What to Do with ALL THIS STUFF?! 11 Tips for Multipotentialites

What to Do with ALL THIS STUFF?! 11 Tips for Multipotentialites

Written by Neil Hughes

Topics: Lifestyle Design

“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 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:

  1. 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?
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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!)
  7. 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?
  8. 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.)
  9. 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.
  10. 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!
  11. 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!

Do You!

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.

Your Turn

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!

neil_2017_2Neil Hughes is the author of Walking on Custard & the Meaning of Life, a comical and useful guide to life with anxiety. Along with writing more books, he puts his time into standup comedy, computer programming, public speaking and other things from music to video games to languages. He struggles to answer the question “so, what do you do?” and is worried that the honest answer is probably “procrastinate.” He would like it if you found him at walkingoncustard.com and on Twitter as @enhughesiasm.

38 Comments

  1. TANYA M Henderson says:

    I would highly recommend donations. Local schools are always looking for crafting items for the younger kids and some of your stuff can be donated to local Maker spaces as well. This helps to relieve the guilt. You are passing your passion along, not getting rid of it.

  2. Victoria says:

    One reason I hold on to some things is because I spent a lot of money on it. Selling stuff through Facebook virtual yard sales is popular in my area, and I’ve been meaning to try that out.

    I focus on buying less, because it’s easier for me! My local library just added a “Library of Things” and it’s a multipotentialite’s dream come true. It’s totally free and they have stuff like ukulele’s, banjos, gopros, bird watching kits, telescopes, sewing machines, and wacom drawing tablets. Be sure to see if you have something similar in your area, although in some places I’ve heard of a small rental fee. If not, advocate for one or start one by renting out what you already have!

    • Neil Hughes says:

      Ooh, good point, Victoria – I completely neglected to think about the financial side of this when I was writing the post. I love that the community unfailingly comes up with greater wisdom than I possibly could. Also, that library sounds absolutely amazing!

  3. Jose Siandre says:

    Neil, thanks for posting on this topic. I myself was caught by the guilt of an uncompleted interest and letting it accumulate in my house. You gave me the motivation and reason to finally let my electric guitar go to someone else who might give it new life.

    • Neil Hughes says:

      Oh wow, thanks Jose, I love that this post inspired you to take some action. I hope that guitar brings some more music into someone’s life now, and that you have a little more energy and space to fill with something else exciting :)

  4. RitaJC says:

    Great article! And great suggestions!

    I can agree with almost everything!

    Only … I really have experienced, that I missed something later that I had given or thrown away in a mad decluttering spree, BADLY! :D

    • Maryske says:

      Same here. Especially books. Every time I move (which averages about once a year) there is a bunch of books of which I feel I haven’t read them in ages and I doubt I’ll ever read them again. So they go to a second hand shop or the likes. (Never, EVER in the bin!!! It’s physically impossible for me to throw books in the bin!) Only to discover a few months later that I’d love to read this or that book again – and I don’t have it anymore!! And even in this age of online second hand bookstores, it’s not always easy to get hold of everything again.

      • Mary-Lou Mayfield says:

        The nice thing about books, if you can’t find it at the library, you can usually find a replacement online.

      • Neil Hughes says:

        So true, I physically can’t imagine binning a book! I tend to get rid of all the ones I won’t read again when I move, so now I mostly only have books that have some meaning to me, or that I really loved :)

    • Neil Hughes says:

      Aha, of course my experience isn’t universal, and I’m sure it’s possible to get rid of things we later want! I guess we can only do the best we can – make our best guesses as to what will make our future self happiest, and do right by our present self with our use of space too!

  5. Paco says:

    One of the things that helps me with this condition is to tell myself that I have a set amount of creative energy. I have two choices:

    1. Store all that creative energy in half-completed, or even completed projects that I’m no longer interested in

    2. Get rid of the “stuff” by giving/throwing things away, thereby releasing that creative energy for future projects.

    And you know what? When I declutter my life, I suddenly have a burst of creativity where I produce tons of new stuff or learn new skills. When I finally gave away the melodica that I never learned how to play, I discovered my passion for the ukulele.

    Of course, now I have too many ukuleles and have multiple half-finished ones that I started building and then abandoned. Time to start decluttering again . . .

  6. Gabi says:

    I kind of like the Museum idea. … I have my tenor saxophone languishing in the attic. One of my children even played it for a term. So, yes, I understand. I have done a purge of all scrapbooking papers, never really got into it. Plus those people and their cricket tools or whatever they are called take the books very seriously, if you show up with your modge podge scrapbook, the disdain is palpable.

