October 3, 2017

Getting Rid of Your Stuff: When Is The Best Time?


Accumulation of stuff. Big stuff, small stuff, worthless stuff, we all have lots of stuff. As George Carlin once noted, a house is just a place to store our stuff. Even if you believe in living a more minimalist lifestyle, you have stuff.

A few weeks ago, a reader asked a good question: "When is the best time to get rid of your stuff?" If I remember, his comment was triggered by a rocking chair, one that his grown children could have used while raising their own kids. Instead, mom and dad held onto it until the need for the chair was passed. They didn't purposely not give it away, rather it just never crossed their minds.

This question is much like the one many of us wrestle with: when is it time to start giving away your financial inheritance? Should you start to distribute it now, when the need among your relatives might be greater? Or, should you hold onto to your investments until your death, insuring you won't have given away money you end up needing or worked a lifetime to save?

Back to the stuff discussion for now, there can be rather intense feelings about some off the stuff we own. Like the rocking chair example, there might be pieces of furniture, or a painting or photograph that holds special meaning to someone else in your family. If giving it away now enriches someone else's life, or is an important part of family memories, is it better to pass it along sooner rather than later?

On the flip side, what if a grown child of yours wants something you are not ready to part with? Even if it would make things easier or more pleasant for your offspring or relative, do you have the right to say, No? Not Now. Is your reaction emotional or rational?

This is the real problem with things we own. We spend money to buy something. If the purchase adds to our life and makes us feel good, it becomes more than a collection of parts, it becomes emotionally satisfying. It may remind us of something that our parents owned, or our grandparents had in their home. It may stimulate memories of a difficult or joyous time in our life. It may just be nice or beautiful to look at.

Even so, at the end of the day it is still just stuff. At some point we, or family members, will have to get rid of much of it. Does decluttering now help your satisfying lifestyle? With less stuff to store, display, clean, insure, or move will you feel more free? Or, will the lack of things around that comfort you leave you unhappy?

This is one of those questions with no definitive answer. Each of us is different. As long as your home isn't featured on a hoarder's TV show, I believe when to get rid of stuff is really up to you. When the stuff stops adding to your happiness and can help out someone else, get rid of it. But, as long as an item makes you happy, keep it.

What do you think? Are you in the "give it away now" camp, or the "it makes me happy and enriches my life" group? Again, I don't think there is a universally right or wrong answer. But, it is a question that we should ask ourselves. And, as the blog reader noted in his comment, I'd really like to know what others think.
____________________________________

If you'd like a little nudge to declutter and start ridding yourself of stuff, this video from the Dr. Oz show could be helpful.



45 comments:

  1. I am definitely not a lover of stuff. About 6 years ago when I turned 65 I was determined to "simplify" my life and that meant getting rid of stuff. I had a 24 x 60 foot barn with two side lofts stuffed. It took about 6 months but both of those lofts are now empty. Almost all the tools that I needed for my furniture business are gone. I only kept what I need for small projects. My bookshelves were loaded with over 600 books that I had read. It is now down to less than 50 that I actually use regularly.

    But I am not stuff free. When we take vacations I usually get an item to remind me of the trip. Those empty bookshelves are now filled with that. They do give me pleasant memories so I guess I will probably hang on to them and let my estate decide what to do with them.

    My life is pretty simple now and that makes for a satisfying retirement... at least for me.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I like your idea of decluttering from an earlier stage of life. Replacing books that are no longer read with mementos that represent more current travels is an excellent idea, as well as cutting back on tools and equipment that are no longer in active use.

      Delete
  2. Since I am moving in June I have started getting rid of stuff now so that I can just do a little every day. When the realtor came a few weeks ago she said we have to get rid of half our stuff! I live in a tiny condo and still it is crammed with stuff. Mostly art and art supplies. Every nook and cranny is filled with old paintings I have been carting around since the 1970's. Most of it is just not that good. So why am I schlepping it around? So I made the decision to toss most of it. Old sketchbooks, old canvases etc. I am pretending that I sold it all as that makes me feel better about getting rid of it. LOL.

