The tyranny of stuff

When my husband and I retired, getting rid of excess stuff was one of our primary goals. Although our home wouldn’t qualify for hoarder status, it carried the baggage of stuff collecting that had taken place over the years. Because we both had acquired stuff before we met, a good amount of that stuff was transferred from our individual homes into our shared home. And, of course, stuff continued to enter our home after we got married. Then, after my parents died, some of their stuff also found its way into our growing collection.

Now, several years into retirement, we still have too much stuff. Although we’ve done a pretty good job of curtailing the in-flow of more stuff, the out-flow hasn’t gone as easily as we had hoped it would. We don’t have too much of a problem identifying stuff to be tossed or stuff to be donated; it’s the stuff we no longer want but has value – real or sentimental – that is more difficult to manage.

We had high hopes that eBay would be the perfect way to get rid of lots of stuff and bring in some money in the process. Although we’ve used it to sell several dozen items and we intend to sell more, we have found that the process takes a lot of time. When we started out, we put just about anything up for auction, regardless of its hoped for selling price. We once sold some used cycling cleat covers (yes, someone wanted them) for $8.00, plus shipping. But, after we figured the time it took to research an asking price (yes, there were similar cleat covers being sold), write copy,  take pictures, post the ad, then package and mail them when they sold, we were lucky if we made $3 an hour. Other items, of course, have sold for much more, which made the process worth it. As a result, we have become more discriminating about what is worth selling and what we should donate or post for free on Craig’s List.

Stuff headed for the Discovery Shop.
Stuff headed for the Discovery Shop.

Our push to get rid of stuff has ramped up lately. We are enjoying living a less-cluttered life and a better functioning home. We like having a few cabinets that are actually empty. The closet in our guest room has space for guests’ clothes. I no longer seldom am embarrassed when friends or neighbors stop by unexpectedly. As long as they stay out of our offices and the catch-all room upstairs, the illusion of having a well-curated home is maintained.

But, just living with less clutter day-to-day isn’t the only reason we want to get rid of more stuff. We are also looking at a few long-term advantages. Having a home that we could temporarily swap for, say, one in the south of France would extend our travel budget. Renting our house while we take off for extended adventures could provide income and security. Either possibility would be easier to accomplish if our home had less stuff and more space.

When I was younger, I loved acquiring stuff. Now, I view most stuff as unnecessary, restricting and complicating. Slowly, I’m winnowing down my wardrobe to have fewer, but more versatile clothes. Our shelves are being freed of clutter, leaving only a few, carefully selected items. The tabletop piles of paper are being swept away and replaced with… nothing.

Very gradually, we are freeing our home of the tyranny of stuff and welcoming the liberation of having space.

Author: Janis @

My blog is about travel, relationships, photography, and whatever else pops into my head (even, sometimes, issues surrounding retirement and aging).

44 thoughts on “The tyranny of stuff”

  1. I hear you! I’ve been working on this for 5 years now. Each year I get more ruthless. This past spring I did a HUGE cleaning and had multiple trips to donate all sorts of stuff. My closet has a lot less in it and my shoe rack has space but I still have many blazers or jackets for work. Eventually they will go out of style and it will be easier. I keep thinking they would look great with jeans. When I’m wearing jeans I grab a hoodie. Sigh. We had a garage sale before we moved in this house. It was a lot of work and I’m not so sure it was worth it but in the end I felt good that stuff went to another home.

    1. Good work clothes are hard to part with. Even though I have no desire to get back in the work world, I liked wearing nicer things every day. There is a group here that takes in men’s and women’s work clothes and gives them to people who are job hunting but don’t have the money for nice interview clothes. That type of charity made it easier to give my nice suits up.

  2. Good for you! We simply had to get rid of stuff before moving cross country, so we are fortunate in that regard. But over the last two years, one of us (I’ll protect the innocent) has slowly and incrementally increased the accumulation of stuff. But I think we can keep it under control. Good luck on your continuing efforts.

    1. I think one of my problems is that I haven’t moved very much – and when I have it wasn’t a very great distance. My weakness is clothes, my husband’s is tools. At least we try to send more things out than we bring in. It’s always a struggle.

