Saturday, April 16, 2016

Then why do we do it?

So it's been established...

We have too much stuff.

And it's not good for us.
Or our homes.
Or our relationships.

Those are kind of important things....and yet we do something that is really not good for them.


There is probably a different answer to that question for every person out there.

But here are what I think might be the 6 most popular excuses reasons I've heard.

1.  "Someday I might NEED this."

(Otherwise known as "Great Depression Paranoia)

The Great Depression came along in the late 1920's-1930's and was a dark time. Hundreds of thousands lost their jobs and were without a way to support themselves or their families. People were cold and hungry and hopeless.  Few are still alive that lived through The Great Depression but we have read about it, seen pictures of it and heard about it from those who endured it. And, in the back of our minds, we're a little worried it will happen again.

So we save everything.

It might stem from the stories our grandparents or great-grandparents told or the way we watched them live their lives and save every screw, box or bag but the bottom line is, we don't want to ever be caught without again. The Great Depression was tough and taught us a lot of lessons. Maybe one good consequence of it all today is a lot of people set aside extras in the way of food and supplies. Many put way funds for a rainy day in anticipation of hard times ahead. And that is great. I'm all for being prepared for emergencies and disasters. But what good is a dried up tube of mascara going to do you if there were ever another Great Depression? Or perfume that smells like fly spray? Or stacks of old National Geographic magazines? Or size 4 pants when you are now a size 12? or old Easter baskets, ugly frames, broken toys, or expired prescriptions?

Do you know what I think? I think that all of this worry about The Great Depression is actually causing more of a Great Depression than it is actually ever saving us from.  

How many would agree that we are in the middle of a "Great Depression" of sorts, today too?

Only it looks like this:
"I'm so depressed! My house is a complete disaster and I can't ever find anything!"


"I'm so depressed! We can't ever park any of our cars in our garage because they are so packed full of boxes, bags, and piles of junk!"


"I'm so depressed! I would like my family and friends to be able to come visit and stay with me but the guest bedroom is full to the brim and you can't really see the bed, much less sleep in it."

It is good to be prepared but we have taken it a bit too far, don't you think? Most all of the stuff we keep "just in case we might need it" really isn't going to help us with much of anything.  Let it go. Be free. Recognize it for what it is....a bad excuse to keep things that are really never going to be used or useful again.

2.   "I paid good money for this."

You might think this is a valid excuse--until you hear "The Parable of the Cowboy Boots."

Once upon a time there was a girl (OK, it was me). She/I had a good job the summer before I went to college. I made a lot more money than any 18 year old girl really needs. After putting money away for college expenses each week, there was still a lot that was burning a big, enormous hole in my pocket--and usually that occurred while I was at the mall? :) go figure....

In one of my many excursions to find something extraordinary and fashionable, I found a clearance rack at a rather expensive store. As I scanned the shoes in my size, there before me was a box of beautiful brown leather cowboy boots. 

"I've always wanted cowboy boots!" my rather silly, childish mind said. 

My more mature self answered "Where in the world would you ever wear cowboy boots?"

"Maybe on a date to ride horses? You never know when a cute cowboy could ask me out.."

"Yes, and maybe you should get a really nice wet suit and fins in case a marine biologist asks you out next," my sarcastic mature self retorted.

"They are only $54.99! and they are real leather!  Look at them! These are regularly $128 boots!  I could even dress up like a cowgirl for Halloween!" my silly self thought wildly. "I even think I could wear them with that one really cute peach colored dress I just got a few months ago. They'd look stylin'!"

Never mind I had plenty of things to wear for Halloween already and plenty of cute shoes to wear with the peach dress. Of course the shoes were purchased and carried home proudly by my weak, childish self. And they stayed laying in the box until the perfect time to wear them arrived--which was.....


I did try them on a few times. They looked really great but not quite as great with the peach dress as I thought they would.  And no one ever asked me out on a date to ride horses--ever (can you believe that?). And I looked way better as a flapper girl that a cowgirl for Halloween and...

Fast forward 5 years and my husband and I are getting ready to graduate from college and move to our first job. As we are looking through closets and organizing things he says "What's in that big shoe box that has always just sat on the shelf in our closet?"

"Those are my really cute, never worn expensive cowboy boots," I answered with attempted confidence.

"Really? You OWN cowboy boots?" he asks, a little bewildered. (I wasn't what you would have called an "outdoorsy" kind of girl--either while we were dating or in all the time we had been married.)

