Okay, so I guess professional organizer Regina Lark took the time to count up every friggin piece of stuff in the average American household – from paper clips to ironing boards – and guess what that number is? Three hundred thousand!
Wow. That’s why I’m so exhausted. Overwhelmed. Having just moved from a huge family home of thirty years, surely this aching heart, and these two raw hands and weary eyes, just came into contact with at least half a million bits of stuff.
Now I know we talked about too much stuff last week in Stuff That Works, but the fallout continues. Despite a mid-October move-out and numerous trips back to keep purging, storing and selling, the old house is still not empty. It appears to be a home that can’t let go. And in the new accommodations – my husband B’s two-bedroom condo – there are still boxes piled up in front of bookshelves and paintings kicking around on the floor waiting to be hung.
Despite a creative side, I’m a practical person. I detest the idea of having things I don’t use. And yet, so many of the half a million recently sorted things are perfectly good things I hadn’t seen, used or thought about in a really long time. Says Yerdle, an unused stuff swap app, 80% of the 300,000 things in our homes are used less than once per month.
Yet, why is it so difficult to give good stuff up and become a minimalist? My cousin reminded me of one big challenge last week – my Hartley hoarding heritage. “The thing about stuff is that it evokes long-forgotten memories,” she added. Good inspiration for a writer. “Our possessions all have magical qualities,” says Randy Frost, author of Stuff. “Many, if not most, of the things we keep have an essence that goes beyond the physical character of the object.” Says Mary MacVean in the L A Times, “Our things can give us a sense of security, connection to the past, to the people we love.”
Here’s a thing, though, that I’ve been struggling with as I give up the big house to downsize. Was the house me? Am I the house? Who am I without the house? Or, more importantly, have I been using the house and it’s half million bits of stuff as a crutch? Says Andrew Mellen, author of Unstuff Your Life, “Full bookshelves say, ‘I’m well-read. I have lots of books.’ But really, you just buy books. Is your home an accurate external reflection of you?”
I find this an interesting question. Having resided in a huge home for many years, I’ve done lots of entertaining. Always, prior to an event, there was mad cleaning, organizing, and yard-work, so that me and the house could show our best face to guests.
Order, in a home, is important, though. Right? Gretchen Rubin, a happiness author I’ve quoted often, says, “I’m impressed by the degree to which outer order controls inner calm.” Hence my current uncalm state of mind. In Happier at Home, Rubin recalls the friend who told her, “I cleaned out my fridge, and now I can change careers.” It’s empowering, cleaning and organizing, isn’t it? Knowing exactly where each paper clip and ironing board is?
Because I want less responsibility – and I equate stuff with responsibility – I’m going to keep some of these stats on our consumer culture, compiled by Joshua Becker for www.beingaminimalist.com, in mind as I trudge onward:
- The Telegraph. British research found that the average 10-year-old owns 238 toys, but just plays with 12 daily. L A Times. U.S. children make up 3.7% of children on the planet, yet have 47% of all toys and books.
- Forbes. The average American woman owns 30 outfits – one for every day of the month. In 1930, that figure was nine. (I’ve thought of this myself as I’ve pared down my wardrobe. There are only seven days in the week and I do laundry each week. Hmmm.)
- Forbes. The average American family spends $1700/year on clothes. Huffington Post. The average American throws away 65 pounds of clothing/year.
- Psychology Today. Americans spend more on shoes, jewellery and watches ($100 billion) than on higher education.
- The Daily Mail. Women spend more than eight years of their lives shopping. (Hmmm again. I love shopping, but eight years?!)
- Affluenza. Shopping malls outnumber high schools. 93% of teenage girls say shopping is their favourite pastime. (Yikes!)
- Think there are a lot of Starbucks around? Think again. According to selfstorage.org, there are upward of 50,000 storage facilities in the U.S., more than five times the number of Starbucks. That’s 7.3 square feet for each man, woman and child, meaning it’s physically possible for the entire nation to stand under the total storage canopy.