Mid-Life is Not a Crisis

“And then my doctor told me that this is just one of those things that happens to you when you are middle-aged,” my friend said, staring wide-eyed at me and our other friend,  “Middle aged!”   

We all took a big drink of the wine we were holding.  I don’t think the fact that we were out celebrating our 37th birthdays was lost on any of us.  And while I certainly don’t think or feel that 37 is old, it’s also fair to describe it as nearing middle-aged.  It’s nearing half of the US life expectancy.  Mid-life.  

And boy, does our culture have some things to say about mid-life.  Mainly, that mid-life results in crisis.

“Did you hear that Jerry just sold all of his belongings to go travel the country in an RV for year?  He’s clearly having a mid-life crisis.” 

“Nancy quit her job and became a teacher.  A teacher!  She just walked away from a fifteen year career for a fifty percent pay cut to hang out with five-year olds.  Total mid-life crisis.”

“All Greg does when he gets home from work is paint things.  These like, giant paintings of, I don’t even know what they are.  He probably needs a therapist, not a paint brush.”

“Mike joined an a cappella men’s chorus.  Seriously.  He wears suspenders and goes to concerts on the weekend to sing for other people.  For free.  I mean, if he were really talented and getting paid, that would be totally different.  He’s obviously having some sort of mid-life crisis.”

You’ve probably heard the whispers.  Or maybe in your family or circle of friends, they aren’t even whispers, but loud and shameless proclamations.  Either way, it seems that some of us stand ready to label the less than conventional choices of any human being between the ages of 30 and 60 a crisis. 

I think it’s time for a little rebranding.

The problem with the word crisis is that we’ve long misused it in our culture.  Crisis meansa stage in a sequence of events at which the trend of all future events, especially for better or for worse, is determined; turning point.”  However, we tend to only focus on the negative aspects of a crisis, and use it more along the lines of this Merriam Webster definition: “a difficult or dangerous situation that needs serious attention.” 

When we gossip about someone’s so-called mid-life crisis we are usually considering the new choice to be the situation that needs serious attention.  

The truth is, most of these choices do in fact stem from a situation that needs serious attention, namely the state of the person’s life or heart or soul before they make the decision that is being labeled the crisis.

The situation that needs serious attention is that so many of us are buried under the daily requirements of adult life – the job, the bills, the parenting and the planning.  It happens slowly, like the proverbial frog in the pot of boiling water, until one day we wake up and realize that we may have just reached the halfway point, and there are still some things we’d like to to do. To make.  To see. Or that we’d simply like to live the rest of our lives more awake.

There’s this beautiful line in Joe Versus the Volcano (Wait… keep reading!  Don’t leave just because I love Joe Versus the Volcano!) in which one of the characters says, “My father says that almost the whole world is asleep. Everybody you know. Everybody you see. Everybody you talk to. He says that only a few people are awake and they live in a state of constant total amazement.”

Seriously, give Joe Versus the Volcano another chance.  It’s Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan and there’s a volcano and a ukulele.  What’s not to love?

I think that’s true.  I think few of us manage to hold onto wonder throughout our lives.  I think we wake to glimpses of it, and some can grab onto those glimpses and stretch them into seasons.  Some even turn seasons into years.  But to live awake is a laudable goal, one we should applaud, not condemn.  When our friends and family members make choices that allow them to shed some parts of their former selves, or societal expectations, or even self-imposed ones, in order to live a life that is more fully aligned with their gifts, their joy, their wonder, that is something to celebrate.

Now, I realize that some mid-life crises are in fact true crises, particularly when they result in the emotional ruin of another human.  I’m not talking about celebrating someone’s mid-life affair or mid-life gambling addiction.  But I am suggesting that we pipe down a bit about choices that look different than our own, choices that result in someone living a little differently than we live, or choosing to make less money than we make, or spending free time differently than we’d spend it.  Before labeling these things a crisis, maybe we should take a moment to reflect on what that person might be waking up to, and what we’re sleeping through in our own lives.

To the couple who sold their belongings and spent the last year working from the road in an RV – you are not in crisis.  You are awakening to your sense of adventure. 

To the man who left his job to work for a start-up non-profit bringing water to those in need – you are not in crisis.  You are awakening to the need of the world, and your own capacity to meet it. 

To the mama who joined the roller derby team – you are not in crisis.  You are awakening to a need for novelty and friendship, empowerment and strength.  Also you’re a badass.

I think we need new name here.  I’m not much of a marketing strategist, but crisis just doesn’t do it for me.  Mid-life awakening?  Mid-life adventure?  Mid-life reboot?  Help me out here readers. What have you got?  

In the meantime, I’m eagerly awaiting my mid-life “crisis.”

I welcome it with big, wide, open arms.  

As long as it doesn’t involve running marathons.  Or jumping in volcanoes.  And I wouldn’t complain if it involved living at the beach.

The Speed of Summer

Every year around this time a huge red and white tent is erected on the corner of the county highways that intersect near my house.  Every year I think the same thing, “It’s awfully early for fireworks, isn’t it?” And every year, it dawns on me that it is already the middle of June, that it is in fact not too early for fireworks to be on sale, and that time is a capricious tease.

I swear the Earth actually speeds up its trajectory around the sun in summer, and that its maddening pace can only be felt by those over the age of eighteen.

All of the old adages about time creep to the front of my mind.  It gets faster every year.  Don’t blink.  Carpe diem. The days are long but the years are short.  And the thing is, they are all frustratingly true.  No amount of eye rolling in our younger years can prevent the truth behind these words from catching up with us down the road.  

There’s a large poster affixed to our refrigerator door that says, “Before You Say You’re Bored, Have You Considered…” and goes on to list dozens of activities the boys thought up for the long summer days ahead.  I, on the other hand, cannot remember the last time I’ve uttered the phrase “I’m bored.”  We wake up each morning and stare down the same 24 hours, yet we view the hours through such different lenses, me and my children.  I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to see the hours through the eyes of a child again.

But I do know one secret to slowing down time.
I do know one small trick that stops the Earth in its tracks.

Be present. 
Being as present as humanly possible slows the march of time.

Be right where you are. 

Be with the people you are with.

Engage your senses in the task at hand.

Aiming for attentiveness in a world of distractions is not an easy task, but it is a worthwhile one, and its rewards are so sweet.

The smell of the vines on your tomato plant while you pull weeds.

The taste of rain as it falls from the sky.

The sweetness of mint chip for lunch.

  The icy cold shock of the deep end in June.

The sound of a band that makes you get up and bust a move.

The way you get lost in the pages of a book.

The freckles on a sun-kissed, sleeping face, waiting to be counted.

The sound of the ice cream truck through your kitchen window as you chop vegetables for dinner.