  3. I also love the feeling that comes after successful decluttering. I agree that the process of getting rid of stuff is a real drag!! I have done numerous home-exchanges (including to the South of France). Most homes were much more cluttered than my own (and mine is no poster-child for simple living). So, even if you do not reach your goal, home exchanges are ready and waiting for you! Good luck with this endeavor – I know that you will enjoy it!

    1. One of these days, we’ll have to discuss home exchanges… hopefully face-to-face over a glass of wine. I really like the idea of a clutter-free house, so we’ll continue in that direction, even if it isn’t necessary. It feels very freeing.

  4. Yes, yes, yes!!! I plan to retire in 3 years and have already started the reduction in STUFF!! Since I will be moving from the Midwest to Arizona, my mantra is ” will I pay to have this moved?”with both new purchases and current possessions. Your message has inspired me to press on….

    1. It amazes me how many people pay to move boxes of stuff they really don’t want. I have friends who not only paid to move the boxes, but now pay to have them stored off-site. How crazy is that?? A move from the Midwest to Arizone probably means getting rid of some heavier clothing. 🙂 Good luck with your decluttering and your retirement!

  5. I find it is a never ending battle. Slowly – very slowly – my piles of stuff are decreasing.

    I like the idea in concept of swapping homes for a period of time. Practically, I don’t think I’m remotely close to being there – if in fact I ever could. I applaud you for trying. Reducing stuff is definitely liberating 🙂

    1. It’s a slow process, but a satisfying one. I subscribe to an estate sale email list and I cringe when I see pictures of all the stuff people have left when they go into a nursing home or die. Stuff can be a anchor in our lives.

  6. Oh, you nailed this one describing stuff as a tyranny! I am also able to get rid of stuff easily, but my hubby? A resounding NO! His whole family borders on hoarding, so we go round and round. He is getting better though! Clutter and dust are just not healthy to live in!

    1. I feel fortunate that my husband and I are on the same page about this. I guess the best anyone can do until the spousal-unit realizes that a clutter-free house is calmer and healthier, is to keep the excess stuff out of the public areas.

  7. This is, indeed, an on-going challenge. My weakness is thrift shops, fueled by some amazing finds I have brought home in the past for pennies on the dollar. I am always on the look-out for the buried treasure! Even so, just last night I had a small fit of “I’m fed up” and 8 decoration-type plates suddenly found themselves homeless. You are so right; less clutter (and by default, less stuff)makes a home feel so much more peaceful and inviting.

    1. Maybe it’s just the realization many (maybe mostly older) people come to is that too much stuff can be a big anchor in our lives. Of course, there are those who love living among some clutter and having all the things they love surround them – and that’s OK too. We will never be minimalists, but less is more for us right now.

  8. LOVE your title, Janis! It’s true that dealing with an abundance of stuff drags us down. I could get rid of much of our stuff in a heartbeat. The problem is convincing my hubby to do the same.

      1. You must know my husband! He firmly believes he with the most “toys” at the end wins and every horizontal surface is made to be pilled upon. And it’s in his genes. His mom had a 6 bedroom house (family home, 10 kids) with every room full of stuff when she passed away. It took us 6 months to clear it out, finding the treasures and getting rid of the junk. You would think that would have made an impression on him… but no.

        My personal downfalls, besides finding it hard to get rid of all my work clothes (I too have this vision of jackets with jeans … like Kate), are books and kitchen things. I have all these kitchen and entertaining items…. and a small kitchen that makes it almost impossible to cook in. I literally have total of 5 feet of counter space in 4 places around the kitchen. But my vision for me next house is a larger kitchen and a plan to entertain more. So hard to think about getting rid of stuff now. Comments about paying to move it however are making me think….

        1. Kitchens can be great catch-alls for stuff. We moved a lot of our entertaining items to the garage since we don’t use them that often. We find that our entertaining has gotten much more casual so we mostly use our regular dishes, bowls, etc. Next step will be to donate the special occasion items we seldom use so we don’t need to deal with them at all. Good luck to you!

  9. Well done, Janis. You are making progress! It is much better and more enjoyable to collect memories than to collect stuff. As I was packing up today for our “move” out west, I am appalled by all the stuff (mostly clothes) we have and it was the perfect time to get rid of a pile of clothes – some went in the garbage, some are going to be donated. Feels much better already! Your blog post is very timely… 🙂

    1. Moves can be the best motivator to purge. My problem is that I seldom move so things have accumulated over the years.

      I’m looking forward to hearing about your new home! (Btw, Terri Webster Schrandt who commented above lives in that area. If you don’t already follow her blog, you might want to. She’s very active and probably would have some good suggestions for things to do).

