Considering our stuff: what to buy, what to give and throw away, and the concept of death cleaning.

It is quite amazing how much STUFF we can accumulate, at least those of us fortunate to be reasonably well off and live in the United States or another first-world economy.

I recently served as a middle-man to take baby-items from one recent mother to a soon-to-be mother; two friends who don’t know eachother. I was amazed by the number of items that have been invented as an attempt to make parenting in those first few months a little easier. Quite the niche market for the business world! Among other items, I picked up a baby bed that looks like a pillow but has a slightly ridged side to nestle baby in, and an electric chair that is designed to move to soothe baby with settings such as a car ride or a kangaroo (hopefully a little more gentle than a live kangaroo!) While I know I would get all I could find to make things easier if I were to be a mother, I couldn’t help but chuckle at how in the heck mother’s managed without the kangaroo chair 100 years ago. These items may be helpful – but the are not necessary.

The thing with baby items is that, unless you are going to have another child, you know when you are done with your STUFF. Not only that, it’s easy to pass along to another expecting mom who will be grateful for stuff that might make her coming life easier. You accumulate, and then you gift or sell to move things out of your home.

But how do we decide when to part with our other stuff? When do we realize that we don’t wear those shirts enough to keep, or that we will never fit into that pair of jeans again? How do we decide when all the stuff for an activity that we no longer engage in should be removed from the house because we are unlikely to engage in that activity again? For example, I have some really nice hockey equipment sitting in my attic. I haven’t played hockey in nearly a decade. But what if I play again? It would be a real hassle and expense to get the equipment again! Furthermore, if I wanted to get rid of it, there is a cost (time and hassle and stress) attached to finding someone, or many people, who would enjoy these items and might even be willing to pay a little for them.

Which brings up another point. Trash.

Some of that hockey equipment is not something that anyone is going to want from me. It belongs in the trash. But to throw away something is to face my own wasteful practices. We want to believe that we can help someone by donating our old, arcane, dirty, outdated, used, items, rather than acknowledge that we created more trash that will sit in our landfills.

So what to do?

Each of us must find our own comfort level with obtaining new stuff. We must first decide carefully what we want to bring into our homes.

And we must find our comfort level with having things around us. We all have differing capacities for clutter, often different even between spouses, and we must find that balance. At some point space and order is more important than holding onto our stuff. This of course requires a lot of steps, the time spent, deciding what to let go of, and the logistics of getting it out of your house.

The Marie Kondo’s Kon Mari Method has received a lot of press recently, and become a tv show. This is a great resource.

Another resource I am really enjoying is the book: The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning by Margareta Magnussun. This is a lovely read, and I am considering gifting it to some of my estate planning clients. The idea behind death cleaning is to go through your lifetime accumulation of stuff and to get rid of it in your retired years – so that your family doesn’t have to do it for you. However, the same concepts apply to any of us, regardless of age, who find an overabundance of stuff surrounding us. The book is written in a simple light and playful, slightly humorous way,  making it accessible and a joy to read.

Of course, if you bring a new book into your home, perhaps a current book should be gifted (or thrown away) at the same time!

Happy clutter clearing and good luck!


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