The warm sun on your arms as you sit in traffic.

The friend’s voice on the other end of a long-distance call.

The goodbye kiss on the way to work, and the welcome home embrace at the end of a day.
We can’t add hours to our days, but we can add life to our hours.  We just have to pay attention.  And this is the extent of my summer bucket list this year:  Be present.

“Ten times a day something happens to me like this – some strengthening throb of amazement – some good sweet empathic ping and swell.  This is the first, the wildest and the wisest thing I know: that the soul exists and is built entirely out of attentiveness.” – Mary Oliver 

How Grover Cleveland Got His Banjo

For the last few months,  I’ve written a lot about the stuff that is leaving my home, why, and where it is going. 

Over that same time period, I’ve noticed a trend occurring.  Anytime one of my friends invites me over (okay, anytime I invite myself over to a friend’s house), they preface the invitation with an explanation of how messy their home is.  I think some of you might be envisioning my recently de-cluttered space as a lot more pristine than it actually is, so today I want to clear the air about a couple of things.

1.  My house gets messy too. 

Seriously messy.  Every single day.  This house is lived in.  We learn, play, eat, sleep and dream in this house, and that means that on any given day, we use a lot of stuff.  It’s also not a big house, which means that we do all of those things in the same, multi-purpose area.  In addition, we have a dog whose favorite pastime is taking our dirty clothes or smelly shoes and decorating our furniture and backyard with them. One of our children still insists that he likes his room better messy, and I’m not fighting that battle (except on Fridays…I fight it a little on Fridays).   We also have a small obsession with our public library that leads to random piles of books on all surfaces of the house.  Just last night, Jason was clearing our table after dinner when he looked over at me and declared, “We’re weird.”

“What do you mean, we’re weird?” I asked, taking the bait.

He proceeded to show me the assortment of items he was cleaning off of our table:  several library books, a sign up sheet for a Yu-Gi-Oh tournament one of our boys created (complete with “official” member ID numbers), a jar of fake money, the latest iteration of a chore chart, three rocks absconded from a local creek bed, a postcard from a family in New Mexico that we don’t actually know, and a tiny banjo in a tiny banjo case.  And we had eaten dinner at that table without paying a bit of attention to any of those items. 

So friends, please don’t feel like you have to prepare me for the level of mess in your home.  Even if my home were truly minimalist and perfectly swiffered (which it’s not), you still would not owe me any explanation or apology for your home.  I love my friends for who they are, not how they keep house, or what they keep in their house.

Which brings me to the second thing I need to tell you.

2.  We still have stuff.  And a lot of it is… um… interesting.

Meet Grover Cleveland. Grover is our indoor garden gnome who recently became unemployed when he failed to manage his only task of keeping the succulents in our master bedroom alive.  Grover has been lonely and a bit despondent since he lost his job, so we decided to find him a new hobby.  Enter the tiny aforementioned tiny banjo.  We realize we could have just purchased him a new indoor plant to care for, but frankly, we’re not sure Grover is up to the task.

Sure, we may use poor Grover as an excuse for our own inability to keep our houseplants alive, but the truth is, Grover’s unlikely presence in our master bedroom brings us joy.  It’s illogical joy, but joy all the same, so he stays. I’ve said before that joy is subjective, and Grover Cleveland certainly illustrates that point.  I’m sure there are plenty of you thinking that a garden gnome in a master bedroom is the first thing that you’d get rid of, and that’s okay.  I’m not about to tell you what should bring you joy.  

Grover is not the only thing that made the cut.  

This, my friends, is a mantle fish.   You put this fish on your mantle and it keeps evil spirits away.  You probably want to know how you can get your hands on one of these.   Lucky for me, my husband makes them, but in very limited editions.  I know.  Back off ladies, he’s taken. 

There’s more.  We kept all of our musical instruments, piles of art supplies, a whole lot of Legos, two shelves worth of board games, an assortment of costumes for dress-up play, more hats than one family needs and a broken lawn mower.  We’ve still got some work to do, but for me, de-cluttering is not intended to be the end, but a means to an end.  For me, that end looks like creating a space that amplifies the values and interests and purposes of the members of my family.  At the end of the day, I’m not hoping to arrive at a truly minimal house without any possessions, but rather a house that is a place to grow and learn, to live and love, a house in which our possessions don’t possess us, a house that isn’t always clean, but when we do pick up the stuff, that stuff brings a smile to our face.  A house where friends and family are welcome to just drop in, even if I didn’t sweep that day or put away the rock collection.  A house in which a quiet little gnome like Grover Cleveland can be both a gardener and a renowned banjo player.   In other words, a home.  

So there you have it.  My home still gets messy, and it still holds some truly random stuff.  But moreover, I want you to know that I’m not comparing my home to yours.  This de-cluttering journey is really just an outward expression of my own set of issues, which I pour out on the internet mostly for your entertainment.  So friends, here’s my proposition:  no more apologizing for our homes.  I won’t apologize for Grover Cleveland or the bra you just sat on (thanks Hobbes) and you don’t apologize for the dishes or the dog hair.  Instead, we’ll just pour a cup of coffee (or open a beer, your choice) and enjoy each other’s company, which is really what matters most. 

Taking Back Your Square Footage

This past Sunday was my official last day as Stuff Manager in my home and also marked the end of the 40 Bags in 40 Day challenge and I’m happy to report that well over 40 bags of belongings have left this house to find new homes (or in some cases, the bottom of a trashcan).  But before I delve into a lessons learned kind of post, I want to take a minute to reflect on the space this has created in our home.  Because here’s where the rubber meets the road for so many of us caught in a binge/purge cycle of consumption; we fill the spaces we’ve created with the objects of least resistance instead of allowing them to become the spaces we fill with our intentions for our lives.  Whether the new empty spaces are a few shelves in our basements, some hangers in our closets, or an entire room, it’s time to ask ourselves a few questions before making any decisions.

What values define me or my family?   Does my home reflect those values in its use or space or even decor?

What activities do I want to create more time and space for in my life (and subsequently, home)?  

What brings me or my family joy? 

If you’re playing along, take a look around your home and ask yourself if you see the answers to these questions reflected in your choices of belongings, decor, or even the purposes you’ve assigned to each room.  For instance, if you said that creativity is a high value for your family and you want to make more time for music, but all of your instruments are stored in their cases in a corner of your basement, your home is not acting as a conduit for your values.  The good news is, we’re grown-ups and so we get to make whatever choices we want about our homes.  That formal dining room that you eat in once a year and serves as china storage the other 364 days?  Get this, you can actually turn that room into a music room.  I know, it’s crazy.  You can take the table out of the room and move your instruments into the room and even hang on them on the walls.  “But wait, then I won’t have a formal dining room!”  Yes, I know.  You won’t.  It’s okay.  I’m going to let you in on a little secret.  There are actually no home decorating police that will stop by your house and fine you if you use the space differently than the builder intended.  You can do whatever you want.  Your home does not have to look like a model home.  Repeat after me:  “HGTV, you are not the boss of me.”  Doesn’t that feel kind of good?