    As far as money goes, I am not giving any of it up. I still have to help pay for my grandson's education, whatever he decides to do or go. These days you really can't be as generous as you might like since we could live a long time and need assisted living etc. My 2 cents.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Betty has been pretty good at thinning out old paintings and frames that we are not likely to ever exhibit or use. Frankly, buying a specific, new frame if needed makes more sense to me than holding onto 20 that may be needed some day but take up space.

      I used to have over 500 CDs of music from my radio days. The ones I cared about were put on an iPod and the rest were gotten rid of. Now, with Spotify and Pandora, even the iPod gets little use. As technology changes, what we must hold onto also must adjust.

      Delete
  3. I think we do a pretty good job of keeping our stuff at bay in that when we sold our recent home the stage r asked upon arrival of another staged had already been here. On

    However, we were still shocked about how much stuff we'd accumulated when it came time to move. Because it was well organized I failed to see just how much stuff we had until it all needed to be boxed up and moved. Let me tell you, those built in garage cabinets sound like a good idea until over time you fill up every last one.

    So in our new home we're being extremely circumspect about what comes in to the house. As a result we've donated or tossed tons and tons of stuff. Working clothes and shoes we no longer need, about 2/3rds of our prior wall hangings, about 1/2 the contents of our garage, about 1/3 of my chotchskies, and oodles and oodles of books and magazines. It feels good. I like the sense of openness as I walk through our new home.


    A lot of our new neighbors have expanded their already large homes to hold more stuff. I refuse to go there!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I suspected you would have had to make tough decisions during your recent move to the ocean. Going from a home to a condo forces anyone to go on a "stuff" diet.

      I can look at probably 60 T-shirts in my closet, 10-15 of which are the ones I wear the most often. Why do I keep the ones that I constantly pass over? I don't know.

      Delete
    2. Except we didn't move from a home to a condo. We actually moved to a bigger home! Regardless, we are viewing it as a an opportunity to begin with a clean slate and only bring in those things we use or value. Otherwise, out it went/goes!

      Delete
  4. I have over time gotten rid of many things that I know my kids will not care about. My sister chastises me sometimes for being so unsentimental, but letting go of things doesn't mean I didn't love them or care about them. It just means that I don't need to keep them or store them in a box in the attic. I can "store" my caring in my memories.

    I'm not a fanatic about it, and I still have plenty of stuff, some of which I'm sure I will let go of in coming years. But I'm glad not to have a storage unit anymore, and the garage is cleaned out!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Our kids have made it clear they don't want the the majority of the stuff we have packed away. Still, we keep it out of inertia or the belief they may change their minds. Eventually, when we move into a smaller home in a retirement community those belongings will have to disappear.

      Delete
  5. I'm in the same camp as Tamara! We shed much of our stuff before we moved across the country 6 months ago. So far I have wished I had kept exactly 2 items and they were serving dishes rarely used and easily replaced at Goodwill. We gave away furniture that wouldn't fit or wasn't needed in our new home and received lots of joy in the happiness that brought to others. For example, my Grandmother's cedar chest went to a young woman who refinishes old furniture and had always wanted one. We also got rid of at least 1/2 of our chotchskies but there is still a box full sitting in a closet here along with a box of framed photos as we have no shelves for display.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sounds like you have made excellent progress in getting rid of stuff. The cedar chest story is exactly the type of situation that prompted this post: allowing someone else to use something of yours that will bring them greater joy.

      Delete
  6. When we moved 7 years ago we got rid of a lot of stuff, but because we moved into a larger home we needed to get additional stuff that my wife felt would finish out the additional rooms. But we have been trying to cut down. I finally conceded that maybe some of those books I had for decades wouldn't actually be read again (I also realized that when we keep books like that we are doing so to impress others with our "knowledge" when in reality they don't give a shyte). We are giving away a lot of useful stuff to charity as well, and much of my buying nowadays is deals I find for the local charities.