"Well, I thought they'd come in handy and so hasn't happened. I paid $50 for them and they are $130 boots! They're brand new! I can't just get rid of them."

And then he said probably the most profound thing the guy has ever said...

"Well, how long do you have to hold on to them before you're going to get your $50 back?"

He had a point.

And it was time to admit I might have made a mistake in buying those boots.

The reality is we all make stupid choices in spending--which is hard to admit. We don't like making mistakes. My favorite finance guy Dave Ramsey calls it "Stupid Tax." You just have to pay "taxes" sometimes for being stupid. We all do. We make stupid purchases and decisions with money. It happens in all sorts of different dollar amounts too.

I'd like to say that buying those boots was the last stupid tax I ever spent. It wasn't.  But the point here is that keeping stuff that you paid good money for even though it was a dumb purchase is even dumber. You're not going to get your money back by keeping it. Once you handed over that cash or check or credit card number, that money went into the system and left you forever. It's not coming back.  Admit it, get rid of whatever it was you shouldn't have bought, and be free.

PS This also goes for really small things like salad dressing (that flavor you wanted to try and paid $5 a bottle! for but it turns out it tastes disgusting and you wouldn't serve it to your most annoying dinner guest) and lipgloss (that you picked up for $10, just sure that it was a nice subtle pink shimmer and instead looks like a really bad sunburn) and books (Oprah said it was awesome!? and it turns out, not so much). Let them're not going to get your money back and holding on to it thinking you'll escape paying stupid tax is dumb! You already paid it! Admit it, let it go and move on!

3.  "It was a gift."

A few things you might not know about gifts....

* Despite the Three Wise Men’s gifts to Baby Jesus, gifts weren’t always an important part of Christmas. Before 1880, holiday presents were mainly whatever parents could stuff in shoes or stockings for the kids from Saint Nick. Any gifts that were exchanged among adults were small, handmade items. With the rise of manufacturing, however, more and more adults began exchanging cheap knickknacks.

* By 1912, the increasing pressure to shell out for Christmas gifts spurred a backlash. The Society for the Prevention of Useless Giving (SPUG) boasted a large membership, including former president Theodore Roosevelt and chapters across the country.  Wartime rationing and frugality in WWII made SPUG redundant, and when prosperity came back to America in the 50’s, the movement against wasteful gift-giving (sadly) died out. The Emphasis moved from knickknacks to more expensive items, useful or not.

* Today, gift giving has been refined into a science, with gift registries catering to every type of person and event. And as researchers have dug into the meaning of gift giving, they’ve found something surprising—that gifts are more for the pleasure of the giver than the recipient.  (from

(Wow, huh? I have always like Teddy Roosevelt and now I like him even more Who's with me in starting a local chapter of SPUG? Is that fantastic or what?!)

There's a lot of history behind gift giving but there is also a lot of intense feelings there as well.  "What do I do about all of the gifts people give me that I really didn't want?" might be the number one question I am ever asked in people's quests to learn how to manage their possessions. And honestly, it's a pretty simple answer.

Remember this....

The intention of a gift is to let the other person know that you care about them and want to bless them in some way (even though their gift might not say that to you :)  The JOB of a GIFT is to express love/affection/friendship.  

And so 

Once a gift has been given by someone and received by you, it has done it's job. The love has been shared. The caring has been felt. the friendship has been strengthened. BOOM. One instant...job done.

An example might be when a really great husband (like mine) brings home flowers for no particular reason. 

I think I can speak for all women when I say that the enormity of the bouquet of flowers does not matter. The color of the flowers does not matter. The kind of vase or ribbon or fancy greenery it contains does not matter.  WHAT MATTERS IS THAT YOU THOUGHT ABOUT ME ENOUGH TO STOP BY THE STORE AND BUY ME FLOWERS.  1 million points for you sir!  And it's going to be a good night from here on out :)

The gift of flowers is amazing because it does it's job, lives on the counter or table or nightstand and does it's job again and again until, after a few days, the petals start falling off and the flowers wilt away. Then I can throw them away and have nothing to store, dust or worry about. I love the gift of flowers!  And I think it teaches us volumes about what the job of gifts really is.

The job of a gift is to give that feeling (or the 1 million points) of being cared about and thought of.  Once it does it's job, the gift continuing to reside in our homes forever and a day is not really necessary.  

I like how Don Aslett, author of the book "Clutter's Last Stand" says it "We should always remember not to confuse the meaning of a gift with the gift itself.  The actual gift is only a vessel to express; once it does that, it generally has fulfilled its function. It's message will live with us, be part of us--forever possibly--but should we drag around the vessel after it has served it's purpose? That's like leaving the scaffolding up after a building is finished--take it down!"

