Steen

“Buy, buy, says the sign in the shop window; Why, why, says the junk in the yard.” Paul McCartney

“Ma’am, it’s $17 a load from a pound to 250 pounds,” the lady told me. My first load was less than 75 pounds, so it became my goal to hit as close to the limit from that point on, in hopes of getting my money’s worth.

1200 pounds later, I smiled that there was no more, and I had even gone over the base amount, paying $18 for one load. It was stuff. Unwanted by charities or neighbors, it had to go somewhere to make room for the next person moving in. That was not an easy journey, nor an easy decision on what would make the trip and what would need to be left behind.

From the buy, buy to the why, why, McCartney sure was right — and it has caused me to take a long hard look at the things in my own home.

Dumping things that we’ve held on to, thinking we might need them someday, is a bit liberating, and as they say, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. But I wonder what it’s really about. Why do we decide we need to hold onto so many things, and more importantly, why acquire so many things in the first place? When is enough enough?

When I moved away from home, I lived in an efficiency apartment. There wasn’t much space for storing “stuff,” and I didn’t have a lot of money. Whatever I purchased and brought home was considered necessary, for the most part.

When I got married, we had a small house with three small bedrooms within a few feet of each other, a small kitchen and a medium-size combination dining room — living room, and an unfinished basement. It was enough. It was just perfect, and we loved it. And then we moved to a new town and found another home.

This was a larger home with room for the new baby who arrived that first year. The house had a really large unfinished basement and a large fenced-in backyard. It was more than we ever imagined having, and it definitely was enough. It was enough until we moved to the next town when we had a job change.

Our next home had two levels, five bedrooms, three bathrooms, no basement, no fenced-in yard, a decent size kitchen, a dining room, and a living room. It was so much more than enough. I remember feeling like we just didn’t deserve something so spacious. It has been home for almost 30 years, and while it still feels like it is enough, our stuff is just too much for the space.

In younger days, we might have thought we needed a bigger house for all the things we’ve accumulated, but often with age comes wisdom. We have decided we would like our space to have more breathing room. When I look back at pictures from when we first purchased this house, I love how empty it was. We didn’t own a lot of furniture, we had one toddler, a baby on the way, and a few hand-me-down items. Today, we have more hand-me-downs, no children living at home, but many of things belong to them still living in our home. We want to get rid of some of the stuff. Does this sound at all familiar to you?

And with a little space for just a few more words, let’s see if we can figure out why we think we need so much, how to be happy with less, and most importantly what to do to avoid someone disposing of our things at $17 a load because no one values what we once thought was priceless.

The why. The need to win in the hunt is as much of a driving force today as it was long long ago when hunting for dinner or shelter. Research shows us that it’s the hunt that is thrilling, it’s the capture (purchase) that really delights a person, and once you own it, it’s a bit like driving a new car off the lot — value decreases immediately.

The how. Is it possible to be happy with less? It really is. Do you think having fewer pairs of shoes, books (hmm, I think that’s the wrong category to include), baseball cards, or any number of other collectible items will really decrease your level of happiness in life? Once again, we can look to the research to see that having less “stuff” doesn’t lessen the happiness people feel.

In fact, I would encourage you to look at Barry Schwartz’s “Paradox of Choice” book — the more choices we have, the more stressed we are. (Side note: Six years ago, I got rid of all of the clothes in my closet and purchased a very few pairs of slacks and shirts in one color. The stress level for getting dressed plummeted, and I have stayed with a limited wardrobe ever since. Talk about liberating!)

The what. If we want our belongings to be special to those we leave behind, we should probably have fewer and more meaningful items. We should also begin now going through belongings, donating to charity, selling where appropriate, and asking our loved ones what they might like to have one day down the road.

It really does boil down to this, though. It’s all stuff. Maybe you own something of great value that will be in an art auction one day. Most of us do not. Most of us have a favorite bowl, vase, or painting that we can’t imagine not being valued by those we leave behind, but this is the truth: When things have to move quickly, and decisions have to be made, 500 pounds of your stuff might find a home, and the rest will end up at the dump and will cost your family $17 for every 250 pounds. Buy, Buy and Bye, Bye seem to be appropriate words to consider in our never-ending effort to fulfill our desires.

You and I are not going to live forever. Why not clean house today, so those who survive us know what we truly valued?

Susan Black Steen is a writer and photographer, a native Tennessean and a graduate of Austin Peay State University. With a firm belief that words matter, she writes and speaks to bring joy, comfort and understanding into each life. Always, she writes from her heart in hopes of speaking to the hearts of others. She can be reached at (stories@susanbsteen.com).

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