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Why Are You Keeping All that Stuff Anyway?

Comedian George Carlin said it best: “… the whole meaning of life, trying to find a place to put your stuff.”

Much of the “stuff” we acquire throughout our lives does matter. Tables set for family dinner, photos of our children, clothes to keep us warm, art that enhances the beauty of our homes. But too often, in this era of aggressive consumerism, we begin to acquire stuff not just because we need it, but to fill some sort of empty space – either in our homes or somewhere deeper. And pretty soon, we need a bigger house or storage unit to store all that stuff.

For too many Americans, managing all this unnecessary stuff is causing a lot of stress – particularly for women. From 2001 to 2005, social scientists from UCLA’s Center on Everyday Lives of Families (CELF) followed 32 middle-class, dual-income families in Los Angeles. What they found was that most families are drowning in their possessions, that the inflow of stuff is relentless and most of us lack the skills or mechanisms to get rid of it all.

I see this inability to get rid of stuff (“rightsizing” as I like to call it) all the time in my work. Clients ask me to help them move and even downsize. But when it comes to actually going through everything and trying to reduce the amount of stuff they have, most of my clients choose to just move it with them and delay the process, or worse, move it to a storage unit.

But there are the happy exceptions. One client called me after I packed up and moved her across the country, to tell me she ended up giving away 30 boxes of clothes, dinnerware, tschotkes, and books. After seeing the 300 plus boxes come off the moving truck, she decided enough was enough. All that stuff wasn’t improving her family’s life, it was taking away from it.

Ask yourself, is all the stuff I have really necessary? Is it making my life better? Is it helping me to achieve my goal to create a home that is more than a shelter, but a place of respite and restoration?

Think about this. A young entrepreneur, Robert Rhinehart, recently recounted his own “destuffing” to The New York Times. “It’s just less of a mental burden. The less I have in the real world, the more space I have in my mind. Actually, it seemed that the harder something was to get rid of, the more cleansing it was to do it.”

Next up…rethinking stuff and learning how to “rightsize.”

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