While it should be easy to determine if you’ve got too much stuff, most of us become “clutter blind” over time. The fact is that we’ve become so accustomed to all of the stuff around us that it simply fades into the background. However, if you’re at all confused whether or not your house is out of control here are the signs that you have too much stuff.
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So how do I know if I have too much stuff?
It’s a good question and one we should ask ourselves occasionally. As you’re going through things in your house ask yourself:
- Is every surface in my house covered? Do I have clear space or is every square inch covered with something?
- Can I find what I need when I need it? How long does it take for me to find what I’m looking for?
- Do I end up buying replacements for things I already own because I can’t find the original?
- Do I know where things are? Do the other people in my house know where things are?
- Does every item in my house have a place where it belongs? I used to talk about things having a place to “live” inside my house.
- Do I follow the rule of “like with like” so that items are grouped together?
- Do I have things stored somewhere other than my house? Does it take off-site storage to hold everything I own? How much money is my “stuff” costing me?
- Do I frequently make excuses for the way my house looks?
- Am I embarrassed by the appearance of my house? Are other family members (husband or children) embarrassed by how the house looks? Do they hesitate to have company over? Is the state of the house a source of conflict?
- Do I have sentimental items stored away where they’ll be ruined or deteriorate? If these items are so important, why am I not taking better care of them? We need to quit saving the good stuff for later – use it now!
- Do I sometimes feel like I’m drowning in stuff? Does my stuff make me feel closed in or claustrophobic?
If the answer is yes to even a few of these questions, then there’s a really good chance you have too much stuff.
Once you admit that you’ve got too much stuff, you need to deal with it. There’s no use identifying the “stuff” problem and then doing nothing about it. And trust me, your kids will be grateful later!
I’ve got too much stuff – now what do I do?
Again, questions help you focus on what to do about specific items in your home.
- Is this item useful? Even it the item itself is useful, are YOU ever going to use it? Many of us hold on to items because we figure we’ll need them one day. We justify keeping things that might be useful when the truth is that if we have too much stuff, we probably couldn’t find the item when we need it anyway. And just because an item could be useful doesn’t mean it will be useful to you.
- Do I love and adore this item? And be honest with yourself… you don’t love and adore every item equally. If you don’t love it – get rid of it.
- Is it sentimental? If it is, am I keeping it in good condition? (Peter Walsh talks in his books about honoring sentimental items). But even sentimental items need a limit. If you’ve got space and are keeping the item in good condition, it might be worth hanging on to. However, if you’re short on space then you need to make some choices and prioritize what you can keep depending on your space limitations.
- Do I have adequate space for it? The answer is no if it’s crammed in a drawer or box somewhere – you know the definition of adequate!
- Is this something I can use up? Do I intend to actually use it before it goes bad or expires? If you end up throwing it out then it was a waste of money and space.
- Does this item cause me (or someone else) anxiety, frustration, or distress? Unless you live alone your stuff has an impact on other people. And yes, you need to consider how your stuff makes the people around you feel – it’s only fair!
- What need does your stuff satisfy? (memories, aesthetic, status, intellectual, comfort/emotional). This one may be tough to answer but it may be the most important. Lots of us hold on to things for reasons we don’t really understand. In this post I wrote about mindsets that keep you buried in clutter I examine why we cling to items even when we’re no longer using them.
When “stuff” makes you unhappy
A lot of people think that stuff will make them happy. However, that’s not always true and there are cases where stuff can actually make you unhappy. I want to share an experience I’ve personally had that illustrates the point.
Years ago, a family member I was not close to gave me a very elaborate afghan she’d knitted. Now I have no doubt that the afghan took hours of work but that’s beside the point. For years I hung on to the afghan simply because it did take so much work.
People gushed over how pretty it was and acted like she must have really cared for me to have made such a beautiful gift. But here’s the thing – the afghan was not a labor of love. It wasn’t made with the intent to make me happy. It was simply something she liked to do anyway and it made a convenient gift.
For me the gift represented something else entirely – an estranged relationship.
So for years I hung on the afghan but would feel anxious and resentful whenever I looked at it or thought about using it. For the most part it stayed in a container under the bed.
One day I decided that keeping the item caused me too much distress and that guilt was not a good enough reason to keep it. I also knew that since it was very pretty, someone else would enjoy it.
I donated that afghan to a local charity and never looked back.
Did I ever regret letting it go? Absolutely not! In fact, letting it go made me feel free – free from guilt, resentment, and hard feelings. It was one of the first things I ever did that said, “My feelings count.”
Peter Walsh has really influenced my thinking about sentimental clutter and I was only able to get rid of the afghan after reading one of his books. He pulls no punches and forces you to examine the relationship with your stuff. I highly recommend any of his books – they’re awesome!
I’ve talked before about the critical question to ask to get rid of clutter. I guarantee that asking yourself this question is a real eye-opener and may be just the jolt you need to evaluate whether you should hold on to a particular item or not.
So, how’s your relationship with the “stuff” in your life?
Before you go be sure to read:
These are some of my favorite books by Peter Walsh – I’m a huge fan!