by Aurora Bordeaux
Owning stuff is exhausting. And families with children always seem to be buried in stuff.
When the hubs and I got married, we had almost no worldly possessions. One friend, who was just as young as we were, bought us a trash can as an early wedding gift after staying with us because we were using a garbage bag tied to the oven door (it’s not as unsafe as it sounds since we didn’t know how to cook much outside of hot dogs in the George Foreman).
Around that time, now nearing ten years ago, collecting stuff was fun. Anything we gathered was forward motion that made life easier; pots, for example, let us upgrade from hot dogs to pasta. We only had a small space to fill, and “stuff” was exciting because everything we bought or registered for was picked out by both of us together. We were infant adults, and building our private treasure trove of day to day household items was an adventure.
Fast forward nine years to a too-large house in the suburbs where one of my hobbies is getting rid of things. We have too many bedrooms, too many closets, too many crevices that have somehow been crammed over the years with overflowing, gangling stuff that grew like bacteria. Where did it all come from? How did it all get here?
I’ll tell you how: Christmases combined with an inability to say no. Also, older couples who had too much stuff were always handing it down to us, and we—suckers—always took it no matter what it was. Some of this flotsam was worth having and saved us money. Half of our bedroom furniture and a few hand me downs from the hubs’s family were either majorly convenient or are still small treasures, and we value them for their loveliness, sentiment, or the raw fact that it kept every stick of furniture in our house from coming from IKEA. Note: I love IKEA and would never, ever trash talk it. But it’s nice to have a mix.
A lot of the stuff was from my overspendy mom, who was basically a hoarder constantly giving us a bunch of total crap I felt too guilty to unload, much of it refuse from the Goodwill. Sometimes, she’d even ask for these things back years later and completely freak if I told her we gave it to a friend. Those weren’t really gifts–they were burdens, down payments on a future guilt trip to be redeemed at will.
I started doing what my dad calls “purging” about three years ago, and I’m still involved in the process. It’s one of the many reasons I want to live in a smaller space (reason #1: cleaning less space takes less time). I was sick of spending time maintaining all this stuff—extra bedspreads, clearance Pottery Barn curtains I always hated but kept in a closet so I didn’t offend the touchy giver, useless throw pillows, and ugly, outdated, ill fitting, thirdhand clothes, clothes, clothes. We never used or needed most of it. It had to go.
I felt like I was exorcising demons with every round of giveaways, recycling bad memories of feeling burdened by stuff and giving those dead objects a second chance at Goodwill where some bargain hunter who just loved those Pottery Barn curtains would go buck wild at the miracle deal they scored.
Our closets are now used only for storage of things we like, use, or need. Camping gear. Cozy winter sweaters. A sewing machine. Empty suitcases. A tutu for Halloween, special occasions, or just unwinding at the end of a long day. The closets are now a better picture of who we actually are—people who like to camp, travel, craft, dress up. The clothes inside fit, match our style as it stands today, and are delightfully organized.
I’m constantly in awe of how much stuff kids need. I went to a baby shower recently, and by the end the mamma-to-be was literally sitting between piles of brand new baby junk taller than she was. Everyone kept gushing, elated. “Look at how many gifts you got! Look at all this stuff!” But the one thought that ran through my head was, “Good gravy. You are going to have to find a place to put all of this. And when the kids outgrow it, you will either put it in a basement or have to unload it on someone else. Or worse, it will end up on Garbage Island in the ocean.” It’s a little irrational, but I somehow always feel that Garbage Island is all my fault. I am desperate to remedy this and live a more upcycled life.
Our neighbor’s yards are filled with the forgotten flotsam of American childhood—deflated balls, abandoned hairless baby dolls, plastic bats, tiny benches they never sit on. Many neighbors have double garages so full they have to park in the driveway every night. They’re crammed to the gills with car seats, strollers, miniature motorized cars, toys, beach chairs, umbrellas, and who knows what else. The picture view from the street inside their McMansions is of mass chaos.
Babies need whole grottos of supplies whenever they hit the road for even one day—food, formula, changing pad, extra clothes, diapers, pacifiers, toys, blankets, and whatever else I don’t know about that is essential. As they grow, kids amass and then reject a world of junk before they even head off to kindergarten. Everything in American culture seems built to encourage us to want, buy, own, and sometimes I’m nervous for the kids growing up in a society that churns like a mindless washing machine in the pursuit of collecting.
Since ruthlessly purging, I have gotten more out of owning less, and it’s one of the reasons I don’t want children. They need, or many people think they need, a ton of stuff. I don’t want more. I’m more than happy with what I have. Whenever we’re ready to move into a smaller place in a more exciting city, I’m poised to purge even further. Our small blue ikea tumblers can serve as one-stop glasses for juice, wine, bourbon, or water. We don’t need separate vessels for each. I can have two nice, fancy dresses that I adore instead of five “nice” junkers that I never liked enough anyway.
We are no longer drowning in stuff. We are floating in a peaceful household with room to swim. And not having children makes maintaining that balance extra simple.
PS, just so no one thinks I’m a total stuff snob, these are the things I will collect (hoard) to the end of my days: anything from Kate Spade, most things from Le Creuset, fluffy blankets, teddy bears, and live puppies.
PPS, just to bring home my point, as I look out the window right now at the kids playing, there are no fewer than 11 different toy vehicles littered in the street. Bikes, scooters, miniature drive-able cars, strollers, wagons, you name it. That 11 vehicles for four children. Come on.