Welcome to Wood Nymph Way! I have created this blog with two intentions: (A) keeping our family and friends, many of whom live in lands Far Far Away, up to date with what we've been doing, and (B) as a tool to document and learn from our journey as a Waldorf homeschooling family. Enjoy! And don't forget to check out my resource pages on the right!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Got Stuff?

It is preoccuation with possessions, more than anything else,
that prevents us from living freely and nobly.
~ Thoreau

It's the time of year when many of us are working on New Year's resolutions.  A topic I have encountered many times recently is that of materialism, clutter, and trying to live more simply.

For some of us, cleaning and getting rid of things we don't use is an easy and emotionally satisfying activity.  For others, it can be overwhelming and entirely traumatic.  We tend to get attached to our "things" and when they hold, or once held, meaning for us it is difficult to part with them.  Or perhaps the environmentalist in us keeps things with the intent of re-using or upcycling them, saying to ourselves, "Perhaps someday, I'll find a use for this" and then it gets packed away and more often than not, forgotten about.

Before you know it, there are boxes piled up in your attic/basement/closets/living spaces and you don't even know what their contents are.  So where do you begin?  How can you even begin to tackle the sorting out of your belongings?

I think it's really important to do some serious self-reflection about why we save/purchase things in the first place.  Identify where all this stuff came from in the first place!  Then you can stop making excuses and take some steps to simplify at least that part of your life.

"But I'm an environmentalist, and everything can be re-used, recycled, or upcycled.  I hate to just send something to the landfill."  Listen, I'm an enivronmentalist too.  That doesn't mean I'm going to turn my own home into an indoor landfill.  Saving something because it "might" be of use later is a lovely idea, but perhaps it could be of use to someone now!  Post it on Craig's List, Free Cycle, or sell it on EBay.  Have a yard sale.  Donate it to Goodwill or Salvation Army, or some other charity.  (Most of those places will even come to your house to pick your donations up!)  Unless it is truly just junk.  Then you need to get rid of it.  Seriously.  Stick it in the recycling bin.

"But it was so inexpensive!  And look, I got five of them!"  Good for you.  Thanks for keeping the ecomomy afloat like a good American.  Now where are you going to put it/them?  Oh, wait, you have no room in your closet/shelves/drawers?  Just because it's cheap, doesn't mean you need it.  And beware of buying some things in bulk.  Sure, you'll use up those thirty rolls of toilet paper, but do you really need a ten pound bag of walnuts?  Unless you're feeding hoardes of squirrels, they'll go bad before you can eat them. 

"But it really was so inexpensive!"  The same thing goes for yard sales, thrift shops, and discount stores, folks.  Just because you can doesn't mean you should.  If you wouldn't bother to save up money and purchase it down the road, then you probably don't need it in the first place.  Control yourself.  And let your children see you control your purchasing impulses.  They might learn something about saving up for things they really want and how not to fall for instant gratification.

"But I can't throw that away!  It has sentimental value!"  This can be tricky, and gets back to our emotional attachment to objects.  Seeing something special reminds us of a certain time/place/feeling, and it's nice to relive those special moments.  This is especially true of our children's items.  That little lock of hair from their first haircut, the first tooth they lost etc.  Things like these are special and are treasures to share when they grow up.  But let's face it, most of the junk we keep is just junk.  Let yourself have one small trunk to keep your own personal treasures in (maybe one for each member of your family?) and keep to that limit.  I have one that I keep my old horse show trophies and varsity letters in, along with my old yearbook.  That kind of thing.  An broken old waffle iron, for example, does not fit into the sentimental value category, even if your dear old mother did make the best waffles in the world with it.

So you get the idea.  Redefine for yourself what "want" and "need" really mean.  Make yourself a list, if you have to, of things you want to get this year and things you'll need to get.

Now here's a situation you can't control too much, but you can at least set some guidelines:  receiving gifts.  Especially for your children.  This can be tricky, as we're all hesitant to potentially offend anyone.  This is a great way to cut down on incoming clutter and items that might not fit your ideals.  Before my kids' birthdays and Christmas, I usually send out an e-mail with the kids' wish list.  Much of our family lives far away and don't know what they have already, so it can be helpful to have some suggestions.  I have also addressed our reasons behind some of their choices:  we're concerned about the safety and environmental impact of plastic and battery operated toys and they don't fit in with our Waldorf lifestyle and the children's education.  Some other ideas include asking for "donations" to fund lessons or special activities, or setting a limit on the number of gifts per child.  I only have two kids, but let me tell you, the stuff adds up pretty quickly on Christmas morning!  Simply explaining that fewer presents doesn't mean being less thoughtful can do the trick.

So then what?  Take it room by room, one at a time.  It's usually best to do this with out the kids, at least for rooms other than theirs.  Really take apart your room, make piles for donation, to sell, and to keep.  Remember not to just shove the "keep" stuff back into boxes.  If you can't have it out where you will use it, you're not likely to use it at all.

Get the kids involved in gutting out their own rooms.  My three and five year olds are familiar with the practice of going through their belongings and making a pile of toys or clothes to donate.  In fact, my five year old will come to me on her own now with things she no longer needs and would like to donate.

Some people put boxes of toys that can't (or won't) be parted with in temporary storage and rotate them out every couple of months.  While this is not a bad idea, I think it's important to ask if a child needs so many toys that some of them have to be stored.  Personally, I'm slightly horrified that my kids even have a playroom, as small as it is.

So pull it together, people!  When in doubt throw it out!  (My mother used to say that all the time when I was a kid.  I think I inherited her clean gene.)  While you clear out that physical baggage, you'll be surprised how much of a psychological burden is lifted too.  You'll have room to breathe, and room to live in your living spaces!  You'll finally be able to start (or finish) projects, and actually enjoy the things that you have.

Here are some helpful resources for organizing your home and living more simply in general:





As a very serious note here, some people actually do have issues that go beyond simply being disorganized and keeping a few too many things.  Hoarding is characterized by severe cluttering of a person's home so that it is no longer able to function as a viable living space.  If this sounds like you, look here for help.

Any so-called material thing that you want is merely a symbol: you want it not for itself, but because it will content your spirit for the moment. ~Mark Twain

1 comment:

  1. Excellent post!! We have been doing a lot of this lately. Our new rule is one week on Craigslist, then one week on freecycle then off to goodwill! Our family has grown so much in this same little house that we just have no room for "stuff"! If I really can't part with something, I will put it away for a year. If I haven't bothered with it at the end of the year, out it goes!