I’ve spent the last 2 years selling, giving away and trashing most of my “stuff”, and it feels great! I love how empty my house looks, I love the freedom I have now that I don’t have to take care of so many things, and I love feeling unencumbered. I am still very tied down, with a 14 year old, a cat and a dog, but I feel free in a unique way. It reminds me of the time I was 17 and lived on my own. I owned nothing but the clothes on my back, but I had food to eat and a library to borrow books from, and it was one of the best times of my life.
My Aunt is also downsizing. She is moving in with her son and his family, and she is going through her stuff, deciding what to take and what to get rid of. Her son recently put a pic of his Kindergarten “graduation” certificate on facebook, which she still has. I told him I’d come over when she’s not around and we can go through and trash things, and he said it was a fruitless effort – she would fish things out of the trash. So, she’s in quite a pickle.
My mother has turned to me for help. For years I’ve been the depository for everyone’s unwanted stuff. I have a large house, so my mother was constantly trying to “give” me things, some of which I accepted. Initially I accepted things because I didn’t have enough money to furnish the house, but it wasn’t long before I realized what a trap I’d gotten into.The problem with accepting something from people who care about things is that they will track those things till they die. I became her storage unit. Her “gifts” to me were actually items that she wanted to keep but they didn’t quite fit into her new space. In giving them to me she was counting on me using them the way she wanted them used, so that she could essentially have visitation with them.
One of her “gifts” was a sofa. I’m sure that in it’s day it was a beautiful sofa, but it has smelled like mold the entire time I’ve had it. The cost to reupholster it is more than the cost to buy a new sofa, and the style is formal, which I am not, so it will not be coming with me. I’ve hinted a few times that the sofa might not make the cut but a few days ago I told her straight out I was not taking it with me, and it was as if I’d slapped her. She insisted that I not sell it or give it away, so I told her that she needed to figure out what to do with it, because it will not come with me. It will be a problem, because I’m sure if you asked her right now she’d say “oh I can’t wait to get that sofa recovered for her new place, it will be so pretty”. Inevitably, we will have a fight over a sofa. How ludicrous is that?
Now that it’s clear that I will sell anything given to me, my mother and Aunt are at a loss. What will they do with the things they really want to keep but don’t quite make the cut for the space they are moving into? Since they no longer have access to my storage space they are scrambling. Who else can the “give” their stuff to yet maintain control over it? Perhaps I’ll remind them of storage units.
This attraction to stuff is in part why my marriage failed. Prior to my marriage I had a bed, a dresser, a 2nd hand couch, a tv, and a mismatched set of kitchenware. And I loved it! I loved having 10 plates, each different from the other. I loved having glasses that didn’t match and no knickknacks. When I got engaged I suddenly craved matching tableware, good china, and serving bowls. For the past 25 years I’ve used some of those things and others I’ve just sort of moved around, wondering what on earth to do with them. I became the person who went to Home Improvement shows and house tours, I looked at decor magazines and coveted things others had that I did not. Even as I did all these things though there was a voice in the back of my head saying what are you doing? This is not you. My soon-to-be-ex (stbx) was not that person either. Most of the possessions we ended up with were out of his price range and, while he coveted them, he could not afford them, and the pursuit of them damaged us both.
He continues to covet. He recently spent a week at the shore with his new girl and our 14 year old. Our son was only with them 3 days; the rest of the time he spent in a neighboring town with a friend of his. On the 3 days he spent with his dad they did expensive outings. One was to a bouncy play-land on the bay, one was a boat trip to a expensive restaurant, and the other was a boat trip to an exclusive beach where only the rich go. There was jet skiing and fishing and meals out. As I listened to this it became very clear to me why he and I always fought on vacations. We would go to an all-inclusive and the 1st thing he would do would be look up costly excursions. Most often he would take our older boys and I would stay back, not because I didn’t want to go on the excursion, but because I knew we couldn’t really afford it. It was always the same when we went to the shore. He wanted to come here and spend money. Rent a boat, go whale watching, go to the expensive restaurant in town, etc, etc. Every day he had to find a reason to spend money, and it was money we had no business spending. My brother tells me that when a man can’t afford what he wants for himself and his family it is very emasculating, so I suppose I was emasculating him, expressing my concerns spending money on things we didn’t need and couldn’t afford.
What it comes down to is this: all the stuff in the world won’t fill an empty soul. There is no thing in my home that makes me feel complete, and there is no thing in my house that will define the new me. I can’t buy an adventure or a piece of furniture or a new gadget to make me happy. Things can’t make me happy.
I am happy when I have money in the bank. I’d rather have a savings account than a meal out, a trip to a fancy beach or a new sofa. My stbx, and our boys, say “life is short, live it up”, and they do so. They are doing this though by running up credit cards. My oldest figured this out during college and he just finished digging himself out of the financial hole he dug. I’m hopeful that he has learned something from that expensive lesson. Perhaps he hasn’t.
If I wake up to debt, regardless of the beauty or excitement I am surrounded by, I feel sick to my stomach. For my stbx , waking up to money in the bank without adventures and meals out makes him sick to his stomach. I guess it makes sense. While he maintains that he doesn’t care what others think of him, he engages only in those things that others can see. If it’s a project he can show off, he’s all in. If it’s cleaning, or general maintenance others don’t notice, he can’t be bothered. Others don’t see your savings, they see the adventures you go on, or the things you buy.
Me, I plan to move very little of my “belongings”. I hope to live sparsely, with a robust savings account. That is what makes me happy, and that is what I plan to pursue.
2 thoughts on “Are We Our Stuff?”
I learned about 11 years ago the hard way that things don’t matter. In 1996 my folks were planning on moving. We all went through the main rooms and ‘picked’ things that we wanted. Whatever they decided to take with them, you’d get when they died. Whatever they didn’t, you could have now. Fast forward 9 years. Their new home had a fire and they lost everything but the clothes on their back (and a few items in the garage). Once it is all gone, you realize how little it matters. We were all initially devastated that the antiques, precious pictures and things that represented our family home and childhood were gone. It didn’t last. I’ve never been one to hold onto much, but I do a lot more purging than I used. My family calls on me when they need to clean things out or purge – they know I’ll be sure they get rid of the stuff.
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I understand what you’re doing. I am slowly getting rid of things. It will be difficult since they fill my entire garage and basement. They’re mostly Christmas and other holiday decorations. I will never decorate again and I don’t need to keep “housing” this stuff. I would have never thought in a million years that I would come to this but I have. Like you, I would rather have money in the bank than things. I have no debt…just my monthly utilities.
If I could, I would take my money and just travel…do things I never got to do and see things I never got to see.
I also understand how if feels to have things given to you that the person thinks are priceless (and to them, they most likely are) but it adds a burden. Hopefully, you will be successful and find that happiness you are looking for.