I want to share a couple of examples of some home design rebels I know in real life.  They’ve chosen to change up the way they use their space to amplify the things they love and so far, no one has gotten arrested. 

This is my friend Kristen’s home.  Kristen is a knitting evangelist.  Not only does she arrange weekly knitting gatherings in various places all over town (I’m convinced she plans them in public places to convert non-knitters to her yarn-addicted ways) but she also leaves yarn around the house in both beautiful and functional ways.  This allows her to grab a project at any time, and also to offer one to a friend.  

 These balls of yarn aren’t just decoration.  You are welcome to grab one and start a project at Kristen’s house, she’ll even get you started.

 Kristen keeps her needles and current projects right by the couch so she doesn’t have to search when she’s ready to knit.
 Kristen calls this a “friendship knitting bowl.”  Anyone can pick up the unfinished project and work on it, and she’s used this as a teaching tool as well. 

This next home belongs to my friends JuLee and Jeff.  JuLee and Jeff are board game enthusiasts.  When I first met JuLee, they had a cute gaming space set up in their finished basement.  In my book, they’d already accomplished the goal of creating space for something they loved, but they took it a step further.  They decided to bring the board games that had unified their family front and center by turning their formal living room into a game-themed playing room.  I love the way they boldly declare their passion by giving it such prime real estate in their home. 

JuLee and Jeff’s game room is the first room you see when you enter their home. 

So, as this challenge comes to a close, I’m thinking about ways I can take back my square footage.  I’ve ordered some extra ukulele and banjo wall mounts so our instruments can be available in both our bedroom (where they currently live) and our family room (the other room where we often play).  I’m re-purposing a shelf next to my dining room table to hold all of our art supplies so they are at an arm’s length when we are sitting down together at the table.  I’m handing over the newly empty storage area under the basement stairs to the boys to dream up ideas for a hideout.  And mostly, I’m giving thought to any item that enters our home before allowing it to take up any of the space that we’ve created.  

 We’ve got more ukuleles than we know what to do with.  
These wall mounts are sort of essential in our home. 

How about you?  Is there a room in your house that is rarely if ever used?  Could it be re-purposed into a space that will bring more joy into your life?  Or perhaps you live in a small space and don’t have an entire room to re-purpose; could you find ways to incorporate your passions into the space you currently use the most?  Or could you sprinkle it around the house, like Kristen does with yarn?  Share your ideas, or if you are already a home design rebel, share a picture!  I would love to see how you are filling your space with intention.

This post is part of a series on quitting your job as a Stuff Manager.  Drop back in to read more about my journey over the next forty days, or subscribe by email if you don’t want to miss a post!  I look forward to hearing about your own resignation. 

1.  Letter of Resignation – On quitting my job as Stuff Manager
2.  I’m Never Going to Make That Beer Bottle Cap Table – On letting go of things that aren’t for us
3.  But I’ll Need That in the Zombie Apocalypse (and Other Excuses) – On excuses for our clutter  
4.  Donating Outside the Box –  On finding a great place for your donations
5.  7 Ideas for Managing Digital Clutter – On minimizing distractions and clutter on your devices 
6.  Is Organizing Just Well-Managed Hoarding? – On the difference between organizing and purging 
7.  Getting to Know Mr. Jones:  An Antidote to ConsumerismOn exploring where we got all of this stuff in the first place and a communal antidote to over-consumption
8.  Taking Back Your Square Footage –  On creating space in your home that reflects your intentions and values

Getting to Know Mr. Jones: An Antidote to Consumerism

I’m one week away from my official retirement day as Stuff Manager, and my home is over 40 bags lighter, but I’m not done.  As I sit down to write this seventh post in what I planned to be a short series about a one-time project, I realize that this is no longer either of those things.  This process has shifted my beliefs and actions in unexpected ways, and if I’m still working through those things in my head, chances are, I’ll keep writing about them here. After all, this blog is cheaper than therapy.

Everything I’ve written so far has dealt with the process of letting go of possessions and distractions in order to cultivate a life that is focused on our own unique purposes and goals.  While I’ve talked about our excuses for hanging onto clutter, I’ve carefully skirted the issue of how we got all the stuff in the first place.  To be perfectly honest, I didn’t even question it when I started.  I accepted the amount of belongings in my home as easily as I accepted that the sky is blue.  I was tired of cleaning and organizing the stuff, but not all that curious about where it came from.  But you can’t get rid of more than 40 bags of your belongings without asking yourself some hard questions.  It’s an uncomfortable conversation, but I think it’s time we talked about where all this stuff comes from.

The heart of this issue is consumption.  It’s consumerism.  It’s the fact that we live in a culture deeply influenced by a 100 billion dollar advertising industry.  We live in a country where we are more often referred to as consumers than citizens. We are constantly subjected to news stories that rejoice in the growth and provoke fear at the fall of consumer spending.  We will declare the entire month of December an economic disaster if we do not buy enough stuff.  This country used to ask its citizens to make sacrifices, ration food, grow gardens.  Now, we’re called on to go shopping as an act of patriotism. 

We buy too much stuff.  There’s really no way to sugar coat this statement.   We can rationalize it by looking at people who buy more stuff then we do, but the truth is, even those of us living paycheck to paycheck buy too much stuff.  American consumer debt is at an all time high, credit card debt is rising and a Google search on this topic is just depressing.  But I don’t think I need to share all of the research here.  I think if we are honest, we know this deep down.  We know it every time we go to Target for cat litter and come home with a new welcome mat, some beach towels, a water gun and a cute mug.  Not that I’ve ever done that.

Image Credit: Becoming Minimalist

There are all kinds of reasons that we buy more than we need.  We shop for the temporary happiness of a new thing, we believe our material possessions define us as humans, we are more influenced by advertising than we are willing to admit, the list goes on and on.  But I want to talk about another reason, one that doesn’t get a lot air time. 

One of the prevailing narratives is that our consumption habit is all about keeping up with the Joneses.  As in, you see your neighbor (the proverbial Mr. Jones) outside with his new riding lawnmower and suddenly you have to have a riding lawnmower too.  The thing is, I’m just not so sure about this anymore.  I’m not so sure we even step outside our own little bubbles enough to be aware of the brand of our neighbor’s lawnmower, let alone covet it.  Some of us might not even know our neighbor Mr. Jones’s actual name. 

