my productivity.  

Before I go to sleep, I make sure email is off and Safari is closed. This helps me, ever-distractible me—from getting off course first thing in the morning. These little tricks keep my whirling-dervish thoughts from getting out of control. Minimize what’s around me to maximize what comes out of my work.

What about you? 

The holidays are coming. Black Friday sale ads have begun bombarding us. CyberMonday is sure to offer temptations. How do you decide what new stuff you’ll bring into your house or what stuff to add to your gift-recipients homes? Have you tried giving consumable items: wine (always a hit with my friends!), candles (for the cozy-minded), and food (one never fails with chocolate). 

For me, I’ll walk through the house a few more times before I start holiday decorating. I’ll look over this shelf, dip into that dresser drawer, and decide … is there something here that needs a new home?

What do you do? Will you do anything differently this year after reading this, perhaps thinking,

Hmmm, how much of a consumer do I want to be?


Read: Dressing for Europe doesn’t mean spending a fortune!