stuff

clutter.jpg

Am I the only one who is tired of stuff? 

I feel like I spend almost all of my time cleaning stuff, cooking stuff, picking stuff up, shopping for stuff, getting rid of old stuff, organizing stuff, tidying stuff, making stuff, rearranging stuff, picking stuff out, nagging my children to clean up their stuff, and on and on.

Even in the blogosphere, there is a lot of talk about stuff.  Don’t get me wrong, I love lovely things as much as the next person.  I want my children to be well dressed and have clever things to play with.  I want my home to be attractive.  I’d love a perfect dress right now.  But, my goodness there are a lot of blogs devoted to design and shopping.  Yes, those melamine plates are cute, but the ones I already have are working just fine.  I adore those hip baby shoes, but I can’t quite justify $45 for an infant’s footwear (or $100 for the baby book I just saw on Design Mom!).  And, if I get more stuff, I’ll just have to find a place for it, pick it up, put it away, clean it, maintain it….

I don’t want my life to be so much about stuff.  I want to spend more time on ideas, people, and meaningful activities. 

The thing is, if I try to just ignore the stuff in favor of fun outings, playing games, reading great books, etc., the stuff just grows.  I end up with piles of stuff like dirty laundry, dishes, mail, school papers, dust, mislaid toys.  Garbage cans overflow.  We run out of milk and clean socks.  Kids (and husband) start asking for help to find their stuff.  Chaos ensues, sometimes in as little as 24 hours.  Clearly, ignoring the stuff is not the answer.

I can, as an alternative, focus completely on stuff.  I’m up to my elbows in Windex and Comet.  I’m devising new organizational schemes.  I’m picking out attractive fabrics and housewares.  I’m thinking up creative ideas for decorating, gardening, and housekeeping.  I’m scrubbing, polishing, and shining.  And it’s totally depressing.  This is partly because I have young children, who tend to undo everything I do, almost before I’m even finished doing it.  It’s also because it is human nature to be hard on ourselves.  The closer we get to some measure of perfection, the higher we move our standards.  I want my house to be 100% clean and organized at the same time.  Immaculate, and perfectly decorated.  With clean, perfectly dressed children.  But, because I don’t live inside a Pottery Barn catalogue, these just aren’t realistic goals.  A stuff-focused existence is also depressing because we don’t place a high value on things like cleaning in our culture.  When most of your daily tasks would earn you only minimum wage in the work-world, life feels like drudgery. 

So how about it?  How can we put our stuff in proper perspective?  How do we balance our spiritual nature with our temporal existence?  How can we explore our creativity and desire for loveliness in our visual world, yet stay focused on the things that matter more? 

My wise and loyal commenters, all 4.5 of you, do you have any ideas?  Am I the only one who thinks about things like this?  If you had a million dollars, would you spend it all on stuff, or could you figure out a way to use it in a more meaningful way?  Would you give up your stuff, even the stuff you really, really like, if it meant you would be happier?  In your real life, how have you simplified your stuff so that you can spend more time doing things you really care about? 

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13 thoughts on “stuff

  1. kira

    Ahh Liz…I love your blog. You always seem like you are on top of it ALL! It is nice to know that you wonder about all this stuff too. My Mom rocks, but our house wasn’t ever really clean. She had 11 kids and she went to all the events: football,volleyball,basketball,tennis,track,wrestling, musicals, church stuff, seminary stuff, etc. She made homemade food, she played the piano for us, she sewed prom dresses and drove us around. I could go on and on, but the point is based on my life I would say err on the side of people and activities – your kids won’t really care if your house is spotless or you have cute plates! Focus on the people and if you really love it do it – if it is just for show forget about it!

    Great post by the way – really made me think!

