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11 April 2009 @ 10:55 pm
The Tyranny of Stuff  

I spent a while cleaning the en suite and bedroom today, and got a little despairing at the Tyranny of Stuff. My bureaus–and I use the word ‘my’ advisedly, because there are 8 drawers, 3 of which hold things I use and five of which hold a variety of things, some of which are mine, some of which are toiletries, and some of which I have no idea what’s in them really–have been piled-up with Stuff on top for, oh, about as long as we’ve lived in this house.

This is going to go on a while, and is almost certainly of no interest to anyone but me, so I’ll put it

A significant portion of the stuff on the bureaus turned out to be actual garbage. Papers, receipts, empty envelopes, a paper bag which handily fit all that other stuff in it so I could drop the whole thing into the recycling bin easily. There were two journals, one of which has significant, if useless, portions of HOUSE OF CARDS hand-written into it, during the desperate stage of trying to get the book *right* and blocking up entirely when I sat at a keyboard. There were–and still are–two sweaters and a pair of pants, which have been joined by three more pairs of pants because I have nowhere else to *put* pants. There were some American dollars, which are now in a box where they will sometime surprise Ted. There were also various random Objects which I neither needed nor wanted, but was keeping out of some sort of gift-based guilt: someone gave me that, so I should keep it…even though it’s broken.

I got rid of those things, and of the actual trash, and that gave me room to put the pants and sweaters back on top of the bureaus tidily. Only that, of course, leads me to the pretty obvious conclusion that I have way too many clothes, if I’m unable to fit them all into the drawers and closets.

And I do. I have at least eight shirts in my bureaus which I don’t wear because I bought them when I weighed 20 pounds less than I currently do. I have twelve or fifteen more that I /do/ wear. I have an entire closet full of really cute clothes that fit me 20 pounds ago, when I’d lost over fifty pounds and swore I’d never get this fat again. And I don’t want to get rid of them because they *are* really cute and if I’ve lost weight once (or twice) then I should be able to do it again, dammit, so I should be able to wear them again and it’d be a shame to get rid of them…even if I have no room for the pants I can wear.

Then there are the shirts which are too old or too geeky or too something for me to wear anymore, which I keep out of sentimental value. I could make a geek quilt from them, I’ve said, but I haven’t worn them or made a quilt in five years, maybe more, so at what point should I cut my losses and admit I’m never going to? I’m still carting around a dress made of fabulous changeable taffeta from a wedding I was in fifteen years ago, because the fabric is so awesome I’ve always wanted to make a different dress from it. When do I accept the vicious truth that I’m never going to make it, particularly since where the hell would I wear a dress made of fabulous changeable taffeta?

And don’t get me started on books, DVDs and music. I’ve become pretty ruthless about getting rid of books I don’t think I’m going to re-read (I bring them to the library, which begets the question, why don’t you check books out from the library in the first place? Because I read so little anymore that it’s hideously unlikely I’d read any given book I check out in the time frame allotted to me. I’ve also become much more ruthless about simply *not buying* books because there’s no point in them sitting moldering on the shelves for years before I get to reading them. And I’m a writer, whose livelihood depends on other people buying them and letting them molder. It’s a horrible position to be in.), but the damned things still pile up at an incredible rate. Same with CDs, which I actually listen to depressingly little. We’ve ripped all of our music now, so the very logical thing to do is to simply get rid of the hard copies, and only buy digital music from now on, but Ted has fears of catastrophic hard drive failures, so the hard copies stay. Similarly with DVDs–we’re digitizing ours, so mostly it seems like the way to go is getting rid of the hard copies. (By that logic, clearly I need a Kindle.) It’s not that I don’t want the back-ups, but there’s just so much *stuff*. It seems unhealthy, somehow.

And yet if I think, ok, what can I get rid of? Well…I look at my candle-holders and I think “those could go, except I like them/someone gave that set to me/etc”, and, well, that’s true. It’s also true that I virtually never use them, what with living in a world with, you know, electricity. Or: I have 12 billion Rogue figurines. I don’t *need* 12 billion Rogue figurines…but so many were gifts! Or I spent so much time/trouble/money getting them! What a shame to just get rid of them! What a pain to eBay them! Or I have a zillion authors copies of books, when really, truly, about five is enough. They’re *periodically* useful, to sell off at conventions or to send as contest prizes, but they pile up faster than I can possibly get rid of them (especially as contest prizes, because that means I’m paying postage). What to do, what to do?