    Regarding financial assets, we help out our only daughter by things like being her mortgagor, at no interest, saving her a ton. We also are generous with our financial gifts - high value gift cards, free trips, etc. Not necessarily giving away a large % of our $, but enough that her life is more comfortable. Besides, she always said she'll get everything, so she isn't worried. But I may ramp up the giving as time goes by as long as it does not materially impact our lives.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Financially, we are in the same boat as you with our two daughters. There are good-sized "Christmas gifts" each year that are actually part of what their eventual inheritance would be anyway. But, their needs are higher now, so to make them wait seems counterproductive. Extra money for special needs for the kids or other purposes, picking up the tab for family dinners, etc, are just matter of course.

      Like you and RJ, my book collections went from hundreds to dozens.In fact, a good example of this type of shift occurred in my office recently. I needed a place to store and display the vintage radios I am fixing up. A bookcase was emptied and is a perfect place for the radios. Funny, most of the books I donated were about simple living and decluttering! Rather ironic, I must say.

      Delete
  7. I'm not a big collector of "stuff". I have what I need for the most part. I like what Galen said - letting go of things doesn't mean I didn't love them or care about them; like worry - it doesn't translate into love. I think of the energy surrounding "stuff", sometimes negative, sometimes positive. I aim for positive energy. I don't want to be burdened by stuff, nor would I want anyone else to be. I learned a lesson from an aunt who said (about the scrapbooking project that I was showing off) that no one would care about those pictures when I was dead. Heartless? Maybe. True? Yes. I realized that my son would not recognize 80-90% of the people in those pictures. Now, when purchasing something new, I often ask myself - is this something I really need or want, or is it just something else for my son to throw out when I'm dead?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm afraid your last sentence is becoming an increasingly common question for people our age. If we aren't going to get happiness or joy from something then certainly don't buy it for the grown childrens' use at some time in the future. If it is for the grandkids, fine. But, as they grow up all the Barbie dolls or games for 5 year olds will stay in the boxes. That's when it is time to "pay it forward" and make other young children happy by donating those toys and games.

      Delete
  8. There was a meme going around recently about 'Your kids do not want your "stuff". I believe that. We have moved so many times in our 49 years together that we've rarely held onto stuff. Some of the things my in-laws wanted us to have didn't last very long with us. Our son took the china, there were a few 'mementos' they kept but really, everyone establishes their own style and it doesn't often mix with mom and dads. Here's a funny story for you...the garage in my in-laws house was lined top to bottom with boxes. It was so tight you could barely fit the car in. When mom passed away and dad moved to Philly to be near us I arranged for a realtor to help him clear out for the sale of their house. I couldn't imagine what was in all those boxes in the garage and couldn't wait to find out. Turned out they were ALL empty! Whenever they bought a can opener or a table lamp, whatever, they kept the box, in case they moved again! We could not stop laughing over that one!
    b

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That is funny...a garage full of empty boxes for......? WEll, at least they were easy to get rid of.

      I think you are so right about realizing that your kids' styles and interests don't mirror yours. If they aren't going to want something, to force them to deal with it in the future seems like an unnecessary burden.

      Delete
    2. No WAY Andrew wants our "stuff.." He is a minimalist and nothing we own fits his lifestyle.I hope he will keep 1-2 mementoes that give him the best memories of our best times. The reset he will probably haul off to Goodwill!!! Our memories as a family revolve around outdoor adventures and not so much "stuff.."

      Delete
  9. Our "de-stuffing" began when we moved from D.C. to Charleston,SC. Great Purge! Interestingly our kids did not want our "nice" stuff. They wanted the "stuff" that was from their grandparents house. Things that they remembered being on the wall or in a cabinet or next to a bed from their youth and spending nights and weekends with Poppa and Grandmommy. Our younger daughter took all of our dining room furniture. That was it.

    Financial inheritance. We paid cash for 4 college educations ( no debt for them). Bought their first cars. Helped them buy their second car. Matched dollar for dollar what they put down for their first home mortgage. Paid for airline tickets to come from Phoenix several times a year.