What if the problem is not that we are trying to keep up with the Joneses, but that we don’t know the Joneses? 

I think a large part of our consumption habit comes from living from a place of scarcity.  We don’t feel like we can count on anyone but ourselves anymore, so we plan for all possible futures and accumulate all the things we might need for those futures.  

What if we started to believe we were not alone?

What if the antidote to consumerism is not self-deprivation, but community?

There is probably an example of this already happening somewhere in your life.  Maybe you and your friends pass along your kids’ outgrown clothing instead of selling it.  Maybe you and a neighbor share a snowblower.  But what if we lived in the kinds of communities where sharing became the norm rather than the exception? 

I can already hear the objections.

But you don’t know my neighbor!  I can’t share with her, she’s bat-shit crazy!

What if someone breaks the shared stuff?  Who’s going to pay for that?

What are you even talking about, living in a commune?  I’m not a communist!

Okay, okay, points taken.  But your neighbor does not have to mean your literal neighbor, and a community does not have to be your street (though that certainly helps in the case of the snowblower).  And yes, someone might break the stuff.  That might happen.  We’ll all have to stop being so precious about our stuff for this to work.  People before stuff.  That’s our mantra here.  And no, I’m not talking about a commune.  (Well, okay, I might be interested in a commune.)  But I’m not talking about everyone living in communes.  You don’t have to live in a commune to engage in communal living.

What I am talking about is investing in community and putting the people in your life before the things in your life. 

If any part of what I’ve just said rings true for you, I want to suggest a challenge.  Consider the people in your life, your family, your close friends, your neighbors.  Choose just one area of stuff and approach just one person in your life about sharing the load in that area.  The easiest one I can think of is children’s clothing.  If you currently purchase all of your children’s clothing brand new, I want you to calculate what you spend on average each year.  If you found just one family to share this burden with, you could easily halve that number.  Don’t have children?  There are so many other options.  Share a DVD collection with a friend (there’s little chance you are always going to want to watch the same movie on the same night), host a clothing exchange with your adult friends where you “shop” one another’s unused clothing, share a grill with your neighbor or a magazine subscription with a friend, split the cost of camping equiptment with your brother.

I want to hear your stories.  Do you think lack of community contributes to over-consumption?  Do you currently share within your community?  And if you don’t, what stops you? 

In the meantime, I’ll be planning that commune.  

This post is part of a series on quitting your job as a Stuff Manager.  Drop back in to read more about my journey over the next forty days, or subscribe by email if you don’t want to miss a post!  I look forward to hearing about your own resignation. 

1.  Letter of Resignation – On quitting my job as Stuff Manager
2.  I’m Never Going to Make That Beer Bottle Cap Table – On letting go of things that aren’t for us
3.  But I’ll Need That in the Zombie Apocalypse (and Other Excuses) – On excuses for our clutter  
4.  Donating Outside the Box –  On finding a great place for your donations
5.  7 Ideas for Managing Digital Clutter – On minimizing distractions and clutter on your devices 
6.  Is Organizing Just Well-Managed Hoarding? – On the difference between organizing and purging 
7.  Getting to Know Mr. Jones:  An Antidote to ConsumerismOn exploring where we got all of this stuff in the first place and a communal antidote to over-consumption
8.  Taking Back Your Square Footage –  On creating space in your home that reflects your intentions and values

Is Organizing Just Well-Managed Hoarding?

I’ve been buried in my basement for over a week now as part of the 40 Bags in 40 Days Challenge, and I still can’t see the end in sight.  I’ve reached the point of any good cleaning project where the room actually looks worse than when I started, yet that is somehow a sign of progress.  Have you ever been there?  I like to call it the storm before the calm.  That’s where I am right now, right in the eye of the storm.

As I hauled my 35th bag up the basement steps this week, I started to think about where all of this stuff had come from.  The outdated electronics, the plastic bins full of books (the worst fate for a book aside from an actual book burning), the endless crafting supplies I’ve never looked at twice… there is just so much stuff.  I started thinking about the hours I’ve spent organizing this basement, moving these same, sealed bins from one shelf to another, all under the guise that I’d use it someday.  Well, it’s someday, it’s not being used, and it’s gone.

But there is this nagging fear, this persistent whisper that keeps taunting me.

You know you’re just going to fill this space back up.

You’ll be doing this all over again in a year.

I can’t let that fear become a reality.   I cannot.  But something has shifted in this process that makes me believe it won’t.

Since I started this series of blog posts, many of you recommended that I read the book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo.  A sweet friend lent me the book  and I eagerly dived in, thinking it would be right up my alley. 

A few chapters in, I was unconvinced.  When the author suggested that my socks are in emotional distress from being kept in balls, I raised an eyebrow.  When she said, “Clothes, like people, can relax more freely when in the company of others who are very similar in type, and therefore organizing them by category helps them feel more comfortable and secure,” I started to wonder if our perspectives on the emotional life of our stuff were just too different.   But then I remembered that I usually learn more from people with different perspectives than I do from people who think just like me, so I recommitted and finished the book. 

Clearly these socks are in agony.  It’s a wonder they can sleep at night. 

Once I got past some of our initial differences (my socks are still in balls and I’m seeking a reputable therapist for them so they can work out their feelings on this) I started to internalize some of Kondo’s messages and noticed a dramatic shift in the way I discarded items. 

“When you come across something that you cannot part with, think carefully about its true purpose in your life.  You’ll be surprised at how many of the things you possess have already fulfilled their role.  By acknowledging their contribution and letting them go with gratitude, you will be able to truly put the things you own, and your life, in order.  In the end, all that will remain are the things that you really treasure.” – Marie Kondo

I opened the first of a few memory boxes in my basement a couple of days ago.  Jason and I jokingly refer to these boxes as black holes because once you get sucked in it is very difficult to come back out.  At first, I felt my old tendencies leading the way, and I honestly considered doing things like separating the awards from the art from the stack of report cards.  Maybe I could file them in one of those upright filing systems and label them by year.  I considered that.  And then, I remembered Kondo’s words and looked at the objects with fresh eyes.  That candle from my senior prom?  I don’t need it to remember my prom because I sleep next to my prom date every night.  Those elementary school report cards?  No one has asked for my elementary credentials in the last three decades so I think it is safe to let them go.  Every token that I kept to remember a significant event in my life has sat dormant in boxes for decades, and when I held each one in my hand I realized that while the events are still fresh in my mind, the mementos have not played even a small role in preserving my memories.  

The search is over.  You were with me all the while.  In a box.  In my basement.

With the exception of photographs and a handful of items I’m now one black hole lighter.  And it feels kind of amazing.  It feels kind of like fully embracing the present. 