    Just ordered a bunch of bins… time to organize. thanks for the tips!

    • Neil Hughes says:

      Good luck, Gabi! I love the idea of the Museum, too, though I definitely don’t have the space for it right now.

  7. Wendi says:

    I moved to a much smaller place a year ago. After trying to live with piles of stuff and creating an obstacle course of objects, I started sorting, organizing or donating. We have a really great resource in town that Multipotentialites would LOVE. It’s call the Repurpose Project. Whenever I start a new hobby (usually something to do with art) I go there for my supplies first. Most likely some other Multipotentialite has already tried it and donated their supplies. It’s a great way of making sure that nothing is getting thrown away and that the items are actually being used again.

    • Neil Hughes says:

      What an amazing sounding project! (And I also weirdly liked the idea of living in an obstacle course… though I’m sure I’d get tired of it pretty quickly… :D)

    • Dani says:

      Hi Wendi,
      I’m curious to learn more about the Repurpoae project—do they have a website or address you could share? Thanks a lot!

  8. This is a fantastic article! I found a way to embrace all my unfinished projects in an unusual way. I am a jeweller and have many many other craft projects on the go. I worried about having paid for my tools and then realised that there were others who would love what I have. So I approached our council and we have set up a community space where we have a studio designed to be a tool depository. We collectively keep tools, materials and books there and members come and access and use them as they need them. It has been an amazing journey, and soon we will need more space!

    • Neil Hughes says:

      Amazing! So many people are sharing stories like this, and I’ve never heard of the concept. It’s so cool that this exists :)

  9. Mary-Lou Mayfield says:

    I used to hold on to things because I couldn’t afford to replace them. Now I think, “if I need something like this again, could I afford to buy a new one?”

  10. Angela says:

    Thanks for the link to my article on sentimental clutter!

  11. Relate!! Lol. I have those balls of yarn in my basement. Every year or two I look at them and think I should get rid of them but I haven’t really wanted to yet. They remind me of a period when I lived up in the Yukon and it was such a special time. The balls of yarn are the most tangible thing I still have from then. I think you’re so right about bringing the element of conscious awareness to these accumulated things. That way it’s a choice and not something that feels more shadowy.

    • Neil Hughes says:

      Aw, I’m so happy the random example of yarn was actually meaningful to someone. Thank you so much for sharing!

  12. Stefano Petrozzi says:

    Personalmente ho una libreria piena di libri e riviste, molti non li ho ancora letti ma altri li tengo a portata di mano per una consultazione rapida, periodicamente, diciamo una volta l’anno tolgo dagli scaffali quei documenti che non consulto ormai da anni. Generalmente non tendo a gettare via nulla ma a spostarli in stanze poco utilizzate della casa. Ho la tendenza a conservare perché penso che un giorno potrebbero essermi utili, ma cerco di contrastare questa tendenza, nascondendoli dalla vista mi permette di focalizzarmi maggiormente su poche attività.

  13. Edward says:

    Great subject, Neil,

    Over all of the years of creating and inventing and experimenting and making messes galore, I learned a while back that I MUST stay organized with regard to my “stuff”.

    Primarily, it’s because I don’t want to be buried by it! A close second, though, is that there are just so many times that I need something, and if I’m in the middle of a project it just drives me absolutely nuts to have to search for it in a disorganized amalgam of parts and supplies.

    I think it was Gabi that mentioned using bins. That has worked perfectly for me. All of my ongoing, but not yet finished, projects reside in them along with all of the necessary materials to finish. They are all labeled and fairly well organized.

    As far as space is concerned, I am fortunate to be able to have added as much space as I need (mostly at the office/lab), and I have learned (slowly albeit) that it’s counter-productive to let my everyday living space become invaded by a project, no matter what, because that slows down everything else in my life just too much.

    It took me a long time to become disciplined enough to follow through on this, but it’s been worth it.