And so it goes. I don’t know. Ruthlessness must prevail, obviously, to really get out from under the tyranny of stuff. I’ll never be a minimalist sort, but it seems like I could make a dent in, say, the makeup I never wear (but I might!), the hair things inappropriate for short hair (but I might have long hair again someday!), the clothes that don’t fit (but I might be thin again someday!).

If any well-meaning or possibly sarcastic person has the impulse to suggest reading/watching/investigating anything of the “rescue this house” declutter ilk, please just don’t. This is not that extreme and I don’t need that kind of advice, and it will make me crabby beyond belief. :)

(x-posted from the essential kit)

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Iyllianaiylliana on April 11th, 2009 10:19 pm (UTC)
I can SO relate to this :( Its depressing :(
Its a generational thing too, isn't it? We are caught between the post-post-war guilt of make-do-and-mend and cherish your possessions, and the modern consumerist culture which has enabled us all to buy (or be bought) stuff our parents only dreamt of and then we feel guilty about having it too.
I have dumped a bunch of stuff in the charity shop that I could probably have sold if I could find the motivation. At least that way it _sort of_ feels like it might go to a good home, and I'm trying to tell myself that even if I could have had £x for the whole lot of it, I might also have paid someone that amount just to get rid of my clutter.
It sucks though, constantly, because somehow we are always amassing more of the damn stuff. Grrr.
karistan: Frustratedkaristan on April 11th, 2009 10:20 pm (UTC)
I, too, am fighting the Stuff and losing the battle. It's the thought of throwing out/getting rid of useful items that is the problem. I've started becoming ruthless about the things I can get rid of.

If there wasn't for the laws against it, I would take things out and burn it on the lawn. :)
irishkateirishkate on April 11th, 2009 10:41 pm (UTC)
you know I am pack rat enough to volunteer to take just about any books/dvds/cds etc...but also for authors books I can bring some to the con in summer - supernatural fans should enjoy urban fantasy right? Though I'm not sure about selling at the event...
kitmizkit on April 12th, 2009 08:43 am (UTC)
They'd be terrific give-aways at a con, yeah. You'd have to do a whole dealer's table to sell them legally, which would be too much of a pain in the ass. The most awkward thing about that, though, is people generally want the first book in the series, which then leaves me with a million copies of 2 & 3 and no way to get rid of them, particularly. Though I suppose if you're just handing them out beggars can't be choosers. :)

I'd think Supernatural fans would like the Walker Papers quite a lot. :)
madmiss on April 12th, 2009 12:14 am (UTC)
I think we all can relate........
- She who owns a set of drawers of con related, holiday momento, Did I ever wear this clothing ... Also, when did 7 bags of teddy bears ever become too many teddy bears?
martianmooncrabmartianmooncrab on April 12th, 2009 12:20 am (UTC)
The Olmecs/Mayans had a God of Trash. You merely honor him with an altar.
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kitmizkit on April 12th, 2009 08:44 am (UTC)
*laughs* Oh. Damn. I wish I'd been more helpful!

Maybe we need an International Stuff Sorting Day. At the end of the day we can all take a picture of the pile/boxes of Stuff we've sorted out, and the next day we can bring it all to a charity shop...
Flitterbyflit on April 12th, 2009 01:36 am (UTC)
I tend to be overwhelmed by Stuff because it's just such a massive pain to sort out. BUT I've figured out a few tricks.

If you have any storage space at all, then you can get a lot of this stuff out of your face without having to get rid of it.

After ripping all of my CDs, we boxed them. I like still owning them because I just like having the hard backups, but I haven't gone into those boxes for several years. I found cheap tupperware-like large storage boxes (probably designed to go under a bed) that fit several rows of CDs apiece. They're a little larger than the CDs so everything just works well. Angie made a list for me of all of the CDs, too, so I can search it for what I have.