There are definitely times when someone gives us a gift that is useful and amazingly perfect for what we needed or wanted. Sometimes we get a gift that is something we would never have bought ourselves but it turns out to be great for our personality and lifestyle. Oftentimes (most of the time probably) though, if we had wanted that item we probably would have just bought it ourselves (we're affluent to the point of drowning, remember?). So, as gifts come and go remember 

"you are not obligated to prolong the misery of a possession someone (however sincerely) had the poor judgement to lay on you. WE LOVE PEOPLE FOR THE THOUGHT OF THE GIFT, NOT THE GIFT." (Another great Don Aslett line I just couldn't say any better myself)

4.  "I want to save it for my posterity to know me by."

A lot of us remember fondly our childhood days. We had a special toy, a special trophy, a special sweater or blanket. We had yearbooks our friends signed, and mementos from family vacations, and letters from penpals and birthday cards from our grandmothers.

And it feels like if we don't keep all of our "keepsakes," our history will be gone. No one will know us or what our lives were like. 

Truth be told, I am actually a real sucker for this excuse reason for keeping stuff.

I had a great childhood.  I had a lot of great toys and clothes and cassette tapes filled with great music! And I even have my favorite Mother Goose records!  My mom is an amazing seamstress and not only did she make me the most amazing wardrobe but she also made one for my Barbie doll and for my Baby Tenderlove doll.   So I feel your pain.  

But, the trick with this one is to remember: WE CAN'T KEEP EVERYTHING!

We wish we could but, come one has a 66,000 square foot Bill Gates mansion. There is only so much room! You can't keep it all. 

So  here's my advice.  Pick a box and fill it up with the best of the best. You are going to have to make some tough decisions, to be sure. You might have to decide to toss your binder full of drawings you did in 9th grade in order to keep the letters your Grandma sent to you while you were in college. But it's worth it. The best of the best is BEST! Enjoy it and let your posterity enjoy it too! 

And, as a side note, if you are going to save all of this stuff for your children and grandchildren to know you by, why not take some time to go through it with them and tell a few stories. My kids LOVE IT when I do this. It is such a great time to share and remember really great parts of your life. And if you take the time to tell them the stories behind things, that information can be passed on long after you are around! 

Keepsakes are valuable for lots of reasons but just remember, set a limit and make choices and only keep the BEST!

5.  "I am waiting until I find the perfect person to give it to."

OK, so this excuse drives me CRAZY! 

Do you know what I hear you saying when you say this?

"My junk is so spectacular, Goodwill just isn't good enough for it."

"I am so busy I can't keep my head above water but I think I'll take on the job of thrift store manager/sorter/clerk/shelf cleaner and I'll find the shoppers too."
"If I wait long enough, the perfect needy person will come walking along, knock on my door and ask for ____________ and I will have it to give them!"

Can I just say it out loud? You're being ridiculous.

Truth? Your junk is not any more wonderful than anyone else's out there. 

And why would you take on the job of FINDING someone to give your junk to when any number of non-profit, charitable entities have offered to do it for you for FREE?

If you don't like to give to big groups like Goodwill or Value Village (I get it, believe me), there are a LOT of other places that will take your things and find good homes for them for you! Ask around just a bit. Search on the web, make a few phone calls, ask around.  I know in our area, our local women's shelter will take just about anything. They bring in battered and abused women at all times of the day or night who escape dangerous situations and relationships with nothing but the clothes on their backs. When I talked to them, they were happy to have my slightly worn Nike running shoes or hardly used frying pans or wooden spoons, or my super cute and warm Disneyland sweatshirt that doesn't fit anymore. We also have a small thrift store that supports and encourages adoption rather than abortion that I love to donate to. Look around. Find them. They are everywhere. But don't take the job on yourself. Now you're just being ridiculous.

6.  "I don't have time to go through and clean out right now."

and to that I say...

When you are "sick of being sick and tired" (thank-you Dave Ramsey!) of drowning in stuff and being embarrassed and annoyed by your junk, you will find the time to do something about it. 

It's true that we all have the same 24 hours in a day. We get to decide each day what we are going to do with those hours. Are you ready to take some time away from Facebook or Pinterest or texting or reading that novel again to deal with things that really could make a difference in your life?  

I'll know you're ready when you say "I found the time!"

Next post:  "Preparing for a Junk Raid!"

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