Too Much Stuff

In 2001, when we returned home from our 6 week trip to Africa, travelling with only a backpack each, one of the first things my husband said was, “We have way too much stuff.”

We looked at each other and nodded.

Almost six years ago we moved form one side of the country to the other. Before we left we gave much of our stuff away. Reason one, we were moving to a much smaller house. Two, because moving stuff across Canada translates into roughly a dollar a pound. So on examining each article for packing, one had to consider; is this item worth $1.00 per pound to keep. Three, we had way too much stuff.

There were several weeks between the time we arrived and our moving van delivered our goods. We subsisted with minimal dishes scrounged from relatives, two lawn chairs, used inside and out, and a blow up mattress from Walmart. It was a relaxing and wonderful time. All was so simple. Coffee, food, deck, beer, beach, sunshine. No paperwork, nothing to dust, nothing to put away. Glorious, really.

Eventually the moving van arrived. Oh we thought we had given so much away, and honestly we did. But imagine having all of your belongings organized on top of a king sized bed. Then take that stuff and organize it neatly into a crib.

That’s what we were dealing with.

The unpacking began. We filled all the cupboards and closets and shelves and there were still more boxes. Many with nebulous names remained stacked in the basement but each time I Charlie Chaplinned down the stairs to get something from the freezer those boxes unsettled me. They did get unpacked over time, the contents added to another pile somewhere, crammed into a closet. This unsettled me more. Digging through closets on the off chance of finding what I was looking for was enough to make me want to a smash a dish or two, even though I began meeting with a small group of women who work on becoming ‘present’ and zen-like.  So frustrated with losing valuable ‘present’ time, digging through various cupboards or closet I shoved items back in a messy heap, thinking, ‘I’ll tend to that later,’ creating even more angst upon subsequent opening of that closet door.

Often we would go buy another of the thing we couldn’t find, just because we needed it which just exacerbated the problem and made me nuts really. I’d know we already have three hatchets. But where are they???

About once a month I woke up with the sole purpose of organizing the house from top to bottom. The day would start with me hauling everything out of a number of closets and drawers and making a huge pile. Then I began to sort and put items into various boxes and bins and put them away.  Did I label anything? No need for that. Surely I would remember where things were because my orderly scheme was so masterful. That night I’d go to bed exhausted and content. I was organized.

And then I would pursue other things. Like painting. And I’d wonder, Where are the paintbrushes? Geez I can’t  remember. The nails to hang pictures? The gardening spade? The light bulbs? Haven’t got a clue. And so I rooted, tearing closets apart, shoving things back in again in complete disorder.

Oh it was a viscous cycle. Kind of like Groundhog Day, only not so frequent. Get up.  Haul everything out. Reorganize. Put it away. Labels? Notes? No need for that. This time I have it all figured out. I am so clever.

Then I need something. I root …  create a  mess … shove it back … close door…

That was going on for two years.

During that time I have two drawers under the stove-top where I keep kitchen utensils. Yes, I have that much figured out. Thing is, there are two drawers, so the utensils go in one drawer or the other depending on which has space available.  Several times a day I need one of those utensils. I open one drawer, searching for the garlic press. Dig around. Can’t find. Open other drawer, dig around. Can’t find. Open first drawer again. Rummage through the items. Can’t find. Close drawer. Try the other drawer again. Still can’t find. This may sound trite and silly but it takes me two minutes to find the garlic press. And you may be thinking, so what. But imagine if it takes two minutes each time you need a spatula, or the ice cream scoop, or the potato masher? I could be doing something fun!

One morning in our third year I wake up with a purpose. I am going to organize those two drawers.

I take all the items from both drawers and lay them on the kitchen table. I sit down at the table and look at the pile of items. And I look at them for quite a while, drinking coffee, thinking, ‘how will I do this thing?’

And the answer comes to me. Some of the utensils are all metal. The whisk, the cheese grater, the ice cream scoop. Others have wooden handles and plastic parts. The spatulas, the oatmeal paddle, the vegetable peelers.

Suddenly I have a plan. I put the all metal things into one drawer. And anything with wood or plastic parts into the other. It is done.

Being in the kitchen many times a day, I open those drawers.  I realize I don’t mind being in the kitchen so much. All I have to think is, ‘I need the rice scoop. It is plastic. It is in the drawer on the left.’

I love my utensil drawers.

And so I continued with my quest to organize. But with a new rule. One little space per week. I set up criteria for a shelf or drawer then organized it that way. Extra stuff went elsewhere for the time being. Then I learned it, lived with it; and anytime I found an item that matched said criteria, I put it there. And when the space became crowded, I gave some of it away. For example, when all towels were gathered and stacked, they are upwards of 20. Who needs that many towels? Not a family of two. Out some of them go.

After almost six years, there are spaces around the stuff in our closets and drawers. I know where things are, all because of those kitchen utensils. Okay, not all of the time. There are still occasional moments of rooting and slamming doors.

But for the most part, finding stuff is easy. And putting stuff away is too. And less is more. I like it.

More time for the beach.

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