    We have 4 wonderful kids. 3 are "rocking and rolling" through life. Our younger son does not march to a different drum-- he marches to a different kazoo. Owns a car and a mattress. He is 31. "Going to get rich driving for Lyft". Okay. Whatever. Fortunately, the other 3 love him very much and he always gets invited to every family event and the grandchildren all love their Uncle. We say 3 out of four ain't bad. No wife, no girlfriend (or boyfriend) no drug habit, no alcohol habit etc. Batting 750 is good in baseball.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. "Marches to a different kazoo"...that's great, Jack. If he is happy and content then as a parent you have done your job. My parents asked me for years when I was going to get a real job...playing records on the radio wasn't really a career! Ultimately they not only accepted my choice but were happy for my financial and emotional success.

      My middle brother also went into radio, so it must have been in our genes but my parents didn't know it.

      Delete
  10. Great post Bob, and wonderful ideas from your readers! I loved the video! I go to estate sales on occasion and I'm amazed at all of the collections. How many of the same thing does one person need? It actually motivates me to keep my space in order and clutter-free when I see a lifetime of other peoples "stuff". I've been going through my house and consigning and donating and it's true what Dr. Oz's guest said, that physical clutter is emotional clutter. I always feeler lighter and more free with every item that gets consigned or donated.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I don't see Dr. Oz very often, but this clip seemed to fit well. And, yes, I agree that physical clutter can sometimes be emotionally charged, making that more difficult to part with it.

      Delete
  11. Interesting how all of a sudden everyone I know is talking about this subject - for various reasons. When I first retired I began going through everything. I especially shredded diaries. Even though there were no 'Bridges of Madison County' entries they still didn't need to be read by others :-)
    I haven't moved in 37 years so I do have a lot of 'stuff' but most of it is not clutter. There is a difference. I make an effort to make sure that there is organized chaos if I haven't had a chance to deal with it in any one week. Occasionally the junk mail gets ahead of me (every charity on the planet knows my name), but most surfaces are clear and closets organized.
    I do think about what my kids will say when they find certain things. We still laugh that we found 7 containers of Black Pepper in my mother's pantry. Since my house is paid for my family can spend time going through things at their leisure and then have the estate people come in and handle the rest. Or I may move by then and will have dealt with most of it already.
    I relate to the empty boxes to a degree. Some things must be returned in their original packaging if there are 'issues', so those boxes are kept in the attic until warranties expire.
    This is a good topic to keep active. Clutter is exhausting and cleaning can be daunting - people need to know that everyone is in the same boat and find encouragement in how they're handling it.
    Thanks for your post.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Clutter is a battle that is never truly over. 37 years in one house, though, takes things to a whole new level or organization and decision-making. Of course, one person's clutter is another person's stuff and yet another person's treasure.

      Our kids will wonder why certain things have been stored, but they will be rather ruthless in tossing stuff. A far as I know, nothing they find will cause anyone any embarrassment!

      Delete
  12. Having recently downsized, this was a two year process for us prior to our move. The first round was to go through about 20 boxes that had not yet been unpacked from our prior move 7 years earlier. I had quite an emotional attachment (or so I thought) to everything in those boxes. I unpacked each of those boxes and held each item to decide if it still brought me joy or not and if we would use it in the new home. If my answer to both questions was yes, I repacked it for the downsizing move. I found quite a few things that brought me joy and/or had sentimental value that I knew I would not use in the new house. I found good homes for all of those with close friends. Everything else was tagged for recycling or a moving sale (very little went to the dump). In the end, I pared the 20 boxes down to 5 boxes!

    The following year, about 3 months before our move, we went through every room (organizing and packing what we could as we went) and discussed what we wanted or needed to keep for the new house. Now THIS was a challenge. I'm a "get rid of it" person and my husband is a "hoarder" type. I would recommend bringing in a pro for this step if you and your spouse are opposite sides of this spectrum AND are building a house at the same time! We're probably lucky we're still married! There are still boxes of his stuff unpacked in his office closet, in our attic, and in our garage but I did get him to let go of a lot. After having a moving sale (not worth it) a junk dealer bought the remainder for $70 and hauled it away!