I’m finding that this mentality extends beyond the memory boxes.  It allows me to pick up an item and ask, “Does this spark joy?  Am I using this for the life I am currently leading (not the life I used to lead or the life I might someday lead)? ”  (I had to add that second question because Kondo’s “Does this spark joy?” would not allow me to keep things like my toilet plunger.  It does not spark any joy, but unfortunately, I need it.)  It allows me be grateful for the purpose these items once held without feeling guilty that they no longer hold meaning for me.

So, this time around doesn’t just feel different.  It is different. I’m not organizing, I’m purging.  I’m not purchasing bins and label makers, I’m emptying bins and donating the very bins themselves so they do not find themselves full again on my shelves.  I might even donate the shelves. 

I half-jokingly labeled a Pinterest board with this quote back in 2010 – “organization is really just well-managed hoarding” – and The Minimalists make a case for these words here.   I wish I had listened to these words back then.  I’m listening now.

This post is part of a series on quitting your job as a Stuff Manager.  Drop back in to read more about my journey over the next forty days, or subscribe by email if you don’t want to miss a post!  I look forward to hearing about your own resignation. 

1.  Letter of Resignation – On quitting my job as Stuff Manager
2.  I’m Never Going to Make That Beer Bottle Cap Table – On letting go of things that aren’t for us
3.  But I’ll Need That in the Zombie Apocalypse (and Other Excuses) – On excuses for our clutter  
4.  Donating Outside the Box –  On finding a great place for your donations
5.  7 Ideas for Managing Digital Clutter – On minimizing distractions and clutter on your devices 
6.  Is Organizing Just Well-Managed Hoarding? – On the difference between organizing and purging 
7.  Getting to Know Mr. Jones:  An Antidote to ConsumerismOn exploring where we got all of this stuff in the first place and a communal antidote to over-consumption
8.  Taking Back Your Square Footage –  On creating space in your home that reflects your intentions and values

7 Ideas for Managing Digital Clutter

I feel like this blog post should come with a warning.  I’m about to delve into an area in which I have little expertise – technology.  I’m heading into the arena before I’m ready because Amy Poehler says, “Great people do things before they’re ready.  They do things before they know they can do it.”  And I pretty much  do what Amy Poehler says.  But I’m also jumping in feet first in the hopes that if I drown when I drown, you all will rescue me with your brilliant ideas and vastly superior skills and knowledge.

 Public domain image via Pixabay

Today, I’m talking about digital clutter.  Somewhere, my computer-programming father and brother are ducking their heads in shame and whispering fervent prayers for me to keep this brief for the honor of our family name.  I’ll do my best.

Many of you know that I’ve taken on a 40 day challenge to eliminate clutter from my home.  So far, I’ve focused this series on actual, physical clutter, the kind you put in a bag and drive to your local Goodwill.  However, if we are going to be serious about eliminating the things that distract us from the things that bring us joy and meaning, there are a few things we have to talk about that can’t be carried out in a trash bag.  Digital clutter can be just as distracting as physical clutter, if not more so.  I’m going to share what’s working for me, and then I’m going to BEG you to share what you’re doing to minimize the clutter that occurs on your own desktops and phones and online world.

If you know me in real life, you know that I can contradict myself on the topic of technology in a mere sixty seconds.  On one hand, I love the tools available to us thanks to the Internet.  I don’t know where I’d be without my cell, and I once crowd-sourced my Facebook page to add even MORE app clutter to my phone.  On the other hand, I’d kind of love to find out where I’d be without my cell phone.  I have secret fantasies of throwing it in a lake and not replacing it.  I’ll rant about the dangers of losing our right to privacy in one breath and then hand my personal shopping list to Target in the next for a five percent discount on Cartwheel.  (Side note – once, when I pointed out one of my own self-contradictions to a wise friend, she graciously quoted Walt Whitman at me.  “Do I contradict myself?  Very well then I contradict myself.  I am large.  I contain multitudes.”  YES!  That’s it!  I’m not a walking contradiction, I simply contain multitudes.  I’m a piece of poetry!  And you are too!  I’m so thankful for that little piece of self-rationalization.  Go ahead and feel free to use it anytime.) 

While I sort out my own contradictory feelings about technology, I’m constantly trying to minimize its distractions while enhancing its benefits.  If you’re not ready to pull the plug on your technology either, then pull up a chair instead and let’s chat about our other options.

1.  Your Computer’s Desktop – Let’s start with our desktop.  It’s the first thing we see when we turn on the computer and the visual assault of so many items can be overwhelming.  The desktop is just a copy of things stored elsewhere on our computers.  Try creating a file system that works for you and diligently save things to files instead of all over the home screen of your computer.  The same principle can apply to your phone.  Whether you love folders, or prefer to have your apps out in the open, keep the most important tools up front and center and hide (or better, delete) the apps you don’t use or need.  If you share a family account on your cell phone, consider changing your settings so you don’t automatically receive every version of Minecraft your kids upload.  (If you kids are teenagers, disregard that advice, you might want to see every app they are downloading to their phones!)

2.  Email – Check out Unroll Me.  This is the best thing that ever happened to my email.  This service will scan your email for every single subscription you have (I had 278!?!) and then allow you to select Unsubscribe or Rollup to any subscription you do not want in your inbox.  Rather then clicking at the bottom of each individual email that comes to your inbox in order to unsubscribe (and sometimes having to remember a password) it takes care of all of that for you by acting as an interception point for those emails. Any subscription you put in your Rollup will come in one, consolidated email.  I cannot begin to tell you what a difference this has made for my inbox.  Everything is still searchable too, so you don’t have to worry about something important being lost in your Rollup.  Additionally, your Rollup will continue to scan for new subscriptions and ask you what to do with them on a daily basis.

3.  Password Help – I cannot remember my passwords.  How can anyone?  We’re supposed to come up with these highly unique passwords like UniCorn146&RaInBoW9sprinkles and manage to remember it later? There’s not a chance.  Thankfully, you have choices.  You can write your passwords in one little book and keep it with you, but if you are someone who loses things regularly, this probably is not the best plan.  There are several online password services like LastPass that remember and encrypt your passwords so you only have to remember one password and it will log you into everything else.  If that’s still a little too insecure for you, the same service can be done on your local computer with software like 1Password.

4.  Music – This one speaks to both your digital clutter and your actual clutter.  Consider a subscription to a service like Spotify to store and catalog music for you.  You’ll have access to a huge variety of artists, the ability to download songs to your phone for offline use, and the ability to take them off your phone when you need your space back.  We’ve been using it for a couple of years now and it has actually increased the amount of time I spend listening to music (which for me is a win) and the variety of music, all without increasing digital or actual clutter in my home.