    • Neil Hughes says:

      Thanks Edward, I’m glad it resonated with you. I think you’re right – some of us need that level of organisation, for others it would doubtless feel constricting. I’m with you, though – if things get too disorganised I start to feel stressed and I can’t function until everything is in its place again. The main thing is to know what we personally need and to aim to live it as best as possible :)

  14. Lindsey Schocke says:

    I have been a fly lady fan for years and continually work on decluttering. Despite my efforts, we still have lots of clutter but it is more manageable. I sometimes jokingly blame this on my husband because I am not allowed to donate, throw away, or remove the things that he has collected over the years, without his permission. Gaining his permission is a time consuming process involving bringing him like three or four possessions per day and saying “keep, donate, or trash”. Most of the time the answer is keep, sometimes donate, almost never trash. But hey we are slowly working through things. I have a rule if I am bringing something in to the house (purchase) I have to donate or trash something in return. It can be big or small, whatever. Getting rid of old projects is hard to do but satisfying for me to also get rid of the ambient guilt for not working on them. I really don’t tend to go back to the old projects and I know it in my heart of hearts. If you have those 17 yarn balls, why not donate all but one yarn ball in memory of those positive times. That means you have 16 less!

    • Neil Hughes says:

      Perfect! And so true – of course we have to consider other people who share our space… a consideration I didn’t bring to the original article, so thank you for adding it :)

  15. Brando says:

    If you need inspiration to clear out the clutter, I highly recommend the KonMari Method by Marie Kondo — just read a few pages of the book (The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up) and you’ll have a clearer idea of what you want and don’t want in your life. Her measure is simple: hold an item in your hand for a few seconds… do you feel joy? If not, get rid of it! Why surround ourselves with objects that distract from being joyful?

    Also, I have a number of musical instruments (5 tubas!) and it is difficult to know what to keep and what to let go. But remember that instruments are made to be played just as cars were made to be driven. I want to encourage your music making, Neil, but also want to advocate for the ugly truth that brass instruments are haaard to play, and usually take years of conditioning before it’s no longer a discouraging chore to practice. But of course, if you have fun with it, not matter how good you are, I think that’s reason to keep a horn; just want to remind not set unachievable goals/dreams!

    Thanks Neil et al!

    • Neil Hughes says:

      Thank you, Brando! I’ve heard a lot about Marie Kondo’s book, but haven’t read it so I didn’t feel able to recommend it as part of this post – thanks for the helpful addition :)

      As for tubas, I’ve been playing since I was eight, and I played in bands for over a decade – my problem has been that I’ve moved around the world for years, never finding the stability to commit to a band as I went. (It might have been different if I’d sensibly picked an easier instrument to transport :D)

      Luckily, I now live in brass band country in the north of England again so I will get back into it eventually :) I much appreciate the encouragement! And I’m impressed at your own collection of tubas :D

  16. Nadia says:

    Thank-you Emily and community friends, I feel less lonely as I read your posts. I am lucky to have enough space to keep almost everything related to my past and present interests, but constantly feel the need to sort things out. I keep updating my to-do-list, rearranging things a drawer, going through my clothes (usually unable to throw the old ones away), or sorting out the papers. Trying not to feel guilty for having turned my attention to something else at some point and having left a certain object unused for some time is probably the most relevant tip for me. Thanks again for sharing the results of your research and analysis.

  17. J2 says:

    TIMING is everything! Next week I’m taking the whole week off work to kick off my 3-month “Congratulations on Not Dying” celebration, and work with my Partner on downsizing and simplifying our possession cache. Partner has enjoyed the hunt on eBay; now we’re donating women’s clothing like cray-zee to organizations that give people jobs and fresh starts. Thanks to our local Community Warehouse and SCRAP PDX (look ’em up on the Internets for a potential local equivalent for yourself!), we get the thrill of sharing the hard-to-donate furniture and craft items to people who will enjoy them.

    Thanks for making the decision-making a bit easier for us! It’s the birthday prezzies I really, really needed!

  18. Kim says:

    So good, so true. Being one of “the Tribe”, I have so many things I’ve accumulated, hobbies I’ve tried, books I might read, clothes I might wear, jewelry I might wear and enjoy looking at, some of which I actually do wear. Articles I’ve clipped from magazines that I might read some day. Recipe books galore. The list goes on. Y’all know the drill. Fact: STUFF happens. 30 years ago I had nothing. I’ve been through houses, furniture clothing, tools, STUFF. Get rid of it, new stuff comes to take it’s place. Still, it’s hard to let go of all the stuff…I/we liked it at one time and as is often the case, might like it again. Granted, stuff can be replaced if need be. Like I know, it comes and it goes and comes again. It’s about time to sort through and let go of some stuff so it was timely for me to run across this post now. Thank you.

  19. Angela says:

    Thank you for sharing this!. Hording actually runs in my family as well so this kind of thing is something I battle with regularly.

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