Opinion Column

To Keep Or Not To Keep: A 'material girl's' quest to simplify her life

By Kimberley Laws

I have developed a number of obsessions over the years. While mastering the art of spiralizing squashes or memorizing the 50 US states in alphabetical order has given me some sense of accomplishment, my latest passion is proving much more worthwhile. I have become obsessed with getting rid of excess material things. And it feels awesome.

I don't want to give anyone the wrong idea. My house is far from spartan. And no one would ever accuse me of being a neat-freak. I am, however, making a conscious effort to shed surplus stuff and avoid accumulating more.

So, how did this clutter-brained, naturally disorganized, collector-of-everything evolve into a minimalist-work-in-progress? Amazingly enough, I had a catharsis. I suddenly realized how much of my life has been spent earning money to accumulate material things, trying to figure out how to use them, locating a place to keep them, dusting and cleaning them, and protecting them from those who covet them. "Things," it would seem are a lot of work. And owning them is stressful.

But they can be hard to part with--no matter how motivated one may be.

If you have ever had the discomfort of sitting through an episode of Hoarders, you know just how deep an attachment to one's possessions can become. Society, after all, has conditioned us to believe that material possessions are the panacea for all of our problems. The right brand name will make us cool, the latest technology will transform our lives, and a healthy dose of "retail therapy" will make the darkest of days shiny and bright.

"Stuff" and the quest to get more of it fails to do any of this. It can, however, lead to financial woes, longer work hours, marital troubles, and a tremendous amount of stress. Not to mention that our love affair with stuff can distract us from pursuing the things that are truly important--meaningful relationships, work that matters, and working your way through your bucket list.

Furthermore, stuff does begat more stuff. Owning a glut of possessions can necessitate the purchase of more stuff like giant Rubbermaid containers, bookcases, and storage sheds. And before you know it, the people at A&E are knocking on your door, wanting to film your mountain of stuff.

Admittedly, "stuff" in itself, is not inherently evil. My house is full of useful items. The television, the computer, the Keurig, and the refrigerator are, in my opinion, worthy of the space they inhabit. If something has a use and you regularly use it, it can be deemed a keeper. As someone with the sewing skills of an untrained monkey, however, my much-neglected sewing machine simply took up valuable real estate in my over-stuffed closet. It needed to go.

An item that serves no practical purpose, but brings you great joy can also be a keeper. My stuffed animals fall into this category. Each and every one of them. A Barry Manilow album does not.

You may have noticed that de-cluttering and organizing has become popular with television shows, books, magazines, and Ikea commercials dedicated to this very subject. While organization is a good thing, it does pose one problem. By simply putting useless items in order, they still take up space. And, you now have to work to maintain this sense of order. Getting rid of items that neither serve a purpose nor bring you joy, however, is a permanent solution.

Shedding stuff not only frees your life--and subsequently your mind--of clutter, but it also brings joy to others. My sports card collection and bins of records had been relegated to the basement for years. By letting go and selling them to a dealer, they can now bring someone else great joy. Albeit, even the record dealer wanted no part of my Manilow album.

And, selling stuff makes money. Just don't spend it on more stuff.

But, do not discount the intrinsic rewards experienced by donating your unwanted possessions to a local charity, your church bazaar, or a needy family. Not only will you experience the joy of doing a good deed, but your neglected possessions will get a new lease on life and finally be enjoyed by someone who needs and will appreciate them.

While my quest to shed stuff is a work-in-progress, it is slowly transforming the way I view material things. The more stuff I part with, the easier it gets. My ability to discern needs from wants has improved. My desire to purchase new stuff has been curbed. And, my mind is a little less cluttered.

But the stuffed animals are staying.

Next week: Bryce McBride