    Now there were quite a few things we didn't think we'd need that we ended up going out and repurchasing, so we've had to come to terms with that. There is also an equal amount of stuff we thought we'd need or use that we didn't that's taking up room in our garage and attic now. However, this was a necessary downsizing exercise or we'd probably still be paying for a storage unit or two somewhere.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You highlighted something that is important in the clutter/downsizing discussion: a belonging may bring the owner joy or good memories, but if it will not have a place or function in a new home, then it should go to someone who can find a use for it.

      Holding on to something because it may be needed or wanted in the future is common behavior. But, as you and others have noted, if an item is needed it can be replaced. More often than not, that need never resurfaces or living without it is easy.

      Twenty boxes to 5 = good for you!

      Delete
  13. Over the last few moves, we released a lot of stuff. I kept the very most important "things" I can't live without.I let go of, donated or gave away dishes,serving platters I never really like (That had been gifted to me!). I kept what I LOVED and what brought me joy. Most of my art work are things I've collected over the years and I've kept most of that. I've kept just one or two important mementoes from the moms and dads (me and Ken's.) Not their whole HOUSEHOLDS!! My Mom's sewing kit is my reminder of all the memories.That's all I need. But furniture? Dishes? old clothes? GONE! It gets easier with practice!! Yes, I also agree with idea of giving things to family NOW, and helping them financially NOW, not when I'm gone!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. At one point I think we had five or six different complete sets of fancy china from my parents and my grandparents. Now, I think we are down to two. Getting better! Of course, those two sets are never used either, but.....

      I have been inspired by this post to do a major thinning when it is time to move the cool weather clothes into the house and the summer stuff into the garage. At least half my T-shirts and older polo shirts are on their way to Goodwill or the trash.

      Delete
    2. It's said that we wear 20% of our clothes 80% of the time.

      Delete
  14. This is a timely post. As I recently retired, I went through a period of purging, although we still have too much stuff, primarily old family letters and pictures that I either need to scan or categorize as I am loathe to get rid of them. As well, we definitely have too much in the form of clothes and knickknacks, which we have also been going through and donating.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I feel your pain! We have dozens of huge photo albums that must be dealt with. Our kids say they don't want them all, just a handful of pictures from each family vacation to serve as memory joggers. But, tossing 40 years of photos is not easy, but way too many to scan.

      Delete
    2. UUuggghh..PHOTOS.Cannot go there yet.The ones in boxes in hall closet are a mess.the ones stored here and there on computer, cloud,etc. are also a mess.Maybe next year.........

      Delete
  15. The question we asked ourselves before our move to Hawai’i was, “Do we want to pay $$$ to move this? Do we use this enough for it to be worth it?” The answer was usually “no” and putting a $$$ amount on the cost of keeping something made a whole lot easier to decide whether to keep something or not. For sentimental items, they usually always found a home with family, but if not we took a picture of the item and then let it go.

    I have no idea how many pounds of stuff we let go, but we only moved 4500 pounds over with us and it’s been more than enough. We’ve realized too that we could actually live with a whole lot less. Less has truly been more.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That might be an interesting exercise for all of us: find out what it would cost to move all our stuff to Hawaii or somewhere far away. Then, decide what is really worth all that money to take with us. Like you, I bet a lot would be left to others.

      Delete
  16. Several comments...

    About the "rocking chair". My MIL did the same thing. Refused to give my wife the rocking chair her grandmother left her (my wife). When finally she gave it up - long after my kids were grown - we have the chair but none of the kids particularly care to have it later. Why - not special to them. Mom did not rock them as children in the chair so no specific attachment. Just an old chair. So if you want the item to stay in the family you had better consider giving it away so the grandkids have an attachment or it will become for them just "so much junk".

    We are cleaning out my mother-in-laws house - lived there 40 years. 4 stories basement to attic - crammed with what is mostly junk or just stuff (no real monetary value) . What you will find is that pretty much anything stored in a damp old basement is junk as it smells, moldy or otherwise unusable.

    I cleaned out my family home 5 years ago. Same issue. Not only is it junk or stuff - nobody wants it. So either pitch or donate (or maybe estate sale even while still living).

    Please do not leave it for the kids to dispose of and fight over.

    Get a dumpster and be ruthless.

