Do you really need all that stuff?

That question is rhetorical. I’d wager most of us don’t need most of our “stuff.” If you have moved in the last year, or lost or gained weight recently, you may be feeling the pain of dragging, moving and reshuffling your stuff. Your “fat” clothes and your “skinny” clothes. Your low carb cookbooks and your crockpot cookbooks, and your low carb crock pot cookbooks. Your ticket stubs to that off-community theater show and the coupon for the oil change that you don’t want to misplace; but do. It’s a whole bunch of stuff. It’s all weighing you down. At least it’s weighed me down.

The Uros of the Floating Islands on Lake Titicaca (Dolores far right).

A trip to another culture can help you refocus your priorities. I found myself at the end of my trip to Peru on the floating islands on Lake Titicaca, its charming Uros people and my guide on the island, Dolores. It was sobering. Twenty or so folks living on a floating island of reeds (yes, you could feel the island actually float above the water) and Dolores’ one-room “house” that had nothing but a bed and some clothes (perhaps three sets) hanging on the wall. Dolores had a one-month old baby wrapped in a blanket on her back. That’s it. No bottles, diapers, bottle warmers, baby blankets, pacifiers, pink hats or booties or any other baby paraphernalia. My travel partner Vicki and I compared notes as she had a newborn granddaughter back in the U.S. with the typical compliment of baby trappings. This was austere. Cue in the mirror. “Wow, Cathy, you have got a lot of stuff.”


Here are some questions to ask yourself:


Does it fit? I’ve lost over forty pounds in the last year. I don’t want the forty pounds back. I have dropped over four dress sizes in the last two years. There is no need for me to hold onto clothes that are too baggy, the wrong color or made of wool (it’s scratchy). There is also no need for me to hold onto clothes that are too tight. Some things just don’t fit my body type. My torso is too long, I can’t stand bell shaped sleeves, and even though I can wear something, doesn’t mean I will. If it doesn’t fit? Donate it, sell it or give it away. There is no point dragging “sets” of clothes for being fat or being thin.


Does anyone else want it? Go google Swedish Death Cleaning. Basically, your children (if you have any) don’t want your stuff. They are not going to want to sort through all my stuff upon my death. My kids aren’t going to fight over the candle holder on my desk, the ceramic goose from Cozumel or the treadmill. If no one else is going to want it, and it is gathering dust in your attic or a far-flung closet, it may be time to donate, sell or give it away to a better home. I realize this may be adding to someone else’s stuff, but that’s their heir’s problem, not yours. I can assure you that when someone passes away from the Uros tribe, it probably takes about thirty minutes to sort through their belongings.


Can it be digitized? You never know when catastrophe can hit. My dear friends lost their home last year to the fires in Sonoma County and I personally had my home flooded by Hurricane Matthew. Irreplaceable things were lost. Digitize all those portraits of your kids and back up the videos of the soccer and football games from their youth to the Cloud. I am about one third of the way through this process. There are services that will save a digital copy of these irreplaceable moments of your life. My daughter playing clarinet at age sixteen and my son running for gold in the all state track meet come to mind. I don’t want to lose those moments that are on film or in photographs. Thanks to technology you don’t have to. Think worst-case scenario and digitize those moments that matter.


Are you really collecting something? If you have a doll collection that has two dolls in it, is it really a collection? I’ve read about people suddenly starting to collect turtles, giraffes or Hummel ceramics, and now their friends and family start adding to the collection on every birthday or holiday. It’s fine to have a collection, just make sure you love it and, perhaps, make sure it doesn’t define you. Your stuff does not define you. I try and purchase a Starbucks coffee cup in any major city I visit. I only have room for seven mugs to display. I weed out mugs as a more exotic location is added. Chicago just lost out to Peru (sorry, Chicago). Make a decision about what or when you truly want to collect something, and then inform your family and friends that your turtle collection is something you truly cherish, rather than something that becomes an embarrassing liability.


Do you own uni-taskers? Alton Brown, while on his show Good Eats, was famous for using one single item, like a garbage can lid, for multiple uses. Let’s say a smoker, steamer and, well, lid to a garbage can. Since moving back into my home over a year ago, I have been slowly culling out “doubles” like can openers and 3-quart pots. I had a menagerie of icing tips, misfit spoons and candles that did not fit any of my candle holders. I had crazy uni-taskers like round ice cube molds, cheese cutters, and sausage stuffers. Perhaps these could be used for more than one use, but if I haven’t touched it in five years? It’s time to go.


Is it essential? I just finished the book, AWOL on the Appalachian Trail. My boyfriend Roy is planning a hike on the trail for next year. What you carry, as the author did, are the essentials. One pair of underwear essentials (yikes). One pair shoes. One pair of pants. One t-shirt. Folks tear a guide book into thirds to keep down the weight in their pack (having the other thirds of the guide sent when needed). You really need to hone down what you need when you decide to hike for four to five months. When you carry all the belongings you need on your back, it has a way of resetting your priorities. You are there for the experience, not keeping score of material objects. I’m not suggesting you get rid of anything that can’t fit on your back, but it’s sometimes helpful to look through that lens to help you decide how necessary it is.


I was amazed at how simple the Uros people and Dolores lived. One common cooking area for the entire island. One solar panel for electricity. One bathroom. There are some 116 inhabited floating islands and their way of life dates back the 15th century. The simplicity of it all is inspiring.

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