Pondering: Stuff

Pondering: Stuff November 14, 2011

Once again I am thinking about how much stuff we own, and how we store it and keep track of it.  I know that this is a running theme, but it is just part of who I am:  I crave order, but I am not naturally orderly, and with this many people, mess accumulates quickly.  For example, yesterday we went to the circus, super fun, and they gave out goody bags.  Each goody bag contained a stuffed horse, a slinky, a light up ring and a plastic cup.  Multiply by 6, and that is 24 new objects being left on my floor today.

We have a relative who is moving right now out of the house that she and her husband have lived in for over 30 years.  They are downsizing, and they are doing a valiant job to sort, sell, donate and pack, but the stuff of a lifetime is just overwhelming.  When our basement flooded over labor day, we had an entire large dumpster worth of stuff that we had to throw away, and we have only been here for 4 years, so it is easy to see how your basement can really fill up in 30 years.  Then, there is the stuff that is not at all junk, the framed pictures of when your children were little, a figurine that a student gave you, in our family it is books and books and books, but shelves can only hold so much, so sometimes something just has to go.

Flylady helped me tremendously by saying to think about “blessing someone else.”  If our unused things are sold through the goodwill store, it helps the community many times — someone gets inexpensive clothes, the salvation army gets a little money, someone from a halfway house has a job at the store.  This is all good.

But, how to keep things fun, how to save the memories without the stuff?  One year we wouldn’t let our kids have a circus goody bag, but that just seems mean.

I have a few friends who have more toys than we have, but they also seem to have more order.  A playroom, with a bin for each type of thing, seems to help, the kids really play there, and the toys don’t meander into the living room.  So, storage and functionality are a big part of it, too.

Also, in an effort to spend and accumulate less, I didn’t do any “back to school” shopping this year, and it turns out that one of my daughters HAS NO CLOTHES!  It just sort of worked out that she outgrew a lot of things, the handmedowns that came in didn’t fit her quite right.  Almost every morning there is a laundry related scramble for her, and it is just inefficient.  So, we do need some things in order to function.

As with so many areas of life, it is hard to find the balance here.  November will be a month of flinging for our household, but I am going to try to really do it with function in mind, and organize as well.  Along the way, I am going to make lists, and I may have to shop, both for new things that we need and for storage systems.  We need an influx of shelves, bins and baskets.

My hope is that we do this well now, and our holidays and winter will be more fun.


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  • Amy B

    nnI can totally relate and wish that I had a better plannfor staying organized. Our stuff often burdens me and robs me of peace,nespecially the piles that continue to accumulate on our counters. We have anvision for keeping things simple and organized, but this is so difficult to putninto practice.u00a0 My husband often saysnthat all we need is a good system of organizing, but I canu2019t seem to find thensystem that works.u00a0 My biggest strugglenis keeping up with paperwork, keeping it filed and knowing what throw away.u00a0 Toys continue to accumulate with eachnbirthday and holiday, and it seems the more we have the less they play withnthem.u00a0 I would love to hear if othersnhave good organizing tips. This is very timely since Advent is a wonderful timento “make room” for the Savior!u00a0nThanks for sharing your thoughts!nnn

  • Kathy

    I can relate to both Mary Alice and Amy, It is never ending – the paper build up. It helps to know that I am not alone in my struggle. I like the ideas of blessing others and making room for the Savior. It helps when it can be difficult to part with items that you know you can’t keep. Sometimes I will say to myself “I love my husband and children – and we all deserve an organized home.” (As my parents are hoarders I know the unpleasantness of growing up that way). Thanks for sharing.

  • Becky

    We’re still “flinging” with Fly Lady over a year after I started to declutter the house. It’s a little insane that it is taking a year, but we are slowly getting there. I figure at some point I will be able to start the daily routines to keep the house in order. I already informed DH that now that he does not have a coaching season this winter, he owes me time to help with the final basement boxes. Then, we may just be down to seasonal decoration boxes and a tool bench down there. Sounds like you have good goals for the next month. Hang in there with them!