5. Pictures – This is where I fail you.  I have too many pictures.  I have so many pictures that I have to use separate external hard drives to store them.  I’ve developed some recent habits that have helped, such as turning off my Photo Stream so that I can manually delete pictures from my phone before moving them over to my computer (thus slowing the flow of screen shots ending up in my iPhoto library) but I could still use a lot of support in this area.  Any ideas?  What do you do to keep your favorite memories but not allow them to overtake your computer?  What’s your favorite software for photo storage?

6. Screen Time – The key to not allowing my digital clutter to overtake my life is to set screen limits for myself, just like I do with my kids.  At some point, they’ll be old enough to make their own choices about how they spend their time online and I want to model behavior I’d like to see them emulate.  Total disclosure — this is a huge struggle for me.  I recently downloaded this app called Moment that tracks my time online. I ran it in the background of my phone for a couple of weeks to see how much time I was spending online before setting goals and was not happy with what I found out about myself.  I’m still using the app, but allowing it to send me reminders every twenty minutes I’m on my phone.  The app allows you to set limits and even has options for powering down your phone for you when you’ve reached your daily limit.  

7.  Information Overload – Part of the reason that I struggle with screen time is that I love to absorb information.  I recently took a StrengthsFinder assessment for an organization I’m involved with, and was not too surprised to learn that my top strength is something they call Input.  Basically it means I like to absorb huge amounts of information on a daily basis.  The Internet provides that for me in spades, but it’s also a little like offering someone with a coffee addiction (also me) a lifetime membership to a local coffee shop with unlimited free refills.  There is such a thing as too much of a good thing.  I’ve had to learn am still learning to set limits and one tool that has really helped me is an app called Pocket.  Pocket saves your content so that it is accessible offline, and eliminates the clutter of a dozen open Safari tabs. If I see an article that looks interesting, or that someone shares online, I’ll save it to Pocket for reading at a later time. That’s key for me, the later time part.  Then, at the designated reading time, I open up Pocket and decide if I really want to spend my precious reading moments on this content, or if I’d rather dig into a novel or seek out information on my own on another topic.  It puts the agency back in my hands in a less impulsive setting.  If this is a problem for you too, give it a try.

I’m sure this will be a constantly evolving process for me, figuring out how to use technology without abusing it.  Do any of you struggle with this too?   I’d love to hear what you do to minimize digital clutter in your life and how you navigate this brave new world.  Feel free to comment here, or find me any of the social media platforms on which I currently spend too much time. 

This post is part of a series on quitting your job as a Stuff Manager.  Drop back in to read more about my journey over the next forty days, or subscribe by email if you don’t want to miss a post!  I look forward to hearing about your own resignation. 

1.  Letter of Resignation – On quitting my job as Stuff Manager
2.  I’m Never Going to Make That Beer Bottle Cap Table – On letting go of things that aren’t for us
3.  But I’ll Need That in the Zombie Apocalypse (and Other Excuses) – On excuses for our clutter  
4.  Donating Outside the Box –  On finding a great place for your donations
5.  7 Ideas for Managing Digital Clutter – On minimizing distractions and clutter on your devices 
6.  Is Organizing Just Well-Managed Hoarding? – On the difference between organizing and purging 
7.  Getting to Know Mr. Jones:  An Antidote to ConsumerismOn exploring where we got all of this stuff in the first place and a communal antidote to over-consumption
8.  Taking Back Your Square Footage –  On creating space in your home that reflects your intentions and values

Donating Outside the Box


I’m 21 bags into the 40 Bags in 40 Days Challenge and all I’ve actually accomplished is the putting of the items in the bags and the moving of the items into my garage. 

Okay, I’ve also found new homes for a number of items via a photo album on Facebook, which is functioning like one large, free, virtual garage sale.

The fact remains that only a handful of non-trash items have actually left my property.  They just now live in my garage (and my car has been evicted to the driveway).

My stuff holding place.  A little public humiliation can be motivating, right?

My plan for this week is to deliver every single item I’ve discarded to its new home.  I shared about my control issues around where my discarded items wind up, and while I’m working to let go of that to a certain extent (meaning, I will be loading up a fair number of these bags and bringing them straight to Goodwill because it is the closest place to donate and it has a drive through), I want to share with you some other great places to donate your belongings.  Some of these will be specific to the St. Louis area, but if you are  not a local reader, there might be similar programs where you live as well.

But before I talk specifics, may I make a personal request?  When we are in the process of getting rid of unwanted possessions, we have a few options for what to do with the items.  We can sell our items, we can donate our items, or we can throw away/recycle/upcycle our items.  I’m focusing on donations here on the blog because that is where the majority of my items will end up.  If that is the case for you too, this is my request:  please do not donate your crap.  Do not donate any clothing that is not in good enough condition to wear yourself or put on your own child.  Do not donate housewares that are in disrepair.  Do not offload the task of actually going through your items and determining their worth to someone else.  One of the tasks I’ve done as a volunteer at The Crisis Nursery is going through clothing donations to decide which clothing they can use and which must be discarded.  The Crisis Nursery makes sure that every child that comes through their doors leaves with a new to them outfit, and we want that outfit to be just as cute and clean as the clothing on any other child.  Children (and adults for that matter) living in poverty have the same concerns about appearance and dignity as those above the poverty line.  Please respect that when passing along the items that no longer fit the members of your family or support your family values.  Style is subjective, but we can be objective about clothing and items that are torn, tattered or beyond repair.  We should aim to donate items that can be of worth and value to someone, and if that means that we have to throw away some of the things that aren’t and deal with the guilt of adding to our landfills, we should do that ourselves and not ask someone else to do it for us.  Okay, climbing off my soapbox now.

 My husband demonstrating that taste truly is subjective. 

Once you do have your worthwhile items ready to go, there are myriad options for places to bring them. 

1.  Baby/Child Clothing & Goods:  There are so many options for donating your no longer needed baby items.  In addition to the above mentioned Crisis Nursery, your town might have a maternity home like Sparrow’s Nest or Our Lady’s Inn that seeks donations.  Shelters for victims of domestic violence are another great option as they often bring their young children with them.  Your community might have a foster care alliance to support families providing foster care.  Our church is currently partnering with Safe Families for Children and creating a resource closet of infant and child clothing as well as baby and toddler supplies for children that are in care.  Before you bring your clothing to any of the above places, please call to verify their current needs.  Last, but certainly not least, consider sharing with another family that you already know.  We have been on both the recieving and sharing end of this deal, and it is pretty exciting to get a free winter coat for your child, and unbearably sweet to see your ten year old’s baby clothes on a newborn you love.

