We all have stuff. The older we get, the more stuff we accumulate until, like some hoarders, we are drowning in the stuff.
As we gather more stuff, we fill up the cupboards and basement and attic (if we have them) and pack the garage with boxes of stuff. Some people even build outdoor sheds to store their stuff, especially if they have a garden and have stuff to maintain their yard.
A 2007 article by Paul Graham on stuff laments the things he and others have and how it affects our lives. He writes that having all this stuff is a modern phenomenon: “Even as recently as a few decades ago there was a lot less stuff. When I look back at photos from the 1970s, I’m surprised how empty houses look.”
The stuff can become so great that some people go out and rent storage units for their extra stuff. As a European, I find this hilarious that people want to house their stuff and pay for the privilege, too. Some people even move to a bigger house when their stuff becomes too great. Stuff seems to grow to fill the available space as if it has a life of its own!
According to Graham, there is a misconception that stuff is valuable. This is only the case with antique stuff from a century or more ago. Cars, furniture, electronics and clothing devalue as soon as they leave the sales floor. Another misconception is that stuff is useful. This is true, but only if the stuff is current and applicable to our lives.
Graham says, “If you don’t have any immediate use for it, you probably never will.” He reminds us that advertising companies have conditioned us to think of stuff as valuable, but it would be “closer to the truth to treat stuff as worthless.”
Do you own your stuff, or does it own you? Stuff can be depressing, limiting and confining. We cannot move without our stuff. We carry along our stuff, like a snail carries its shell. If you work outside the home, you carry stuff in your car. In fact, the car has its own stuff. We keep spare stuff in the car, just in case we need it. It’s surprising that most people can drive their cars with all the stuff in them. Some people’s cars look as if they live in them — and they probably do.
Whenever we leave home, we take our stuff along with us. Kids carry huge backpacks to school, even luggage on wheels filled with their books. A few decades ago, women carried purses; now they carry totes, hold-alls, and don’t get me started on what stuff needs to be carried along if you have a baby, small child or pet.
Perhaps it is reassuring to have our stuff with us; perhaps it makes us feel safe. My grandmother always carried a huge purse filled with everything she felt she needed including old rent books, candies, corn plasters, spare nylons and old letters. This habit developed during World War II in England and was appropriate then because many people were bombed out of their homes. Sometimes, the clothes they wore and their purse or wallet became their only possessions.
It’s easy to carry on old habits; they are hard to break and it is harder still to get rid of the stuff. There are unique households that use everything they have, but the truth is most of us don’t use a tenth of what we have. It is all just stuff.
Angela Smith is a Ph.D. life coach, author and educator who has been resident in Nevada since 1992. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.