From the Trenches: An Update on My War on Stuff

Though our divorce is final, Kris and I continue to see each other about once a week. We have lunch or dinner together, and sometimes we do chores around the house.

One big chore is approaching: We’re going to hold a joint garage sale to purge our lives of some of the Stuff that has accumulated over the years. A few other friends are going to join us (in the hope that we can attract more customers).

After lunch together last Sunday, Kris and I returned to the house for a “garden tour”. As always, her flower garden is flourishing; she put in her vegetable garden yesterday, and that’ll be flourishing soon too. While we were looking at the berries and bushes and tulips, our friend Amy Jo stopped by to unload Stuff for the garage sale.

Simply Clutter

“What’s that?” I asked Amy Jo, pointing at a ceramic pot she was unloading.

“It’s a pickle crock,” she said.

“It’s nice,” Kris said.

“Do you want it?” asked Amy Jo. “No, really. We don’t need to sell it. I’d rather see it go to somebody who would enjoy it. It used to belong to my grandmother. I mean, we like the idea of the pickle crock, but we don’t ever use it, so it’s simply clutter around the house.”

This “just clutter around the house” is what I call Stuff, the collection of odds and ends that build up over the years, the things that become not just a physical burden but a mental one too. Not all of us experience this, but most of us do. Some people loathe Stuff so much that they embrace lives of voluntary simplicity and live in tiny houses. Others are comforted by Stuff and have an unhealthy attachment to it; these people are hoarders. Most of us fall somewhere between the two extremes. And, every once in a while, we get the urge to have less stuff. That’s what garage sales are all about.

Paul and Amy Jo, for instance, are about to move to a smaller house. As they prepare to move, they’re discovering they have a lot of Stuff. “Paul’s sorting through things that have been in storage since we moved back to Portland eight years ago,” she told us last Sunday. “It’s amazing how much crap we’ve accumulated. Paul has four sanders, for instance. Who needs four sanders?”

Kris, too, is purging Stuff. “What are you selling?” I asked her.

“It’s just Stuff I don’t use,” she told me. “I had to rearrange the house to fill in the gaps when you left. I’m selling the things I don’t use anymore.”

I too have a pile of Stuff to sell. The workshop at the house is filled with my things, and it’s my hope it will be empty of my things (and ready for Kris to use productively) at the end of the month.

Do you remember my one-year wardrobe project? For a year, I monitored which clothes I wore and which I didn’t. At the end of the year, I purged everything I hadn’t worn. Well, in a way, that’s what I’ve unintentionally done since I moved into a smaller space. I left lots of things behind. Over the past few months, I’ve found myself driving to the house to pick something up now and then — but not often. It’s like my one-year wardrobe project, but for everything I own.

Missing Things

Still, as much as I hate Stuff, there are now times I find myself missing things. Twice recently I’ve made dinner for guests. And both times I discovered I was missing something I wanted or needed. A blender, for instance, or a strainer. Or I made mashed potatoes a couple of weeks ago, and discovered I didn’t have a ricer or masher. I had to get creative because the potatoes were boiling and weren’t going to wait for me to run to the store. I used my wooden spoon.

Meanwhile, I’m facing a dilemma of sorts. I’m proud that I’ve managed to fit most of my world into my apartment. That shows some restraint. (Some restraint — but not a lot.)

However — and you knew there was a however, right? — not everything fits in my apartment. In the months since I moved out of the house, I’ve been storing some stuff at my now-unused office space. All of my personal finance books live there, as do my boxes of comic books. The sad thing is: I haven’t missed either of these things.

Now, though, the lease on my office space is about to expire, and I’m not going to renew it. That brings up a question: What do I do with all the Stuff I’ve crammed into that tiny room? Do I sell it? Give it away? Something else?

Unfortunately, I think my solution is going to be to store the Stuff. For $25 per month, I can rent a storage space in my apartment building. It’s big enough to hold the boxes of comics for sure, and maybe the boxes of personal finance books, too. I don’t know.

The trouble with this is that it’s simply a stop-gap measure. I’m not actually solving the problem, which is that this Stuff is a burden on my brain. I need to get rid of it somehow. And that, my friends, is sure to lead to a future article about what it’s like to sell collectibles.

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