2.  Adult Clothing:  When we started working through the book Seven: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess with our friends, this was the first area that we tackled.  After we gathered up an inordinate amount of clothing from our closets we all did some research on where to take it.  We landed on The International Institute in St. Louis, because a large portion of our clothing was business or business casual, and the International Institute helps outfit immigrants and refugees for job interviews and employment.  During our research, we found some other great places to bring adult clothing, including domestic abuse shelters, homeless shelters and some great social entrepreneurial partnerships, like REFRESH, a resale shop whose profits go to support kids in the foster care system.  If you have unwanted shoes that are still in great working condition, consider donating them to Solea Water (formerly The Shoeman), a local non-profit that sells shoes on the used shoe market and uses the profits to dig wells for fresh water in a number of participating countries.  If you have clothing that is unique to a specific time period, consider donating it to a local theater company.  Many theater companies keep an inventory of potential costumes on hand and would love to have your purple suede prom tuxedo.

3.  Books:  The first place I go with books I want to donate is my public library.  Our local Friends of the Library organization holds book sales to sell donated books it does not need for circulation as well as other books they’ve moved off the shelves, and last summer’s sale raised over $80,000 to fund programs like the summer reading program.  The book sale  is also a fantastic place to score great reads for as little as a quarter but I guess I’m not supposed to be giving you ideas for where to accumulate more belongings (pssst….the spring sale is April 17th).  Some of the places listed under baby clothing are also great options for donating children’s books, as well as local schools, Head Start Programs, or programs like Ready Readers, which keeps a list of books they’d love to receive on their website.  One of the most creative ideas I’ve seen for books you are ready to part with are these adorable Free Little Libraries.  If any of you decide to make one, send me a picture and I’ll feature it here (and help keep it stocked) because I think these things are the coolest.

4.  Household Goods:  One easy way to find a new home for household goods is a website called Donation Town.  Donation Town keeps track of hundreds of local charities, and will match you with a charity that will pick up your donation at your house.  If you have new household goods (perhaps you’ve moved into a new home and are replacing the stock lighting with your own lighting), consider donating to the Habitat ReStore, which sells house and building supplies to fund its home-building mission.  You could also consider contacting local homeless shelters to see if your household goods could help someone transitioning out of homelessness into a home.  Another great social entrepreneurial partnership west of St. Louis is Agape’s Hometown Thrift Shop.  The shop is run primarily by volunteers, and proceeds benefit the Agape food pantry.  Freecyle is a great option for sharing items within your community, as it connects you with local people giving away or in search of items you might have to share.  I like to think of it as a free Craigslist.  Or, you can always just put everything at the end of your driveway after a neighborhood-wide or city-wide garage sale and it is sure to disappear by the next morning. 

5.  Electronics:  This category intimidates me a little, which might explain why I have a 13-yea-old iMac in my basement.  Before you donate any electronics, it is imperative that you completely wipe clean your hard drive, and since I don’t know how to do that, my old computer is now my kids’ “spy communication device.”  I’m hoping one of you can help this task seem less daunting.  In the meantime, I do have some suggestions for where those of you who are a bit more tech savvy can take your old electronics.  This is one category where Goodwill really shines.  They’ve partnered with Dell to refurbish or recyle electronics for use in your local community.  Do you have video games or handheld gaming devices to share? Get Well Gamers is a non-profit that donates used video games to children’s hospitals.  Have a cell phone that is still in great condition?  Cell Phones for Soldiers connects your phone to an active service member.  Keep in mind that if your electronic devices are not in good enough working order for you, you probably should not donate them to someone else.  If your electronics are beyond repair or use, please recycle them.

I hope some of these ideas help any of you who might be hanging onto belongings because you haven’t found the right place to take them.  However,  keep in mind that at the end of the day (or in my case, 40 days), if we are serious about reducing the number of possessions that we are storing and caring for, at some point we do have to prioritize them actually leaving our houses.  That may mean that we don’t get to drop each item off at the absolute perfect place.  It may mean that we put our bags on the porch for the next agency that calls to schedule a pick-up, no matter who it is.  That’s okay.  So go ahead, brainstorm for ideas or share with your friends, but above all, set a date on your calendar after which your donated belongings are going to the place of least resistance.  Don’t let your garage be your new basement.

Now excuse my while I go load up my minivan. 

This post is part of a series on quitting your job as a Stuff Manager.  Drop back in to read more about my journey over the next forty days, or subscribe by email if you don’t want to miss a post!  I look forward to hearing about your own resignation. 

1.  Letter of Resignation – On quitting my job as Stuff Manager
2.  I’m Never Going to Make That Beer Bottle Cap Table – On letting go of things that aren’t for us
3.  But I’ll Need That in the Zombie Apocalypse (and Other Excuses) – On excuses for our clutter  
4.  Donating Outside the Box –  On finding a great place for your donations
5.  7 Ideas for Managing Digital Clutter – On minimizing distractions and clutter on your devices 
6.  Is Organizing Just Well-Managed Hoarding? – On the difference between organizing and purging 
7.  Getting to Know Mr. Jones:  An Antidote to ConsumerismOn exploring where we got all of this stuff in the first place and a communal antidote to over-consumption
8.  Taking Back Your Square Footage –  On creating space in your home that reflects your intentions and values

But I’ll Need That in the Zombie Apocalypse (and Other Excuses)

“Why do we even own this?!?” 

I can’t tell you how many times those words have come out of my mouth in the last week.  Since resigning from my position as Stuff Manager last week and taking on the 40 Bags in 40 Days Challenge, I’ve unearthed a treasure trove of items that should have been discarded months or even years ago.  Truth be told, some of them should never have made it in the front door in the first place!

This is just one of the treasures we found in our home this week.  It’s a mug.  Of a face.  
I’m pretty sure we gave it away more than once. 
 I’m not actually sure how it keeps finding its way back to our home.
  Or why no one would keep it.

I’m 17 bags in, and this process has prompted me to think about all the excuses I use to hang onto all of this stuff as well as some of the excuses I’ve heard from others on this decluttering journey.  Here are a few of my favorites, and some ideas for how to overcome them:

Excuse:  I might need it later.  This has to be the most popular excuse for hanging onto our possessions.   We live in a culture that is both consumption driven and obsessed with value.  We want to buy things for as little money as possible, and most of us don’t want to replace those items either (despite the fact that cheap often equals poorly made and likely to fall apart).  This is how we end up storing things like camping gear despite the fact that we’ve only been camping once.  I mean, I might go camping again in fifteen years.  It would be wasteful to go out and buy a new box of waterproof matches when I could have just keep the box I already have in my basement.

My son felt pretty certain he might use these Altoids boxes at some point in the future.

