Ode to spring cleaning (and the accumulation of “stuff”)

[Photo Credit: MildlyDiverting]

We had house guests the week before Easter. During the two weeks leading up to their arrival, we shifted our spring cleaning into overdrive. Sadly, general house cleaning is not as high on the list of priorities as it should be, but we will go on a cleaning blitz before things get too bad. And we were due for a cleaning blitz.

Room by room, furniture was cleaned, stuff was organized, mattresses were flipped and dust bunnies were vacuumed out of their hiding places. We disposed of old worn bedding and broke out new sheets and comforters. We made impressive progress, but ran out of time before we could give our daughter’s room a thorough cleaning. It wasn’t in a terrible state. It appeared that she had been doing a relatively decent job of putting stuff away. I gave it a quick clean– the heavy duty spring clean would have to wait until after Easter. The stuff under the bed, for example, remained under the bed. The dust bunnies would live to see another day.

Fast forward to the week after Easter. Time to tackle our daughter’s room.  Over the course of a few hours, we accumulated a box of stuff suitable for donation (or yard sale) and a bag of garbage. We encouraged her to purge the stuff she no longer played with, used or needed. We forced her to ask herself WHY she was keeping what she chose to keep. And while I would have liked her to get rid of more stuff than she did, she is only ten. I figure the big purge will come in  a couple of years when we give her room an age-appropriate makeover.

The last area to clean was the closet. And that is when we found out how she cleaned her room. Stuff, stuff and more stuff had been shoved into closet. Open the closet and everything looked fine. But poke your head into the closet and look to the right, and oh the horror!

With that a four hour job doubled to eight hours. Forget about finishing the same day. This was now a two day project. As we sorted through the mountain of stuff, I started day-dreaming about following the lead of Adam Baker of Man vs. Debt who, with his wife, decluttered in an extreme way:  they sold off everything down to two backpacks, paid down debt and traveled through Australia, New Zealand and Thailand. I don’t know if I could go that extreme, but the thought of the freedom that comes from not being tied to “stuff” is definitely enticing.

The great philosopher, George Carlin, got it right when it comes to “stuff.”  (Minor language warning, but nothing too offensive in this clip, though some may find the final punch line a tad tasteless).

Where does all this stuff come from? Why do we accumulate things? Why are memories and sentimentality tied to objects? While I don’t have any answers, I am definitely guilty of not wanting to let go of certain things myself.

I have books that I have read once and will likely never read again (my daughter may read them someday).  I have CDs  that I haven’t listened to in years (I may listen to them again). And then there are the gifts (don’t want to offend the giver, even though they may not even remember giving the gift in the first place).  And what about the things that were treasured by my mother or father? Some can be justified as family heirlooms, but the rest is just clutter that holds no value for me other than the value it held for them.

My daughter has Webkinz that she outgrew long ago.  She started with one.  She now owns more than thirty.  Many were gifts.  Others she bought with her allowance.  Some were impulse buys.  She no longer goes on the website, and she rarely plays with them.  But they are a “collection” and for that reason, she isn’t ready to let them go.

What about the rest of her stuff?  Where did that mountain in the closet come from?  I started thinking about all the places and occasions where the kid received something:

  • Christmas
  • Valentine’s Day
  • Easter
  • End of school year
  • Birthday
  • Souvenirs from vacations
  • Purchases from allowance
  • “Treats” from Dentist or Doctor’s office (prize box)
  • Winnings from amusement parks, fairs, arcades
  • “Gifts” from vendors at flea markets or yard sales (this actually happens quite a bit– she will be looking at something, we will make her think about whether it is something that she really wants or not, and the vendor will let her have it for nothing (or at a greatly reduced price that is impossible to turn down)
  • And I’m sure this list is incomplete

Thinking back to George Carlin’s observations about a house being a place for stuff, with less stuff, we could live in smaller houses. Smaller houses are more affordable to build. They are less expensive and easier to maintain. We could pay down our mortgages faster if we didn’t spend our money on other “stuff.” We would use less energy, have more green space, and less pollution. And spring cleaning would be a whole lot less work.

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