Clutter: How Much Stuff Is Too Much?

The allergy season has me seeing clutter a little more clearly. This morning, through my red and swollen eyes, the thin layer of dust and pollen which has settled over the interior of my home became my enemy. It’s a more subtle version of the layer that’s settled over my city. The vehicles, windows, and lawn furniture are all sporting that ominous yellow top coat of death. It’s one thing to deal with sensitivities to cats and dust but, add Middle Tennessee pollen and I feel like I’m being assaulted.

This is that season every year when I want to slip away in the night to go live in a small concrete room with no furnishings. Once a day, I would use a hose and one of those huge industrial brooms to wash away all of the allergens. I would take with me only what fit in a backpack, which I would pack and sit just outside the door each night while I cleaned. I think the whole process would take about five minutes and on days like today, it sounds absolutely dreamy.

Instead, I live here, in the real world, where turning a hose on the place would do far more harm than good and so, sadly, I must dust.

This is at the root of my resistance to keeping anything that no longer serves me. I don’t want anything else to maintain. I don’t want to spend the extra time and energy dusting vases, bowls, trinkets, and whatever other assorted whatnot unless I absolutely love them or use them often. I don’t want to get on my hands and knees to scrub more bathtubs than we need to function as a family (which right now is only one but, honestly, I welcome a second). I don’t want to lose precious energy sorting and filing papers that I don’t actually need to keep.

I don’t want to spend hours and hours of my life tending my stuff. I want to tend my life. And even worse, most of us who have stuff that no longer serves us aren’t actually spending the hours that it takes each month to properly maintain all of the stuff in our space. So, our garages are full of stuff that we don’t use and it’s eventually covered with layers of dust and spider webs and whatever else blows in when the doors are open.

If it’s too much to dust, isn’t it too much to keep? Seriously, if we don’t have it in us to keep all of this stuff clean, are we not living beyond our means?

Our bathroom cabinets are filled with stuff we haven’t used in years. It’s dusty and grimy but we don’t pause every week or so to maintain it. Instead we stop opening the drawers and leave the new version of that same stuff on the counter so we can see it. We don’t take time to dust and straighten our piles of paper, so the mountain shifts and grows and soon gains landslide potential.

So, what if we could shift the way we see our space. What if, instead of thinking that all this stuff is so sacred, we considered the space our most precious commodity? What if we auditioned the things in our home to see if they are of enough value to us to justify the resources — time, money, energy, etc. — that it takes to maintain them?

What if we decided that living was more important than having? And what if that simple decision could free us to have more of what we really long for in our lives? Every single day someone tells me about how they wish they had the time/money/space/energy to read, learn, create, play, love, exercise, eat healthy, make money, travel, etc. Aren’t those desires valid too?

Why would we allow this stuff to keep us from loving our lives? Is it really more important just because it made it through the front door already? We can’t fall for that! “This stuff was here first” is a terrible reason to not be healthy or love well or create or heal. We all deserve better than this.

Take a deep breath and repeat after me: If it’s too much to maintain, it’s too much.
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41 comments

Dale Overall

Since my apartment is small and my treasures have amassed over the years and the dust collects on a regular basis-one gets rid of it but dust likes to return for multiple visits.
Well, am fond of all of my stuff and yes, it is annoying to have to pick it all up and dust the stuff, but I do like my abalone shell filled with different small geodes and small stones that glitter in the sunshine.
Do love my collection of small wooden boxes that have texture and warmth in the grains.
The pussy willows in various vases abound. Along with the dragonfly attached to the stain glass lyres in the front window along with the orchids dancing on my desk and the dried yet colourful Black Eyed Susans smiling at me from a wooden vase above.

Not all of us want or care to declutter. Am not a hoarder as I can easily walk anywhere without trampling over piles of clothes or boxes littered on the floor but do I ever have a lot of things to look at. Makes dusting a pain but not all of us can afford spacious four bedroom homes to put our trinkets inside. So, I just learn to live with the clutter and think of what it would be like if all my memories were removed to be replaced with a bare barren space. Nah, will just keep the dust as it will come visit me whether my space is trinket free or not.
Besides, am allergic to my sixteen year old blind cat but she stays too. She loves me and that is enough for me!

Alisa B.
Alisa B.4 years ago

Thanks for the article. Good Guidelines to follow.

Norma V.
Norma Villarreal4 years ago

Decluttering....one step at a time.

Merna S.
Merna S.4 years ago

A wonderful thought-provoking article! One I'm going to tweet right now - we all need to be reminded of what's important in life.

heather g.
heather g.4 years ago

Wow - This article sounds like it's written by a well-motivated person. Thank you, I think that attitude has rubbed off on many of us.

Callie J.
Callie Johnson4 years ago

Why do people care what *other* people own? I thought these articles were about working on your own issues,, not judging other people.

Lydia Price

I feel that if it takes a family working together more than one day to move, they have too much. Obviously this does not include the furniture.

Trish B.
Trish B.4 years ago

I love the clutter articles, and they have really helped me stay focused on my project of eliminating the extra "stuff" that I would need to maintain. I have also switched over into a mindset of not buying things that require extra work. Thanks for your articles. I really appreciate them.

Callie J.
Callie Johnson4 years ago

>>>Every single day someone tells me about how they wish they had the time/money/space/energy to read, learn, create, play, love, exercise, eat healthy, make money, travel, etc.

Time. Yes. Tell me how to find time when everyone I know who is employed, myself included, is doing the work of two people. If companies allowed their employees to do the work of one person, rather than two - or more! - the unemployment problem in the US would be solved, and we'd have the time and energy to read, learn, create, play, love, exercise, eat healthy, travel, etc. Several of my friends, women in their late 50s/early 60s, are no longer employed, and probably will never work again. Those friends who are still employed eventually all say the same thing - we're going to drop dead at our desks.

Callie J.
Callie Johnson4 years ago

@Carol P., agreed. I'd like to see some articles about how we're all being worked to death. I have less than half the amount of paid time off work that I did in the 90s, and I have a friend whose company entirely eliminated vacation, holiday and sick pay. Let's have some articles examining the health effects of constant work and no leisure. If I ever get leisure time again, I can take the time to be concerned about clutter.