  10. I don’t think our house is too bad but it t could be a lot better. The trouble with clearing out, I find, is that I want to look at everything, and then I get discouraged at how little I’ve done – then I give up.

    1. I find that taking on a little bit at a time works best. Give yourself all the time you need to go through everything and decide whether to keep it or not. Sometimes I don’t do a whole room, but just a section of it. That way it’s easier to see progress.

  11. Agreeing on which things to get rid of is especially hard when two households were combined into one. We are thinking about down-sizing next year, and I am not looking forward to letting go.

    1. Letting go can be hard, but, at least for me, I’m always so relieved once I’ve done it. Only rarely have I needed something later that I’ve gotten rid of. Mostly – after about a week or two – I’ve forgotten about the item completely. I’m not sure that downsizing is in our future, but doing a little clutter-clearing at a time will make it easier if we do.

    1. I know that you’ve done a ton of clutter-clearing. I also hate when I spend time looking for something only to realize that I’ve gotten rid of it. But, overall, it’s probably better to go through the small moment of regret than to store something that you use only rarely.

  12. Good for you! This was a big dream of mine when I retired. We have a garage stuffed with junk and a storage shed to boot. However, my husband has not been enthusiastic about helping out with the purging effort. He really has a hard time parting with things. I’m just worried about leaving this whole mess to our son 😒 I think it’s going to have to be a deadline driven situation before this all finally takes place for us, so my hat’s off to you!

    1. We also have a garage lined with boxes (although, amazingly, both our cars fit in there too) that we need to go through. Most of it is probably eBay stuff, which adds another layer of difficulty. Letting go of stuff often means letting go of dreams or our youth… it can be an emotional challenge.

  13. When we moved to CA last year, we did a huge amount of this. We had a yard sale, we had 3 charitable organizations haul stuff away, we sold it on eBay and Amazon marketplace, we gave it away on Freecycle. And still, the movers took an extra day to pack all of our stuff. It’s been hard for both of us, but especially my husband, I think, to make the calculation that you made here, about whether it’s really worth it to sell stuff vs. donating it for free. We had a couple decent pieces of furniture that we didn’t want to give away, so we moved them, and then they sat unused in the garage of our new house for over a year, getting dusty. So when I saw a post on a neighborhood listserv requesting furniture donations for some homeless families being settled into new apartments I just decided to donate it. And I threw in a set of dishes that were perfectly nice too, but they didn’t match our decor and they hadn’t sold when I’d listed them on Craigslist a few years ago. It felt good to think that these things were finally going to be used by someone rather than gathering dust in the garage!

  14. Stuff is definitely restricting and I am glad to hear that you are freeing yourself of your clutter. I really love the idea of you all doing a house swap someday. That would truly be a freeing experience. Consume experiences is so much more enjoyable than consuming stuff.

  15. I so identified with this post. We have just sold our family home – 46 years of stuff! Sold a few items but too much has come with us to our retirement home. Very difficult to part with some treasures – but it will happen in time!

    1. It’s hard to get rid of things, especially if they have sentimental value. We aren’t going to be downsizing anytime soon but I want to be rid of as much clutter as possible if we ever do. So many retirees are struggling with too much stuff. Thank you for commenting and the follow!

  16. I am loving your blog. Thank you for your comments and follow too. We are lucky enough to have a second home, a little smaller than our family home and so I have brought some of the treasures here. You are right about retirees struggling to get rid of too much stuff.

  17. I can really relate to this. Now in my mid 40’s I have decades worth of stuff I need to go through and sell etc. Its going to be a lot of work and I could be spending my time doing better things. Eventually Ill get through it but it will take some time for sure. You realize you dont really need so much stuff to be happy and can definitely save yourself some money too.

    1. Absolutely, and good for you for starting early! I have to admit that my husband and I have decided to give many things away for free (usually through Craig’s List) just because the time it would take to sell the items isn’t worth the price we could get. But, we also have made some decent money on things we have absolutely no use for anymore. Good luck with your decluttering. Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

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