“Stuff is great; so having more stuff is even more greater!” – a genius
When I was young, I more or less believed this (obviously made-up) quote. I liked the things I had, so it made sense to want more things.
As I got older, I began to feel differently. Perhaps I grew as a person, realizing that there’s more to life than material accumulation.
Or maybe I just ran out of space to store all my junk.
Either way, it seems that “what should I do with all this stuff?!” is a question which becomes more important as we age. And perhaps this is especially true for multipotentialites. New passions often require new gear, so we can easily end up with heaps of detritus:
Oh, THERE’S my seventeen balls of yarn! I’ll just leave them here for now, between the anvil and the abandoned beehive.
Owning too much stuff can cause problems. Obviously, it leads to lack of space. But it can take a mental toll, too: from being a constant source of low-level distraction, all the way to making it seriously difficult to function.
We can’t only accumulate—at times, we have to divest.
And yet, it’s oddly difficult to dispose of accumulated possessions. After all, they might come in useful someday, or perhaps a long-dormant interest could reignite.
Sentimental attachment makes it harder still. For the past decade, I’ve owned a tuba which I’ve not really been able to make space for in any of the places I’ve lived. Yet I still hold onto it because it represents a dream of someday having the space, time and stability to join a band again.
Then there are the things we hold onto because we feel guilty for not using them properly. The exercise equipment, the cookbooks, the potter’s wheel… But no matter the cause, the result is identical: a whole load of clutter, and no idea what to do with it.
Whatever you want to do is (probably) alright
Naturally, I won’t—and can’t!—tell you what to do with your things.
You might want to embrace minimalism. Or you might want to build a vast Museum of Forgotten Interests. There’s no right answer to how to live, or how much unused stuff to keep.
The important thing is to consciously engage with possessions. If I haven’t made a conscious choice to own something, to store it, or to remove it, then it’s just there, taking up space. From time-to-time I like to refresh that choice—to either recommit to keeping it, or to move it on somehow.
Without this conscious re-engagement, clutter fades into the background and becomes normalized. (Have you ever forgotten that it’s supposed to be possible to enter a shed or closet, rather than adding to the heap inside?!)
The path of least resistance means nothing will change—and, most likely, this means continuing to gradually accumulate possessions. That may be fine; it may not be—but you might prefer to choose.
How to decide what to do with your stuff
Here are 11 things to keep in mind as you decide whether to keep or let go of your accumulated belongings:
- Consider your own need for space, and your home environment. Does clutter bother you, or not? Is there a “magic amount”—not too much, not too little—of possessions which helps you to feel happiest?
- Consider the actual space that you have access to. Do you have plenty of storage, or do you live in a tiny apartment? There’s something to be said for “live the life you want, not the one you have,” but we inevitably must take practical reality into account.
- Don’t fall for all-or-nothing thinking. You don’t have to throw every possession into the trash! Getting rid of just some things will free up space, both physically and mentally.
- Get rid of anything you don’t want and don’t use. Sometimes simply taking the time to do this can clear up a surprising amount of room.
- Don’t feel guilty! We’ve talked before on Puttylike about not needing to complete literally everything. It doesn’t reflect badly on you that you tried out knitting and later gave it up. Consequently, there’s no need to keep the needles lying around and suffusing your home with low-level atmospheric guilt.
- But… if you do have remnants of “failed” projects lying around, can you use the objects in new ways? Perhaps those knitting needles could be turned into a piece of art, thus removing the guilt AND letting you explore another passion. (Obviously, this will only work for some clutter, and some multipods. Turning a cookbook into a “found poetry” book could be fun for some of us; torture for others!)
- Weigh the actual chances that you’ll use something again. If you won’t, don’t worry about the sunk cost fallacy. You can’t go back in time and not buy the thing—in the present moment your only choice is “keep” or “move on.” Which will make you happier in the near term?
- Is your attachment to an object sentimental, practical or both? If it’s purely sentimental, I like to tell myself that I only need to remember the thing, not own it! (In this case I take photos of an object before getting rid of it, so I can enjoy the memories without it taking up space.)
- Do you know someone else who might benefit from this stuff? Whether a friend, family member or charity, there may be a chance for you to spread a little happiness and make a little more room too.
- Simply re-organizing can be helpful. Boxes, containers, shelves—anything that de-clutters could help you make more use of your space. As a bonus, being able to access your stuff may make you more likely to use whatever is lying around!
- Many people say they almost never miss things after getting rid of them, and this is true for me too. During many, many house moves, I’ve thrown away a ton of possessions. Despite endlessly worrying that I might do so, I have never actually missed a single object!
Remember, none of the above is gospel—it’s simply a prompt to take whatever action will make you, personally, happiest. If you think you’d feel less burdened if you got rid of some objects which are stressing you out—do it! If not, that’s excellent.
Hopefully this will help you to choose conscious engagement over unconscious accumulation, and to get closer to the perfect space for you to live and work in.
How do you deal with leftovers from past interests? What about other accumulated clutter? Share your tips and stories with the community in the comments!