    Reply
  2. Danielle

    You know one of very favorite things about the Hall women is that you are “idea” people. You are thinking people who do and learn and seek to grow (It seems that way to me anyway). I don’t have a word of advice on this one, but I tell you what…it makes me think. I know that for me stuff, especially the cute unecessary stuff, is a diversion. Its a way to pass the time till I get to live my “real life” which for me means motherhood. I also think we kind of go in stages in life (duh). I have noticed that with friends I grew up with. It seems like now we are all in the “feather our nest” gathering stuff phase. My mom often gives me stuff that she is tired of having clutter up her life. Stuff that she says she wished she had when she was my age, and would have actually used it. It seems to me, as far as motherhood goes, stuff is good when it creates memories or learning opportunities for your children. I am sure Mary will always treasure the apron you made her etc. Some stuff is silly but makes us happier people, just because we get to be a little self indulgent–which is ok. Laundry is the kind of stuff that can’t be ignored although I try really hard. What am I going to do when I have children? It does seem like a big balancing act though (duh again). I can’t wait to read everyone’s advice. Thanks for making me think.

    Reply
  3. Janika

    Hi Liz. Love your blog–not sure how I found it, but I still love it! I agree about all of the stuff. I think that’s why I love going on vacation so much–you only pack what you need and all the stuff is left behind. An empty hotel room–ahh, what bliss! With four children under 9, I can totally relate to the chaos you feel. A few things that have helped us include giving “experiences” for Christmas and birthdays and throwing stuff away as soon as we realize it’s not useful or making anyone happy. It’s like beating back the jungle!

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  4. Andrea

    Lately we have come to realize that if our house were to burn down, the only things I would truly care about would be my girls and Dave. Even if all of our scrapbooks and journals and home movies were ash, life would still be okay.
    That said, we are such consumers. Our trash can is always overflowing. I try to keep to a place for everything and everything in it’s place. It’s a delicate balance. Right now, I am painting our walk in closet and the mess has spilled over to the entire house. I am not sure how to justify that, or even how it happened!
    We do make regular walk throughs and throw stuff out or donate it. The thing that made that easy, was a pipe burst in our garage and wrecked all of the little baby girls clothes I was saving. What I was saving them for, I am not sure exactly. But it sort of gave me permission to throw things out. I also try to give myself about 2 hours in the morning to get most things under control. I encourage Livvy to get her week long homework done on Monday so, if we feel like going to the park on Tuesday, we don’t have to worry about her homework. We just go.

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  5. Anne

    Here’s the thing. I really like certain stuff. Like wimples and crisping pins kinda stuff. I know. I’m going to heck like those Zoramite chicks. But seriously, like Danielle said, some stuff is necessary and fun and arguably can add to the quality of your life. Other stuff totally detracts from quality of life. For example, I think some toys are over-stimulating, and prefer things that require more imagination. Also, when my life is not in balance, I start to over-value those darn wimples and forget how unimportant they are. The stuff I really despise is the PAPERS everywhere! Gag-o-rama.

    Reply
  6. Rhall

    I am the queen of not throwing things away! So now I have another dwelling to store things in. Help! Pity the people that have to deal with my stuff when I am gone. Very thoughtful blog, Liz. And love the comments.

    Reply
  7. Christina

    I just read a book that was recommended by my brother. It was definitely a life-changing read for their family. I enjoyed the book and got as far as cleaning out my closet, but the basement still torments me! The book is called It’s All Too Much by Peter Walsh (host of TLC’s Clean Sweep). It gives you the directions that you need to get your stuff under control, but also goes into the psychology of ‘stuff’ and the toll it can take on our lives if we let it! I think you would enjoy it!

    Reply
  8. sillyjillybean

    Liz,
    A few things that work for me about stuff:

    1. Twice a year we purge our home. Kids rooms (clothing/toys), Bedrooms (clothing), Kitchen (stuff).
    2. If an item hasn’t been worn or played with for 1 year, it is tossed.
    3. If a room cannot be picked up (literally) in less than 1 minute (exception-kitchen/toyroom which is hidden), it is too cluttered and must be purged. So for me, by 9 am when it is time for my girls to go to school, the house is usually cleaned up.
    4. Storage containers, storage containers, storage containers!
    5. Now, our house can be messy, don’t get me wrong. It is my neurotic mexican housekeeping gene that keeps it this way. Read my grandma’s e-mails (she is 80) and she still comments on what was cleaned/purged daily.
    6. I still remember going to Vicky Lambert’s home that first time and I thought she had really figured it out about the clutter issue.