For clothes, sort them by purpose ("when I get thin again", "sentimental quilt shirts") and box and label and date the boxes. If you know anyone who would appreciate the fabric on the fabulous taffeta dress, give it away. Otherwise, box it up. When you lose weight you can make a party out of unboxing all of those clothes. If you have scheduling software, put a reminder in to think about those boxes in a few years; if you haven't touched them in all of that time, you might be ready to let go of the sentimental stuff. If not? Well you can keep storing it. But things might change and you might get time to make that quilt, so if you're not paying *extra* for storage, it's not going to hurt you to store it.

I got a toolbox/step stool combo for my makeup. It's still accessible and I needed a step stool in that room anyhow, so it didn't add clutter. Fishing tackle boxes are also good for organizing makeup. Box up all of your long hair stuff and put it away.

You can also store all twelve billion of the rogue figurines except for two or three favorites and three random ones, which you can display. Every now and then grab three new random ones and retire three to the box. This means you will get to enjoy them more as a quality vs. quantity thing.
kitmizkit on April 12th, 2009 08:45 am (UTC)
It's a good thought. The thing that keeps me from doing it, mostly (aside from storage issues) is that I can't help thinking if I'm going to box it all up for years I might as well get rid of it in the first place. So I'm apparently in denial or something... :)
Flitterbyflit on April 12th, 2009 02:41 pm (UTC)
It sort of depends on how sad you'd be if you wanted it later and didn't have it. There's no harm in keeping sentimental items around as long as they aren't getting in your way or costing you money to store. You can put them somewhere far out of the way but have that little part of your brain comforted by still owning them. Or you can splurge and have someone else make that quilt for you. Or you can decide that you don't need to hang onto them. This is a hard decision to make, to be sure. You can delay it by boxing it for a while and then checking every year to see if you still want it.

The "lose weight" clothes are very feasible to hang onto -- you're planning on losing weight and have done so before. They'll still be cute by the time you've lost weight. But looking at them every day is probably a de-motivator, especially if you don't have room for your clothes that you use regularly! So boxing those makes it a motivator; "I get take these out when I've lost weight." It's like going shopping without paying any money or having to try stuff on. :)

The long hair stuff seems less likely since you like short hair, BUT it probably doesn't take much space. If you know anyone with long hair who would like it, you might enjoy giving it away.
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kitmizkit on April 12th, 2009 08:46 am (UTC)
Maybe we need a Make A Geek Quilt Summer Project....
mevennenmevennen on April 12th, 2009 10:15 am (UTC)
I have been waging a ruthless war on Stuff. Have won battles. But not the war.
Janne: howl cleaningjanne on April 12th, 2009 05:06 pm (UTC)
I actually managed to throw out half a dozen geek tshirts last week, didn't hurt at all. Now there's just the other couple dozens to go that I'm pretty certain will hurt. Can't stand quilting, either... I think I'll just grit my teeth and hand them over to the next charity interested in secondhand clothing, telling myself they might go to somebody who would actually wear them and enjoy it.
I've no idea what to do about the books, though. I'll probably end up in an obituary about a crazy old woman crushed to death in a book avalanche.
allisondek on April 13th, 2009 01:38 am (UTC)
t-shirt suggestion
I had a t-shirt that I bought years ago and about fifty pounds lighter, with a picture of Sylvester the cat saying "Thcenectady". I loved the t-shirt - hey, you don't often find a funny t-shirt about Schenectady!- and didn't want to toss it. There was something on the Today show about turning a t-shirt into a tote-bag with duct tape and staples (I couldn't make this up). So that's what I did.

I've been able to let go of some of my stuff by giving things away, with the thought that it's better to do it myself than try to put instructions in a will that so-and-so should get that necklace I got from my mother but never wear.
Mary Annepers1stence on April 13th, 2009 01:11 am (UTC)
For the CDs, I have also ripped all my music, but like Ted, I want to keep the darn things for backups. My compromise is that I threw out all the jewel cases and have them all filed in binders that take up relatively little room.