3 cheers for 3 weeks! We bid goodbye to our precious rice maker on Tuesday morning as my colleague came through with her $5 purchase. I’m honestly delighted to have that shelf space back in our kitchen. I’m also tempted to sell our equally useless electric kettle, but I heard that there would be a mutiny from the other members of my household, who apparently aren’t convinced that our stove is capable of heating water.
We’ll be posting our next sale later on the blog this week, and it’s our riskiest attempt yet! (We’re told it’s vintage, and it’s a card table & chair set that apparently carries a value of about $450.00– when the sellers aren’t working against the clock!). Our hope is to collect enough on the sale of this set to be able to donate half the proceeds to another charity! Check back to see what kind of price we can fetch for it (yes, I’m going to make “fetch” happen).
The more we share with readers and friends about all this “stuff” we’re trying to get rid of, the more we realize we’re not alone. Maybe this shouldn’t be a surprise to us, since we were partly inspired to start this blog when we came across this Boston Globe article about Americans being buried, nearly literally, in their clutter. The TL;DR of the article is basically that we spend too much time acquiring money and things, such that we never actually get to enjoy the things we spend our time acquiring. That bougie fire pit that you thought you’d be gathering friends around all summer long with a chilled bubbly of questionable price point and origins? No way, Rosé.
This article actually is an important snapshot of a particular socioeconomic class, though it doesn’t really acknowledge the material privilege associated with owning so much stuff. It basically purports that Americans are so busy consuming and stock-piling while paradoxically obsessing about decluttering and “simplifying” that many of us have mentally migrated to a place in which “possession” rather than “expression” is rendered synonymous with being “fulfilled.” Our focus on acquisition detracts from our ability to be immersed in love, vulnerability, joy, or new experiences that allow us to make memories within our communities. In a vigilant quest to acquire just enough, many Americans report some amount of overconsumption, and thus having to back peddle on how much stuff they think they need. Sadly, this often means purging their belongings as compulsively as they pursued their stuff to begin with.
I’m going to pause here to acknowledge that the this article is not an inclusive one, and is vulnerable to making sweeping generations about the struggles of all families in the U.S. To own this much and to be complaining about it it is, well, a special kind of problem. The article doesn’t address income inequality or the sense of food and other insecurities that families deal with that may contribute to folks’ feeling like it’s important to buy in bulk, or hold on to things they don’t currently need, or make small spaces work for large families, or dealing with the many systemic inequalities that must be disrupted and eradicated. There are many problematic dimensions to this kind of social issue even existing in a world like ours, and the inner cynic in me struggles to find compassion for folks who feel even the slightest sense of overwhelm when thinking “I just have too much! It’s just so hard to have it all!” (read: me.)
If my soap-box digression here hasn’t lost you entirely (did I mention I’m a social worker?) I can get back to admitting that this article did partly inspire us. So did this one in the New York Times about the generational differences in how Americans value “stuff.” It essentially points out that millennials are much more caught up in a culture of mass production and pseudo-disposable goods, such as Ikea furniture, fast fashion, cheap household items and even plastic containers for their stuff. With so newly minted adult children unwilling to take furniture, wedding china and old Van Halen CDs from their parents’ storage units in the middle-class American family, baby boomers may find themselves stuck (again, privileged problems! Amiright!?)
Regardless, the struggle is apparently real, and it’s one which Jason and I have felt strongly that we must be reflective and thoughtful in addressing, especially as two individuals caught somewhere between the definition of millenial and generation x. We’re not super into shopping (Jason literally owns pants from 1997, but that’s not my story to tell). We’re not even big on consumer technology or trendy furniture or other home goods that could easily take up a lot of space. We tend to spend our money on entertaining friends at our house, going out to some of our favorite haunts in the amazing city that is Boston, or traveling to some of the best places in the world, when we can get away.
So how did we end up like the poor souls in these think-pieces we’re sharing here? As with most problems, there are many contributing factors, and not a single cause:
- We were both relatively established adults when we decided to move in together. Also, Jason is what I have affectionately deemed a “bibliomaniac” and owns roughly three billion books. So when we combined our stuff into one apartment, that meant we had a bed,15 bookshelves, those pants from 1997 and 3.00001 billion books.
- We have two teenagers who live with us about half the week, and split their time across two households. They have just about two (or three) of everything and let me just say that our house has more mismatched shoes than a DSW on Black Friday.
- I made the questionable life choice to go back to graduate school full-time approximately 5 minutes after we moved in together. For anyone who’s ever lived on a diet of student loans, part time jobs and generalized anxiety for two years, you know that the feeling of deprivation tends to linger, and it’s easy to fall into the trap in which you accept nearly anything labeled “free!” within a 5 mile radius. For me, that often yielded a lot of leftover pizza in the student lounge and tufted armchairs from nearby relatives who were downsizing.
- Okay, fine. I REALLY like tufted armchairs. We own like, seven of them, and of course none of them match, and concerned friends have begun to remark that our living room has started to give off a funeral parlor vibe. Which, I’m told, can be kind of a buzz kill at your Queen Sugar / OITNB / Insecure viewing party.
So between collecting curbside treasures, priceless family heirlooms, nautical conversation-pieces (okay, maybe I have a problem) and the occasional splurge on super awesome local art, we have reached a tipping point and recognize that it takes great care not to simply trash the stuff that’s not cutting it any more. We don’t want to buy into the culture of disposability, but also don’t want to be those people (thanks, George Carlin!) any more than we already are.
There definitely have been spaces we’ve managed to mix and match old stuff with new, and investment pieces with actual repurposed recyclables. We’ll be sharing more about where we’ve found success with this and how we’ve struck a balance. It’s been fun to think about what counts as a keeper, and also to admit to ourselves what we’ve been holding onto and why. One of my best friends has a saying: “let go or be dragged.” We’re working on letting go. Stick with us.
Can you related to the articles in this post? What has contributed to the trash or treasures you’ve accumulated in your space? Is it family heirlooms, or roommates with an affinity for “found art?” How have you coped and what was your “tipping point” moment? Share with readers in the comments, so we know we’re not alone here!