Lake Atitlan, Panajachel, Guatemala

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~Jesse Stuart

"A writer's job is to take one thing and make it stand for twenty." ~ Virginia Woolf

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

On Having Too Much Stuff and Getting Rid of It

There's a link going around Facebook to an online article titled: "Sorry, Nobody Wants Your Parents' Stuff."  Since I've been through it, both on the daughter/ daughter-in-law side as well as the mother/homeowner side, I could totally relate.

My mother and my mother-in-law were worlds apart regarding stuff and how to deal with it. Both were widows, and that's where the resemblance ended. My mother chose to downsize as much as she could, while my mother-in-law bought a larger house with more room for her possessions.

Being my mother's daughter and admiring simplicity, I am still fascinated with how my mother-in-law collected, stored, added on until it seemed she was buried under her stuff. Not that she was a junkaholic or hoarder. Her things were nice, often expensive, and usually well-organized. She had an entire room of her house for fabric, arranged like a retail fabric store. Another similar room for crafts and the supplies related to whatever crafts she'd done or planned to do. Another room for storage of food and household supplies. Two freezers held hundreds of pounds of cheese, butter, nuts and other deliciousness that would take two families a lifetime to consume.

On the contrary, my mother had as her goal to live in such a way that her daughters (the four of us) would not have to agonize over her possessions when she passed. The more she could get rid of, the happier she was. When she died, my sisters, nieces and nephews who lived nearby were able to completely empty Mom's two bedroom apartment in less than a week. My mom would have been pleased by that.

When my mother-in-law died, she had a 4000 sq foot house filled with furniture, family history documents and photos, and of course the many years worth of food storage. It took my sister-in-law a decade to completely go through everything and dispose of it one way or another.

I'm not saying one way is better than another. I think in a way my sister-in-law enjoyed her task, as she was able to spend this time going through all these things related to her mom's life and that of her family going back generations. And getting all the butter, cheese and nuts would have been nice.

But as for me, I'm more like my mom, taking pleasure in simplicity and knowing my kids won't be burdened with having to deal with piles of stuff when I'm gone. I've already done that job for them.

My husband and I currently live a very downsized existence. We got rid of nearly everything so we could leave the country three years ago. Now that we're back, neither of us want to start collecting again. Our goal is to stay free and unattached so we can pack up and go again when we feel like it.



This is our living room, a spare space furnished at very low cost. The most expensive thing we bought was the couch for $25.

I have a couple of antique wall hangings I plan on getting framed for those two bare walls. I know once we leave, my daughter will be happy to take them for her home. She's already told me where she would hang them.

We did buy the TV cabinet. My husband needed a place to keep office supplies so we got it for $15 at Restore. It's one of those brown things that nobody really wants anymore. And if they did, they'd paint it. Since painting stresses me out, I'm okay leaving it as is, although I admit it's too dark for my taste.

I paid $3.00 for the basil plant on the table. It's going to get repotted and put on the patio. And basil isn't permanent, except in beautiful Guatemala where it grows up into a year round tree of abundance. In Utah, it dies with the frost.

This was a pretty long blog post to talk about living simply. Clearly I have more words than I have stuff, which is exactly the way I like it.

17 comments:

  1. Hi Karen - once you'd left .. it makes sense to keep your 'stuff' down to the minimum - and as you say you can get up and go ... Well done - we need so little ... yet I love my books and pictures and my rugs ... ah well - life will sort itself out ... cheers Hilary

    http://positiveletters.blogspot.co.uk/2017/04/j-is-for-jellicles.html

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  2. I am unloading which is a feat. Four pack rats in one house. But there is so much waste with stocking up.

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  3. I'm in the process of downsizing - the only thing I've tended to hoard is books. Almost everything else is just stuff (except for the tiny prayer wheel from Nepal, of course!)

    I think travelling for a year, carrying everything I needed on my back and still having more than many people I met, has made me think very differently about stuff. So my daughters won't have too much to angst about when I pop my clogs!

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  4. I wish my mother had unloaded stuff sooner. She kept saying she was going to sort stuff but never did. When her health forced her into assisted living, she finally decided it was time to sell the house. My step-sister and I and family had five days to go through TWO very full houses (because they'd built a new house behind the old one), divide stuff up, store some things, sell others, fill two large garbage boxes, and have charity take away the rest. I can only imagine the things we threw out and wish I'd had time to sort through more of it.

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  5. We don't live simply enough. I don't mind buying quality pieces, but I've had enough of chochkies.

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  6. I do believe it is better to gear down than for children to be left with a huge amount of stuff. My mom had tons of stuff but my former in laws took the cake. My ex and his brothers and sister etc... spoke with a man who said he would pay for the scrap metal but it would not be worth it for him unless there was a million tons.....they had 8 million! This did not include the old cars or the 35 bicycles.

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    1. Birgit, That is crazy! Difficult to even comprehend so much stuff!

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  7. Hi, Karen!

    WOW, I didn't know you returned to the states.... Hope you are happy to be back. But, I am sure you miss your exotic living. It looked so tranquil and beautiful there.

    I plan on DOWNSIZING big time soon. Already did some, but when I get back to Chicago, I have a HUGE storage unit I plan to get through... fun.

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    1. We are happy to be back, Michael, but YES we do miss our exotic living. Sometimes we look at each other and say What the Heck are we doing here??? But when it's time, it's time.

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  8. Great post that went along with what I've been thinking about lately. I've done a lot of genealogy on my family and have books filled with info and pictures. Now what do I do with them? Will my boys want them? I need to ask. I'm also slowly working on getting rid of so many books and other items that I've kept through the years. The problem is, I hate to part with anything. :)

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    1. Beverly, Everyone is telling me to scan the family history/genealogy items. But then what about the photos? I know I can scan them, but then just what--throw them away? And then my husband will say about our photos on the computer, "We should get these printed." But then we'd have more photos to put in boxes. It's all so perplexing. I'm going through this with several boxes in the study. If I figure out the solution, I'll let you know!

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    2. A solution would be nice. Thanks.I can always hope that one of the granddaughters might decide she wants the pictures and info. If not ...

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  9. I'm more on the simple side. (Mostly because I hate cleaning! LOL)

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  10. I'm with you on simplicity, though that's partly because I've lived in small apartments since college and partly because when I moved to my new apartment, my scam artist movers stole some of my stuff and damaged the rest. :(

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  11. I'm trying to be like you. We have a huge house but of the 'stuff' in it belongs to my children. Most of the decorative junk I have are gifts. I'm not sure I've ever bought myself a knick Knack. I'm ready to go smaller and simpler if I could only get my children to take all their things.

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  12. "Stuff" can keep parts of your journey present in your mind, or it can weigh you down. It's a balancing act.
    I am aware that I have too much stuff, and am amazed how good it feels to let it go. But I have never felt good or homey in truly sparse rooms, so maybe that's not for me.

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  13. Our time is pretty much split between our home, and our RV. In the RV, we are very good at not accumulating a bunch of "stuff." In fact, we have storage room in it, that we don't even use. Our house is a whole different situation. On the surface, it appears to be uncluttered and pretty minimalist. The closets, cabinets, and garage are the opposite. I can't stand it! Maybe that is why I'd rather be in the RV.

    We really need to deal with all the stuff in the house. Thanks to your post, I just might get started on it.

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