    As to money I agree to help as you can now. Carefully - do not enable bad money habits in children (bail them out of bad debt more than once for example). Put the estate in a trust if kids will squander it. Be sure to keep enough for you to live on. [note: making no interest loans to children or anyone is considered a gift and falls under the gift limitation for taxes so check the tax laws, etc. when giving financial gifts]

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. "Get a dumpster and be ruthless" should be engraved over my garage and attic entrance.

      If we can't take it with us to a smaller home at some point in our future and our children don't want it, why are we storing it?

      Delete
    2. My first thought after a trip to an estate sale was “no way am I going to do this to my kids.” So much junk, so much stuff nobody wanted, and a lot of work for the kids. It was very sad more than anything.

      Delete
    3. I agree that there is something so sad about emptying out a house after a death. We did my mom's last December and filled two dumpsters with things none of her 5 children or 7 grandchildren wanted, in addition to many things donated or given to others. She always said she would clean things out "later". All of a sudden there was no time for her to do it. Now, just 9 months later, my in-laws have had to go into assisted living rather unexpectedly. They want their house just left as is, thinking they will return "someday". (They won't be able to.) So much "stuff" to deal with again. It is exhausting for family when parents hold on to so much, and the family needs to deal with health/ medical issues as well as cleaning out houses full of stuff/ junk/ (some treasures, too). Interesting topic for sure!

      Delete
  17. We've had two recent events in our family circle (a death and a 95 yo moving to memory care) and both have entailed emptying out volumes of things no one wanted. They both saved things that made no sense to the rest of us, but be that as it may, someone had to rent the dumpster and spend days sorting and purging their things. On some level, that finally got through to my DH who tends to be a hoarder and was told by his son more than once that his kids don't want most of his "stuff". For starters, he finally gave away his suits (hasn't worked in almost 10 years) and clothes that don't fit. Your T-shirt collection sounds like his, Bob. Owns dozens and dozens, wears about 15. And they're his favorite souvenir when we travel. But now he's going through them and actually donating some. Woo hoo!

    I also watched my mother go through the cleaning out when her mother died and it really affected her. She is now giving things away right and left and recently gave me the crystal I always admired. It's not super formal and I'm loving using it.

    --Hope

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Tell you husband I am down to one suit and one sports coat. I gave away a dozen in the past year. They were left over from my business days and never used.

      The great T-shirt purge happens next weekend!

      Delete
  18. One reason that we have too much stuff is because people we love give us gifts. Although I appreciate the sentiment, and the gifts might be lovely, we neither need them or want them. An example is, I enjoy cooking, so over the years I have been given many expensive cookbooks with beautiful photos. I have never used most of them. Although I sometimes “re-gift” or donate unwanted gifts, I also don’t want to hurt the feelings of the loved ones who chose the gifts carefully with the hope that we would enjoy them.

    In the last couple of years, we have greatly reduced the Christmas excess, at least on my side of the family and with several close friends. We have agreed not to exchange gifts, or we draw names, and we focus on giving experiences, consumables, or handmade items rather than consumer goods.

    I gave away several cookbooks before our recent move, and casserole dishes, and kitchen gadgets. But we still have way too much. Rob loves gadgets. We have five carrot peelers, and I seldom even peel carrots!

    Jude

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. We agreed a few years ago that the adults at Christmas didn't need presents, just the kids. That lasted one year. Our rather traditional youngest daughter missed the ability to buy for mom and dad, sister, and brother-in-law. So, we worked out a compromise: she could buy one for each of us but wouldn't feel hurt if we only bought one for my daughter and son-in-law as a couple, and one from each couple for her. For that daughter the giving is really important.

      Delete
  19. The wife has 6 brothers and sisters and 20+ nieces and nephews. We give small token gifts - $5 Starbucks cards and such. As a family gift I make a donation ~$35 to a charity of their choice. People say they like this vs gifts. We all have too much stuff.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Giving something to a charity in someone's name is a great present. You are absolutely right, we have too much stuff. Christmas is for merchants, not for its intended purpose any longer, I'm afraid.

      Delete

Inappropriate comments will be deleted