On having stuff

This photo was circulating at work during a 4pm collective brain freeze.


I replied to the email: “Haha. Nice! We had an AT-AT in our basement when I was growing up.”

“Past tense? What happened to it?” my co-worker responded.

“Long gone. We are not collectors.”

It’s true.

When I was growing up, several times a year bags of too small or little used items went to Goodwill, and it was a one way street. No funky lamps, vintage board games, or collectable salt shakers ever made it back from the thrift shops and through our door. I love my childhood home – and I don’t mean to give the impression that it was stark or austere. Not at all. It was tastefully decorated and blended antiques with modern items. However, what we didn’t have were closets, cupboards, basements, and attics crammed with STUFF.

My mother, the oldest of seven children, hadn’t saved a single toy from her childhood, let alone a dress or skirt. Everything was passed along. I greatly lamented this fact when vintage fashion came back in a big way. I knew she must have had some killer looks in the late ‘60’s. When I watch a program like “Antiques Roadshow,” I am always amazed at how many treasures are out there stored in someone’s grandfather’s attic: authentic Mayan statues, mint condition Depression era train sets, guns from the revolutionary war, ruby earrings worn by a Princess. How do families manage to hang on to things for decades, or even centuries?

The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, I suppose. Only this apple has gone much further. I regard my own possessions with little to no sentimentality. When I moved to Salem six years ago, I could fit all my personal belongings into my Oldsmobile sedan. Now, nearly six years later, I have grudgingly expanded. My three bedroom apartment is full of functional furniture, everyday dish sets, wearable items, limited wall hangings, and baby necessities. (Ah, and what is a baby necessity? This could be a whole separate post.) There is nary a statuette or souvenir to be seen. I spent three incredible and formative years in France, first as a student and later as a nanny and English teacher – and I have a wealth of memories, but a complete and total dearth of items purchased there.

And yet, I dream of paring down further. Could I sell the second car? At what point can I donate these baby toys? Would someone please come take that extra bed out of my basement? Should I get an e-reader and clear out my bookshelves? Could I get by with only 15 items like this guy?


Maybe I have some kind of anti-hoarding disorder. Or maybe I lack the good taste necessary to appreciate style and luxury. All I know is that if won the lottery tomorrow, there would be no mega-mansion, no yacht, no gadgets or jewelry. I would happily spend it all greedily on experiences instead: dining out, travel, concerts, and the like.

But that’s just a fantasy, of course. In the meantime, I do have a home, job, and a family. And we need chairs to sit on, beds to sleep in, clothes to wear for work and play, pots to cook in, and dishes to eat upon. Kids need toys to stimulate creativity and booster seats so they can reach the table. So, I guess I will continue in my current, and rather moderate minimalist path – accumulating as needed and purging when possible.

Do you tend to save stuff or let it go? Let me know why…

-Marta B.


7 responses to “On having stuff

  1. What a timely post. In the throes of spring cleaning just now and cursing the day I ever thought it was a good idea to buy my kids certain toys I don’t know if they’ve ever done more to than take out of the box. . . There is responsibility that comes with ownership, and I’m tired of being a steward to junk that doesn’t deserve my attention–and even some of it that could be worthy, but I don’t have enough to give.

    • Yes, I am feeling the need to go through and cleanse too! We do tend to keep things, just because we are too busy/lazy/forgetful to give or throw them away. At least every year though, I do go through and put stuff in boxes to give away or put out on the curb for people to take. It feels so good!

      — Madelene

  2. Some things I tend to keep, others I throw away. Depends how personal it is. Was it given me? Or did I buy it myself? I’m more likely to keep what others have given me and let go of things that I myself bought. That being said, I will throw things out in a fit of cleaning passion if I haven’t used it or seen it in ages. If I wasn’t missing it before, why should I mis it later? As for the future, I’ve no real intention of living a spartan lifestyle by throwing everything away. For me, many possessions are containers in addition to their other functionality. Not physical containers, but containers of my memories: remainders of other times. Perhaps I am overly caught up with the past, but neither am I likely to forget it, how I’ve formed, what I’ve learned, and who I’ve become. That is the reason I hold on.

    • Yes, for us too, much of what we choose to keep was given to us by others. As I cast a quick eye about the apartment, I spy a lovely wine rack, painted tiles, a super-dooper blender, and a monkey sock puppet — all were charming and thoughtful gifts. – Marta

  3. I have really been enjoying the subjects that are covered in your blog. I have a love/hate relationship with stuff. I dream of being able to live in a Tumbleweed Tiny Home and spending my time outdoors, backpacking, maybe live in an intentional community where we share everything, farm, make art, repair and reuse everything.
    I dream this, but love my fish tank, my digital piano, my computer and a few pieces of my art I’ve collected. I love some of the new baby gadgets we’ve been accumulating, the Orbit Stroller system, a Bumbo, and just got a Volvo (Bobo) that I have to say is pretty nice.
    But back again, I like to imagine the place I don’t need any of those things which usually takes me to an island off of Belize or somewhere warm where flip flips, shorts, and a t-shirt get me through the year.
    Great topic!
    Check out one of my favorite movies is Mosquito Coast.

    • Glad you are enjoying the blog! And glad to see I’m not the only one who dreams of a stuff-free life.

      I found the process of shopping for my first baby a bit overwhelming. It was so hard to figure out what I what really use, and what would just take up much needed space. There are so many choices. -Marta

  4. Pingback: April Theme: Risk, repeat…reward « Connect Shore·

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