Use It or Lose It

One of the things that my Mom always really got through to me was that you should be comfortable in your own home. “Love what you own and use it.” She was never one for storing a bunch of stuff she didn’t use. If she owned it, even if it was a precious heirloom, she used it. Mom inherited crystal from her Grandmother and would let me wash it and unfortunately sometimes break it. She never made me feel bad about it. She said that my Grandparents would be really happy that we were using these items and that she did not want to store things and not use them.

I think that’s a pretty healthy outlook for the items you should have in your house. With the expense of having a home, we should be storing things that we either love with all of our heart or need to use on a regular basis.

Every time I think of what I pay per square foot for my home per month, and then realize that there are three of those square feet in the corner stuffed with crap that I don’t even like to look at, it seems ridiculous!

From 27 to 37 years old, I lived in Georgia. Business was good and money flowed freely. One of my favorite weekend pastimes was to go old antique auctions. I filled up my huge house and salons with beautiful things – to dust. Some of it I sold or gave away. But it was ultimately clutter. Something to do when I was otherwise unhappy, lonely or sad. Buying was kind of a high for me.

I’ve had different levels of financial freedom during my life. There have been times when I have been rolling in it, but there was a lot of sadness and a boatload of loneliness in my heart. One of the ways that I would fill up the holes in my life was shopping at HomeGoods or TJ Maxx or the mall.

I’d buy a bunch of things to go in my home. Not necessarily useful things like pots and pans. But knickknacks, stuff for the walls, extra things that I didn’t need. I would shop for things that I liked, and I also would shop for things that I “might use someday.” I bought a lot of clothes that were a little bit too small thinking that one day it would be cute on me when I lost weight. I just shopped and shopped and shopped because I thought it would make me feel better.

I was filling up my life with stuff because I was frustrated by the way my life was going at home and I was not satisfied.

It’s always easier to judge yourself when looking back on the situation. In doing so now, I would have to call it 50/50 between being dishonest with myself at the time about how much my marriage was failing, while pretending to be happy for the sake of my business. Being frustrated because I felt trapped and I did not know how to become happy or what the fuck to do about this secret mess I was living in.

The perfect paisley curtains, chic antiques, unique dishware, funky, hip furniture and cool artwork by the artist of the moment were all an expensive and lame filler for the life I wished I were living.

A whole lot of stuff exploded and changed between then and now. I’m happier. In my new relationship, we do stuff together, we play together. We love each other and we really really LIKE each other.

I’m not left alone for poker nights weekly. I’m not sitting on a barstool next to anyone else besides my spouse because the said spouse is on stage… a lot.

What I’ve realized after finally having a satisfying, companion-centric relationship is that stuff is just stuff.

When Thomas and I merged our homes we had to fit six people, who were living in two large homes, into just one home. Merging all those people was complicated enough, but when it comes to adoption and stepparenting a child whose parent passed away, it’s a really hard call. When you have a child who lost a parent, you’re never going to get those memories back.

…so there is this certain guilt with getting rid of toys or any memorabilia that would help the child remember memories with the parent who is now gone.

At the same time, some of the stuff was boxes and boxes and boxes of junk that rats had been through. At some point, we had to draw the line.

Ultimately, what we did was, we made some special boxes of very special things to keep and then we donated everything else that we couldn’t sell in a garage sale. It’s just stuff and we don’t want to spend our weekends sorting through stuff or moving boxes around or being weighed down by possessions.

I also didn’t want to burden the kids with it when they got into their own homes later on in life.

So as a family we had to get rid of a lot of stuff from his side and my side. It was hard at first because some of my things were very dear to me. I had to ask myself, “why?” and remember that I was in a whole different life now. I didn’t need all that stuff.

I also had to remember that I did not need to shop anymore to be happy. I started filling my time with other things like experiences. I ended up falling in love with hiking and really enjoying the time out in the hills.

When I go to the store now and I’m browsing around I still love to shop. But now if I see something I like, I take it with me and carry it around the store while I’m still shopping. I call that “dating” the item. If I’m not super excited about it and it doesn’t make sense that I would use it right away or that I really need it I put it back.

I can definitely say that I have learned, in my middle-age, that less really is more. If you own less you have less that you’re responsible for; less credit card debt to stress over, less to insure, less to make payments on, less to store, less to spend your time sorting through, less to donate to charity when you realize you aren’t using it.

Fewer things mean that the things you actually have at home are the things that you really cherish and love. You can actually see them so they’re easier to find when you want to use them. The goal is peace.

Getting to the coffee pot, being able to find your coffee mugs and make a nice cup of coffee every day. That is one of the first simple pleasures of my day, but I know some people, who have a lot of stuff on the countertop, this peaceful morning ritual is not easy. The cups are all dirty, can’t find the coffee grounds, the coffee maker is dirty. Blauck!!

Sometimes things can be really hard to let go of because in my mind I justify keeping them because they are worth something.

If it’s not something that I can use, then why would I store it? I have a perfect example. I used to be in the hair salon business and I had left over several brand new curling wands in the box. They were an expensive brand-name and I always had planned on selling them.

I’ve moved them from two different places and kept meaning to put them on eBay or Craigslist and never got around to it. I have stored them in several different places in my house, but I don’t need extra curling irons for myself. I was reading an article about hoarding and thinking about how I was really holding items for no good reason. I did not want to give up my time, nor did I really know how to sell these items.

What I did was I started giving them away. I had plenty of girlfriends, or friends with daughters, who could use them. So I slowly started giving one or two of them away per week. It made me feel great because I was surprising people and making them super happy.

It dawned on me that I had been storing up all of this happiness in my own home for over a year. These items are now useful to somebody else. Now I have my cabinet space back and I don’t have to feel bad about what to do with these brand new curling Irons.

Now, do you have to give away everything in your home to get peace? No, I don’t think so. If you were the type of person who wanted to take the time to list these on Craigslist, package them up, ship them out, take payment and all of that… and that will give you peace to get actual physical money… I think that’s a great solution too.

The bottom line is is that it’s a mistake to keep them for an extended period of time when you are not using them. I have read some articles about how important it is to come to material things with an attitude of abundance. Meaning, you don’t have to feel afraid to give things away, there’s always plenty.

In my life, I have found this to be so true. If you can come from the place where you are able to share your things knowing that other people share that with you and we live in a world where we all are able to bless each other. Gosh, that’s a really good place to be in.