  • JMB

    I take the Erma Bombeck approach to toys.u00a0 In one of her essays she talks about leftovers and how it’s impossible to throw them out right away.u00a0 How we take them and put them in another dish, and then move them around the fridge, until finally, about 7 days later we just chuck the whole thing.nnSo I wait until I’m in the throws of PMS, and I get a few big black lawn trash bags and I tackle a room.u00a0 It’s best to do this when nobody is home and knows what you are up to.u00a0 Divide the stuff into the immediate get rid of bag and the “maybe” bag.u00a0 Then put the “maybe bag” somewhere where you can’t see it for awhile and see how long it takes one of the kids to ask where the item is.u00a0 If it happens that you go 6 months or so without having a request or a need for it, call up Good Will and haul it out.nnIn my 16 plus years of being a mom, nobody has ever asked me where a particular stuffed animal was after I got rid of it.u00a0 nnMy mom has an even better approach.u00a0 She’ll say to me “You think nothing of buying a $15 bottle of wine and drinking it, why can’t you throw out a $15 toy after it’s been used and play with?u00a0 Toys have shelf lives too.nn

  • Kat

    Hi MA ~ We are also in re-organizing mode around here. I have moved around some of the furniture in the kids’ rooms in an effort to utilize space more efficiently – it is amazing how big of a difference this can make! We have a playroom with one of those bin-organizing systems, as well as a large open bookshelf and a smaller open bookshelf, and these work pretty well for us.u00a0nI was cautioned a couple of years ago by a priest, who said that “storage bins and organizational tools can sometimes just hide a lot of unnecessary items and a big mess!” I took this to heart – I might have a great series of toy chests that look great from the outside, but they may just be an excuse for me to allow myself and my children to accumulate more than we need. This is why we have open bookshelves and not so many closed storage systems – I always want to be feel accountable for our possessions. Does that make sense? Things may not look as orderly on the outside, but in the long run I think that this allows us to accumulate less stuff.nThat being said, we certainly have some purging to do!

  • Jurismater

    Love this, JMB. I also go on wild purges, usually when my husband is traveling, I’m talking 10 hours in two nights, 7-8 black garbage bags. Nobody ever misses anything, or even if I do end up having a second thought once something is gone, we can always make do.nnAnd agreed that toys have shelf lives… actually, even better, I prefer to think especially of the little knick knack toys as perishables, not even as shelf items. I give them a week somewhere in a high traffic area in the house, the kids spead them out and clean them up a couple times, then they all go in the garbage within the week.nnMaryAlice, your regular posts about decluttering have impressed on me the reality that decluttering is a regular part of housekeeping, like deep cleaning. It is never once and done, even though it feels like it should be. So I prepare myself to do a major decluttering at least every half year or so. Your attentiveness to this aspect of housekeeping has been hugely helpful to me.

  • Mary Alice

    I am totally with you.u00a0 The flylady philosophies worked really well for me, but when it comes to the routines, I had to sort out my own to meet the needs of my family.u00a0 I found out about flylady when I was pregnant with twins, so that was 7 years ago.u00a0 I think that the idea of babysteps, 15 things/minutes at a time, etc, can really help.u00a0 In a way, I am so thankful for our basement flood, one less area on my nagging “to do” list.n

  • Mary Alice

    As a follow up, I have realized that I need designated bins or bags for each of our activities — I took out the “choir” bin today and it had all of the kids choir uniform pieces ready to go for uniform inspection this afternoon.u00a0 I need more things in my life to work this well!

  • Anonymous

    I agree with JM…awesome inspiration!nnI have a series of sturdy bags on hooks in the laundry room. Most of these were great gifts for being a bridesmaid many times over! For example, karate bag with uniform (when it gets washed, it goes right back in the bag) and paperback books for reading to the littles. We have a swim bag…again all swim stuff gets washed and goes right back in the bag. There is the library bin where the to return books go, etc. I do have a lot of bags hanging, but it is SO nice to know where everything is when it is 2 minutes to go!u00a0nnOh, there is also my to-do bag with my Christmas cards right now…in the rare event that I will have 20 minutes waiting somewhere, I can throw it in and start sticking on labels.u00a0nn

  • I love the idea of decluttering being a regular part of housekeeping!u00a0 I think that will keep me from getting so frustrated every time I do it.nOne rule I have is that if I have to pick up a certain toy too many times, I get rid of it.u00a0 The same holds true for toys that the kids can’t seem to put away on their own (prime example for me is that Melissa and Doug train that you put together like a puzzle- they could never do it and I got sick of it, so out it went.)

  • Mary Alice

    I love, love, love this idea.u00a0 I am going to add a “to do” bag for myself and an activity bag for the toddlers which can go everywhere with us.

  • We take photos of artwork, K’Nex constructions, and projects that are cool but don’t need to be saved forever. You can set up a photo folder on your computer for each kid with backup on Dropbox, and every now and again they can spend half an hour looking through it.