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.

Keep your hands off my stuff

Hands-Off-Mat-MT-2673Seth Godin wrote a recent post called “Possession Aggression.”  It’s a short post but basically he says that it’s hard to give something substantial away but it’s even harder to take something away from someone else.  The person, department or organization starts building their world around their stuff and it gets incorporated into how they view the world.  I actually think that this is where silos start getting erected.  Accounting handles those reports, lay off! Human Resources sets up the company picnic, hands off! Thanksgiving is always at Mom’s house, back off!

Why does it become a personal affront when we try to change?  Even if the organization, the department or the extended family would be much better off with a change in who handled the stuff.  After all, it is just dinner.  A report.  A picnic.  Suddenly paranoia sets in.  Didn’t they like the way “we” handled it.  Maybe we didn’t serve enough gravy.  They didn’t like the way the report looked.  The picnic was boring.  Turn off your dictator and get off the paranoia train;  easier said than done.  We all just want to keep our stuff and for everyone else to keep their paws off.

So here are some steps to letting go of our stuff:

1. Detach. Take a step back. Take a few slow deep breaths. And detach.  Get some perspective on the situation. Sometimes our emotions go on overload and we can’t seem to get off the paranoia train.  Get off at the next station.   Give yourself some space and silence.  When someone has just absconded with your favorite project, decided they would take over the retirement party or delegated making the apple pies to your cousin (even though everyone knows your apple pies are the best);  it’s important to take a step back and detach.

2. Reframe. Once your heart rate has returned to normal and you can gain a little clarity, reframe the issue.  Stand in their shoes.  Especially the cousin who may have never made pies before.  Did he ask to make the pies? Is this a stretch goal for him? Did he just finish a baking school course and wants to test out his skills?  We can get caught up in being the victim and lose our perspective. Put on a different pair of glasses and reframe.

3. Awfulizing. I just learned this word from Michael Segovia who is a tremendous Myers-Briggs facilitator for CPP.  I can fall victim to awfulizing.  I can turn my stubbed toe into an amputation in the blink of an eye. So if my boss’ door is closed all morning, I’ve gone to the mail room to get a box for all my personal effects because I must be getting fired today.  Try to stay focused on the facts.  My boss’ door is closed.  Stop. There are millions of doors that are closed. Chill. Out.

4. Check in.  Check in with whomever you believe to be the absconder of your stuff.  Find out their perspective.  “Hey Suzie, I just found out you’re responsible for Joe’s retirement party. Let me know if you need any help.” You might find out she didn’t even know. You might find out she’s terrified.  You might find out she’s excited by the challenge and would love your input.  You won’t know unless you check in.

5. Clutter check.  Most of our plates have been too full since…well…graduation.   We all hold on tightly to our stuff.  It’s time to check the clutter in our life.  So many of us feel that our value is measured by the amount of balls we can juggle in the air at once.  If we are in a circus, that is true.  In life, we are not.  Take an inventory of what is important and on track with your values.  Let the rest go.  Dump the stuff that is cluttering your mind and life.  And, most importantly, don’t take on new stuff that doesn’t align with your values.  So if there is a new project that someone “volentold” you for, that isn’t an absolute yes…it’s a no.  Stay away from new stuff that isn’t your passion. And you won’t be inadvertently taking someone else’s stuff.

6.  Examine fear. When you do the clutter check there is likely to be fear that bubbles up…rather grips you.  If you let go, how will they do it without me. Everyone is so dependent on you, that they can’t possibly do it on their own.   I can remember leaving one HR job for another some 15 years ago. I felt sure the place would fall apart without me. Employees wouldn’t get paid. Benefits would fall through the cracks. I would let people down. They were fine.  We all survived. The bad news is that we are dispensable. The good news is that we are dispensable. Let go of the fear.

Possession is 9/10th’s of the law. Perhaps this why we guard our stuff with such fervor.  It’s amazing how it can weigh us all down; whether literally with physical possessions or figuratively with obligations on our time.  It might be time to cull out the stuff that is holding you back.