Solution:  Use Goodwill as storage.  One of the most creative solutions I’ve ever heard to this particular excuse comes from a blogger named Nina Nelson who had to pare way back on belongings when she decided to move her family of six into a tiny home in a converted school bus.  Nina once said she likes to use Goodwill like her own personal storage unit.  Chances are, your local Goodwill will have that thing you’ve been hanging onto for ten years when you need it again.  Just because you let something go does not mean you’ll have to pay full-price to replace (if you ever actually need to replace it).  Sharing items with your friends and family is another way around hanging onto clutter.  I’ve seen neighbors all pitch in to purchase one shared snow blower and friends trade baby goods until they were falling apart.   Ask yourself honestly, do you and every member of your extended family each need his or her own fondue set?  Probably not. 

Excuse:  It’s too valuable to part with.  How many times have you gone through your wardrobe in the attempt to discard the clothing you don’t use anymore only to come across something that you haven’t worn in the last year but it seems “too nice” to give away?  When I left full-time work ten years ago, I struggled with this.  I hung onto several suits for way too long, knowing that I would not return to the type of work that required suits before mine went out of style, if ever.  When I finally parted with them, I felt a pang of guilt for not letting them go sooner, because there are women that need suits for interviews or jobs and can’t afford to buy them, and much like my sewing machine, mine were collecting dust in a closet when they could have been out blessing someone else.

Solution:  Use it or let it be of value to someone else.  I’ve got two solutions for you here.  I gave the suits and all of my business casual work clothes away after reading Seven: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess a couple of years ago, and now I approach my donations from the opposite perspective.  If I have something in my closet that I haven’t worn that season and it is particularly nice, that is the item I am most likely to give away, because that is the item that has the potential of making the most impact in someone else’s life.  Your valuable items only offer you as much value as you get out of their use.  If you aren’t using your valuable items, let them be of value to someone else.  If you still can’t part with your valuable items, then for crying out loud, use them!  Bring out your best dishes and serve dinner on them to the people you live with.  Wear that dress on a weekend for no good reason, other than the fact that you love it.  You don’t have to wait for a special occasion.  You are the special occasion, and so are the people you love. 

Excuse:  It was a gift.  This is a tricky one.  Sometimes we hold onto things simply because they were gifts and we don’t want to hurt the person’s feelings that gave the gift.  We imagine that Grandma will come to visit and immediately notice that the miniature spoons she has been sending over the years are not on display.

Solution:  People before things.  Look, this one is really personal.  I’ll offer up a few suggestions, but ultimately, you know your people better than I know your people.  If you’re lucky, you’re in honest enough relationships that you can tell the truth about what you like and the amount of objects you like to own.  If you’re even luckier, the gift giver has a sense of humor and understands why you would pass along an object like this in your next White Elephant Gift Exchange:

This very special DVD has been passed around a group of my friends for a decade now. 

But, if you feel that your relationship would be truly damaged if you got rid of a gift, you could consider keeping it.  We use the phrase “people before things” a lot in our home (usually when breaking up fights between our boys over Pokemon cards) and while that usually means that the relationship should be about something more than the material gifts, it might mean, on hopefully a rare occasion, you hang onto the thing for the sake of the relationship.

You know, kind of like that time on The Gilmore Girls when Emily hung onto 35 years worth of gifts from her mother-in-law and only brought them out when she came to visit.  Except maybe on a smaller scale.

Excuse:  I’ll need it in the zombie apocalypse.  You make a fair point here.  As someone who has given up 400 square feet of basement storage for holiday decorations but has only one backpack and few gallons of water in the way of emergency preparation, you win this argument.  There is a point to be made for being prepared for an emergency.  There are so many great resources out there to help you (and me) set up an appropriate emergency preparation center in your home, but I promise you that your 1982 television is not going to do you a lot of good in the zombie apocalypse.  It will only slow down one zombie, if you are lucky.

We can’t be stopped by your Ab Master Plus or your George Forman Grill. 

Solution:  Make a real plan and execute it.  Our plans for the zombie apocalypse involve the above costumes, a Super Walmart and the advice found in Rye Bread and the Loafer’s Post Apocalyptic Love Song: Tales of a Doomsday Prepper, to which you really need to click here and give a listen.  No, seriously.  I’ll wait.  Okay, are you back?  Feeling better prepared?  If you still insist on doing actual emergency planning, check out The Red Cross’s plans for emergency preparedness tips and set aside things you’ll actually need in an emergency.  Keep tabs on those items, making sure you use canned goods or bottled water before it expires.  But don’t fool yourself into thinking that everything in your basement or attic is going to be useful in the event of a natural disaster.  No one is going to barter their canned goods for your childhood Barbie Dreamhouse.

Excuse: But I Collect Those!
  I hear you.  I’m not a collector myself, but I’m raising one.  My seven year old will try to turn anything (rocks, Rainbow Loom bracelets, the aforementioned Pokemon cards, stuffed animals, outgrown baseball caps) into a collection if it means he does not have to throw it away.  I mean, it’s a collection, not clutter.  What kinds of collections are you stashing away?  Maybe you have a huge box of Precious Moments figurines in your basement that you don’t display anymore because they no longer fit your home decor style, but you are hanging onto them for your future daughter-in-law.  Because you just know she’ll love them. 

Solution:  Use it or lose it.   I recognize that collections can be such a joy to true collectors.  There is the thrill of the hunt for the perfect item and the joy in introducing your interests to others through a well-maintained and displayed collection.  At their best, collections are the heart and soul of museums (of which I am a big fan).  But a pile of similarly-themed items in a box does not a collection make.  If you have collections that you are not ready to part with, consider putting them on display in your home where you can enjoy them.  Put the stamps in a photo album or hang the plates on a wall.  Enjoy the work you put into curating your collection.  Otherwise, like with the items that are too valuable to give up, it might be time to let your collection be a blessing to someone else.  Just maybe not your future daughter-in-law.  She can thank me later.

Do you see yourself in any of these excuses?  Or do you have other reasons for hanging on to all of the things you don’t use anymore?  I’d love to hear how you’ve overcome your own obstacles to letting go.

This post is part of a series on quitting your job as a Stuff Manager.  Drop back in to read more about my journey over the next forty days, or subscribe by email if you don’t want to miss a post!  I look forward to hearing about your own resignation. 
1.  Letter of Resignation – On quitting my job as Stuff Manager
2.  I’m Never Going to Make That Beer Bottle Cap Table – On letting go of things that aren’t for us
3.  But I’ll Need That in the Zombie Apocalypse (and Other Excuses) – On excuses for our clutter  
4.  Donating Outside the Box –  On finding a great place for your donations