When I was 21 years old, my father passed away. I had just graduated college and was living at home, in the same house my parents had purchased when I was six months old. It was the only home I’d ever really known.
Dad was a major packrat. Or rather, he saw value in things that other people didn’t. So my parents owned a lot of stuff. My mother decided to sell the house, and my sentimentality kicked in. I wasn’t ready to let go of my childhood home, and I’d just scored my first real job making real money. You can probably see where this is going.
Here are just a few of the mistakes I made, in no particular order:
- I could afford to buy it (sort of, barely). So I did. What the hell. Let’s buy a house!
- It was a fixer-upper. I had no experience in fixer-uppering but I somehow thought I was equipped to do this. I was not.
- My mother very well-meaningly left me with a lot of “family things”. Like I said, my parents owned a lot of stuff, and more than half of it stayed with the house. Things that were not mine and were not “me”. I allowed this to happen.
- I started nesting and buying things that I thought you were supposed to have when you owned a house. I shopped Linens N’ Things with wanton abandon, created wishlists and bought a lot of super neato stuff that I absolutely did not need.
- I overestimated how much house I wanted. The house was big. Stupidly big for one person.
It was miserable, and I felt overwhelmed and suffocated. I spent all my time cleaning and everything always felt cluttered. This went on for several years while I tried to wrestle this tide of miscellaneous bullshit, getting more and more unhappy.
Eventually I realized what an incredible idiot I was and decided to put a stop to it.
So I started getting rid of stuff like it was my job. Yard sales. Freecycle. Craigslist. I liquidated most of my life. Hundreds of items. Even those shiny new gadgets. If I didn’t use it like crazy and it wasn’t nailed down, it went. And I never missed a single thing. None of it.
New guidelines for what you should own
I had to learn to set some guidelines for myself and what I wanted my home to look like. They might be useful for you, too, if you are also afraid that you might have too much stuff.
- If you are one person or two people who share a bed, you probably only need one bedroom. You might need two if you have a home office, and that can also double as your guest room. That’s what futons and air mattresses are for! If you are one person and have three or more bedrooms, just stop it.
- If you are one person, you need one bathroom. Two people and one bathroom is also totally doable if you’re cool talking about and/or smelling occasional bathroom odors. If “Don’t go in there for awhile” is a warning that you cannot bring yourself to give another human then sure, get that extra half bath. For those of us with less shame, one is plenty!
- If you have less dishes and cookware, your kitchen will be cleaner because you will be forced to wash that shit rather than use every plate and bowl you own first. I am convinced that no one ever needs to own more than a service for six. That’s even overkill if you never really entertain. Paper plates once a year for that party will probably not kill you, and if you find that environmentally reprehensible, borrow some dishes from Mom or a friend.
- If you regularly walk into or trip over your furniture when you’re sober, you have too much furniture. Do you sit on that thing? Do you use that thing? Do you love it or did you buy it to fill the space? If it’s not serving you, get rid of it. Your shins will thank you.
- Don’t buy anything in anticipation of needing it. Wait until you have encountered a situation where not having a countertop rotisserie oven has been a real detriment to you. And then buy one.
- Get comfortable with empty space. Not every nook and cranny needs to be filled. A little negative space gives your brain a place to rest. The first day after you clear out a bunch of things feels strange and empty, but in a week you’ll be used to the new space and it’ll feel like home again.
Do you feel like you have too much stuff? Just the right amount of stuff? Too little? What are you going to do about it?