    Reply
  9. homemaker

    Stuff! All those things have crossed my mind, but I have never organized them like you just did. Great post. I too have three boys. I love boys! I will be checking back here again.

    Reply
  10. liz Post author

    I feel like maybe I need to clarify that I’m not concerned I have too much stuff — I actually think I’m above average de-junker, though definitely not up to the standards of Vicki (my mother-in-law) or Jill (my sister-in-law). Rather, I’m concerned that everybody places too much emphasis on stuff. I don’t want to spend my time and energy on it. Our society is rife with materialism! Just wanted to make myself clear.

    That said, I really appreciate all of the great ideas. Kira, you grew up in an awesome family — I love “focus on people, and if you love it, do it.” That would solve this whole issue! Danielle and Anne, thank you both for reminding me that some of our stuff contributes to our happiness — I agree. Janika, welcome. We like the giving experiences idea, too, and are going on a trip instead of Christmas this year! Andrea, I really like your 2 hour time limit for housework — I might try that one. Mom, if we don’t get your stuff under control before you die, I’m going to kick your gravestone! Christina, I like Peter Walsh — that book sounds like one worth reading. Jill, I will never be as clean and efficient as you, but thinking about you helps me get closer! Homemaker, thanks for your kind words — welcome aboard.

    This is insanely long, and I hope you aren’t still reading, but if you are, I’ve come to a conclusion. Stuff is part of our earthly experience. I am not a nun, and cannot simplify my life to the point of not having stuff. Therefore, I should enjoy the stuff I like and/or need and get rid of the rest. And, balance my time between the good stuff and the people, places, and things that matter most. Thanks everyone!

    Reply
  11. Kate

    I liked this post of yours. As I get ready to move, and move into a smaller place, I am downsizing and evaluating what stuff I have that makes me happy! It definitely is a delicate balance. We really dont have too much stuff, but moving is so great, it helps you at least go through the stuff you have…and I have decided that I want to make an effort to buy things that I really want to have, or really need. So I am happy I read this and have this to think about because my packing starts this week! thanks for another great post!

    Reply
  12. Millie

    Dude. I was just thinking about this, this weekend. Years ago I used to go to a chat room where Mormonism was debated – so good for me – and one anti lady said, “It would be nice if the Church would stop spending money on those huge temples that take up so much space, and give the money to the poor instead.” This really bothered me (obviously) until last Friday, when we were driving around town and I noticed a new Wal-Mart. Its grounds were well-maintained, it occupied a huge lot – much like the temples. And I thought, so it’s OK for this company to spend billions of dollars on these stores so consumers can go and buy more crap to fill up their houses and worship the god of commercialism, but it’s not OK for us to build temples so we can worship God?

    I’ve been getting rid of quite a bunch of stuff lately and I love it. My life is much calmer lately! Great post!

    Reply
  13. Trina

    I know I’m late – I was out of town for the weekend, and am catching up on some blogs – before I unpack MY stuff. This post (which rings so true) reminded me of four days we spent in a Winnemucca, NV, RV park (we had one of the two tent sites) when the transmission in our van blew over a holiday weekend. Here’s the “stuff” we lived with for four days: Our clothing, our camping gear (6×6 tent for 5 of us), various groceries, some bookds, a portable DVD player, and six blessed hours of “Pride and Prejudice.” I LOVED it . . . no homework, no callings, no dishes (except the pan we heated soup in), no telephone (bad reception). Every day consisted of “What time shall we go swimming, and which can of soup shall we crack open for lunch?” We read books while the kids played on the playground, and at night we’d put them to bed in the tent, and watch an hour or two of P&P. Coming back to the real world was depressing!

    I’m feeling strangely motivated to purge some closets!

    Reply

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