Tag Archives: too much stuff

Cleaning House for the Holidays

savebunpostIf you have no heart for the holidays, give yourself a gift of light and space. Gentle glowing light. And nothingness, emptiness, silence. Peace.

Last year, instead of a Christmas tree to brighten the house, I bought one of those digital frames, loaded it full of my favorite photos, and put in on the counter where the lit tree used to stand. Every five seconds the frame flashed a different picture. Colors splashed all over, lighting the place up like Christmas. It worked so well in lifting my spirits that I kept it plugged in all year.

This year, to brighten the upcoming holidays, I’ve been clearing the house out top-to-bottom. I wanted home to look like a scene out of Martha Stewart Living, in holiday-less May. Only more subdued, like a meticulously appointed hotel. I wasn’t going to survive the season with my house full of stuff crushing me. It was time for a major purging.

If you were on a desert island and could only have ten things, or if you were getting buried beneath all your belongings and could keep only a fraction of them in order to breathe – what would you hold onto?

In the depths of sixteen years’ accumulation, I came across countless photos and precious possessions from my daughter who died. Soccer balls. Stuffed animals. Costumes I’d sewn for the kids and myself. My old tent and sleeping bag. Maps of France. Assorted remnants of my past lives. I found fifteen electronic candles and ten forgotten flameless LED tea lights.

The hardest things to let go were the stuffed animals. The squishy-soft polyester puppies and bunnies had glinting plastic eyes that followed me around the house as my helper and I gathered a step-van’s worth of papers, defunct electronics, kitchenware, old luggage, toys, teaching materials, art supplies, and house parts. “Someone else is gonna love this,” I kept reminding myself, as I tossed things in bags.

I saved the battery-operated candles, the photos, a cape of pink polka-dot tutu fabric, a bunny garden ornament and six stuffed rabbits. The tea lights. And when the two days of purging were over, when the house was silent and still, I sighed with relief at the almost bare shelves. Something in my soul sang out and danced in the empty spaces as I filled them with electronic light.


What do you do when you’ve had your fill of holidays? What do you hold onto in this season? What do you toss?

Cleaning Out the House

Robin Botie of Ithaca, new York, photoshops a mandala of an avalanche of papers and books falling from her closets when she cleans out her house.“Don’t give me anything unless I can eat it,” I keep telling family and friends as holidays approach. Meanwhile, the health club hounds me to participate in some program where I can win prizes. “No more stuff. Please. I have too much.”

My material possessions are weighing me down. They’re increasing my carbon footprint. And having cleaned up after several deceased loved ones, I can’t bear the thought of anyone I love having to clean up after me. So I’m unloading the contents of my house.

I used to be a tosser. For every new thing I brought home, I’d toss out two things, or ten. But then they started charging for garbage disposal. I began to stash things. My house, designed to have no wasted space, had closets and cabinets built into every soffit, staircase, and odd-angled corner, for maximum storage capability. And over the years I stuffed them to the gills.

I’ve read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up book by Marie Kondo. And each year I’ve done spring-cleaning rituals, but stuff comes in faster than I can remove it. I needed help.

I was embarrassed to ask. Friends think my house is clean and orderly, never having opened one of my cabinets to then be blasted by an avalanche of books and papers. My sister, with brutal sisterly honesty, would accuse me of being a closet hoarder and point out the relationship between hoarding and obsessive-compulsive disorder. If only I could hire some young adventurous person just starting out in her life, at the collecting-stuff stage, I thought. Someone who was my size so I’d be inspired to give away more of my clothes. Someone who wasn’t afraid of mice. Who could cart away all the things that threatened to bury me. Who’d say, “Why do you need this?” and “Does it really bring you joy?” Someone committed to redistributing and recycling, not simply ditching it all at the dump.

“Do you know anyone I could hire to help clear out my closets?” I asked the guy sealing my windows with shrink-wrap, who had gathered boulders and built a patio next to my pond this past summer. The one who had calmly walked away instead of strangling me during one of my most obnoxious hissy-fits. The Buddhist.
“Yes. Me,” he said. And it took a moment to let go of the image of the young clone of myself I’d imagined, and it took another minute to remember how Buddhists believe that attachment to material things is a major cause of suffering.
“Can you deal with mouse droppings?” I asked.


Are you a tosser or a hoarder? Can we gain more happiness from having less?