Okay, so thinking about where an entire society got the habits of collecting stuff was too much fun, but what does it all mean? Honestly. You know as well as I do that you can read book after book about clutter and organizing, clearly understand the situation needs to change, and still be living with the effects of too much stuff.
Just like an overweight person who has read every diet book known to man, but is still overweight.
Knowledge isn't the issue when dealing with too much stuff. While they're fun to see, those before and after transformations that we watched on shows like Clean Sweep, I really don't think that anything truly changes for those people. Why? Because it seems to me that all that work just gave them new space to fill. One or two afternoons of introspection does not create a lifelong behavioral transformation.
So, what is it? Why can't we take what we know and apply to our own lives? In order to solve the problem, we have to look at what the stuff IS and is NOT. Specifically, too much stuff.
Too much Stuff is: Inanimate. Overwhelming. Taking up space in your mind and your home. A source of conflict between who you want to be and how you want to live and who you actually are and how you actually live. A source of guilt, embarrassment, and frustration. Not useful in your life.
Too much Stuff is NOT: Possessing of feelings. Judgmental. The definition of your worth. Proof of love.
But, you know this. None of this earth shattering. None this is a surprise to you. Just like the perpetual dieter, it hasn't changed your reality. Why? What is holding people back from clearing it out? Being done with it all? Living within their spacial, their economic, and their mental means?
I asked around. I talked with friends. I've received all kinds of off-line emails since I started this topic and I think I've figured out a way to quantify it...to put it into terms that are simple enough that we can all start chipping away. No, I don't have a system for you to follow. No, I don't have a 10-step fly-lady type of schedule for you. Instead, I have a new way of telling you what I believe to be the simple key and, if people are interested, some of the things that have worked for me along the way. No miracles. (But, it is easier than dieting!)
So, here it is:
We hold on to stuff that is no longer useful or acquire more stuff than we need because it is our way of insulating or protecting ourselves from perceived possible future emotions. Think about it: possible future emotions.
Let me explain:
My sister, who knows I'm going to use this example and won't kill me for this, has four sets of china. FOUR sets of china for a married couple with a household of exactly two two-legged beings. She has her wedding china, her Christmas china, her mother's china, and her mother's friend's china. She doesn't want four sets of china. She can't use four sets of china and yet, she holds on to all four sets of china. Why? In our discussions, we talk about how much her mother loved her own set of china. How she collected it over 30+ years of marriage. How much my sister doesn't particularly care for the pattern. (Oh, there is nothing wrong with it...it is lovely; she just doesn't care for it.) Let's not even get into the mother's friend's china. So, let's recap: Both women for whom this china was so special have died. The china is a source of duty and guilt for my sister. Why doesn't she get rid of it? Because she's afraid of the disappointment she imagines her mother would have felt at knowing she got rid of the china. So, duty and guilt are warring with perceived future disappointment.
Let's be clear here: My sister's mother has passed away. My half-brothers and their wives don't want the china. There is no one to express this anticipated disappointment and yet it is powerful. Then there is the loyalty the mother and the friend felt for each other and my sister is tackling feelings of disloyalty by not perpetuating that bond between those two women in her own mind.
Let me give you a different example: I wrote about my dilemma with my scrapbooking supplies. It seemed so silly, but I was really agonizing over the disposition of my scrapbooking stuff. So why couldn't I just make a decision about it? Because I was anticipating my own feelings of failure or inadequacy if I failed to follow through with a project I anticipated completely. By holding on to the items, the potential for the paper to be used, the scrapbooks to be completed (or at least show progress) remained. I didn't have to deal with or acknowledge the reality that they weren't getting done and, most likely, wouldn't get done. I was protecting myself from future possible feelings of failure or inadequacy. Let's go further with my example: What if I found time to scrapbook? I might have future need of the stuff! I was protecting myself from the possibility that I would not, in the future, be able to replace the things I got rid of. Again, perceived future emotions are making decisions for me right now.
That is it. That is my miracle epiphany. You are holding on to stuff that no longer "fits" your life or never did "fit" your life as a way to protect yourself from future possible emotions.
Let me give you another example:
I had a friend who asked me to come over to help her organize and rearrange her family room. In her room was a big square wooden cube that was open at one end. It was probably 3' x 3' and beat up but good. I asked her about it, asked if we had to decorate around it. She said absolutely. What? It turned out that the cube was an empty speaker from 1970. Her uncle had given it to her years ago and she just couldn't get rid of it because he gave it to her and he'd be so disappointed in her. He had died 10 years before and had gotten rid of his speakers five years before that, but that had no relevance to her. Here she was, trying to decorate around an empty speaker cube. She was unshakable. I couldn't get her to budge on it.
Holding on to something that someone gave you, especially a hand-me-down, protects you from the feelings that you've somehow been disloyal or unworthy because you didn't want whatever the item was. The thing is NOT the person, but the thing allows you to keep yourself from disappointing someone. Holding on to the item allows you to put off the feelings.
But what about people who just buy too much stuff? People who keep bringing stuff into their homes long after their homes are full? People who are paying money to rent homes for their stuff? What? You don't think of it that way but whether you have rooms full to the brim or you pay for a storage unit, you are paying money to avoid feeling things.
What?! You don't have sentiment attached to all that stuff. No one gave it to you. You just got a good deal or thought you'd do something amazing with it or some other amazingly valid reason it came into your home. Guess what? If you didn't do the project or the good deal didn't match your home or the gift was never given and you still have this stuff, you're protecting yourself from future feelings, too. You are...they're just different feelings.
Remember I said that your stuff did NOT validate you, did NOT define you, and did NOT prove your are loved. Yet, buying stuff can make you feel like you're different than you are...you hold on to the feelings those intentions create. Want to see yourself as creative, generous, wealthy, elite? In our world, it is easy to try to create at facade that would seem to perpetuate those things. So, if you are always buying potential gifts, but don't always get around to giving them away, you can't get rid of the stuff or you'll have to admit you didn't gift those things and you will have to own that. All those craft supplies? If you give them away, you're having to admit you're not as crafty as you'd like to think of yourself as being. Expensive clothes, decor items, electronics? If they don't fit, you can't afford them, or you don't use them, getting rid of them would force you to be honest about yourself and deal with the secret feelings of inadequacy you are running from.
You know it. You know all of it and you don't want to deal with it. So you don't. You put it into some inaccessible areas in your home and your mind. Maybe you just have a couple of "bad" rooms. Maybe it is your deep dark secret and you all storage units full of stuff. You tell yourself it doesn't matter...because you are protecting yourself from future possible emotions.
So, I'll leave you with this: Your stuff doesn't define you. Your stuff doesn't love you. Your stuff doesn't prove you're worthwhile. Your stuff is simply inanimate objects that is designed to provide usefulness and convenience to your life. It is not supposed to be a burden, a duty, or a source of shame or guilt. It has no feelings and is not the repository for your memories...for that, you have a heart.
Think about it.