All my life, others have tried to make me feel guilty about stuff – guilty about not having enough stuff, guilty about not having the right stuff, guilty about having too much stuff, guilty about spending too much money on stuff or not spending enough on stuff, and guilty about throwing stuff away.
I like my stuff and I refuse to acquiesce to the guilt trips imposed by others. Humans need stuff. We arrive in the world all soft, pink, helpless and yummy. We need stuff to survive. We especially need essential stuff, like food, water, shelter, heat, clothing, defensive and offensive protection. But, we also need stuff for emotional support – stuff to remind us that we are part of a generations old family, that we have accomplished significant tasks, seen impressive places and conquered difficult situations.
So, it’s OK to want stuff, to get stuff, to give stuff, to use stuff, and to get rid of stuff. It is a part of the human condition and I have a theory that we each have a life cycle of stuff and that it goes full circle, from no stuff back to no stuff. That life cycle of stuff is something we need, is natural and beneficial – never something about which to feel guilty.
What is the life cycle of stuff?
We already know that we don’t bring stuff with us into the world and it doesn’t exit with us when we leave.
As a kid.
You want stuff.
You may not remember all the stuff you had as a kid, but if you are a parent, you are certainly aware how fast stuff gathers around you when kids come into your life!
Cradles, cribs, play pens, changing tables, strollers, high chairs, diapers, diaper bags, car seats, baby clothes and TOYS TOYS TOYS and more TOYS.
Kids will naturally accumulate stuff, even when they can’t buy it. They collect rocks, flowers, twigs and anything else they can catch or commandeer. But to reach full consumer status, they have to be taught to want things – and they learn fast. Lists for Santa Claus, or for birthday gifts start them out and soon they are eyeing and selecting from the wonderful bounty at the stores.
Leaving the nest.
You need stuff.
Most of our kid stuff gets given or thrown away over the years (who has room for it all), so when we get big enough to head off to school, we embark on an entire new stuff collection hunt. Books, trendy clothes, dorm stuff, maybe a car, a computer and more are all on the hunt list.
But, because we leave behind the accumulated stuff in our parent’s household, we really end up with less that we had at home. Because we don’t yet have jobs that pay much, we can’t afford to go get a lot of stuff.
Starting the life independent.
You get stuff.
Once we are out of school and into the working world, another phase of the stuff life cycle begins. We leave the nest – move out of Mom and Dad’s well stocked home.
We rent a shelter (usually), and it is bare! We lack all the stuff our parents spent years accumulating – stuff like furniture, cookware, bedding, and etc. We struggle to get more stuff – without money it can be difficult. Some get stuff from stores, the less financially favored head for thrift stores, garage sales, Mom’s house or the trash pickup routes.
When I was newly married (right out of college), I used to sit with my neighbor friend and pour over the paper catalogs that came to dream about all of the neat stuff I wanted to own some day. Things like he matching bedroom set, the lovely drapes, the brand new lawn equipment, and beautifully coordinated nursery furnishings.
All our stuff fit in two rooms and a closet back then. We wanted more, but couldn’t afford it.
Eventually, however, you start earning more so you start accumulating more, and soon your shelter feels cramped.
Moving to a bigger home.
You get more stuff. You get too much stuff. You start to give a bit of stuff away. You may throw some stuff away.
The quest to accumulate stuff, large and small continues until that first shelter is packed tightly. You met someone, they moved in with their 2 dogs and a cat. A bigger home provides the room you need – and has more room for additional stuff.
You live your life, perhaps get married, probably have kids and enter the cycle of family life – where not only you need or want stuff, but each member of the family also does and the family entity itself needs stuff.
Your bigger house gets filled, even though you start selectively shedding stuff. But as time wears on, the cats and dogs move on and the kids move out.
You are finally free.
You give away stuff, but you gather more stuff of a different kind.
At this stage, most folks have become more financially independent and are free of child raising expenses. They have more money to spend on stuff. They can afford the right stuff. But, they have to get rid of some stuff to make room for the stuff they inherit from family.
You give the kids their stuff (and yours if you can talk them into taking it!). You donate to suitable charities. Maybe you put it at the curb, hoping someone will take it and use it – or you sell it at a garage sale or some other used stuff venue.
As fast as you get rid of stuff, new stuff appears. You go on a trip and buy a beautiful souvenir to remind you of the trip. Your parents die and leave a household full of their stuff to you. You can’t keep it all, but some of it reminds you of the good times you had growing up and you can’t bear to get rid of it. You find a spot for that family heirloom piece of furniture, or the still usable TV the kids might want later on, or Dad’s took that will no doubt come in handy some day.
You talk about downsizing and moving to a smaller home now that the kids are gone, but it is just so much work and you don’t know what you would do without all your stuff.
You need help.
This stage forces you to get rid of stuff.
You have to do so, you can’t keep it. Maybe your health has suffered and you need to move into a care facility. Perhaps your spouse died and you won’t be able to maintain the property alone.
Estate sales, moving sales and massive give aways are typical at this stage. It hurts to see it go, especially if it goes cheap, but it has to go.
My Aunt and Uncle (now in their 90’s) held a ‘living estate sale’ about 20 years ago. Fifty years of marriage and life on a 40 acre farm with a rambling ranch (with a basement) and multiple out buildings (barns, sheds and the like) had allowed them to fill their property with many wonderful things. However, they could no longer work the farm and they had no close relatives. They wanted to be nearer their adult children and moved to a much smaller home out of state. Their sale happened to fall on a rainy, cold October day and the weather cut into the sale proceeds dramatically.
You move on.
You will leave this life with no stuff.
Your heirs get to deal with the stuff you left behind – no matter what stage of the ‘stuff life cycle’ you were in. Your stuff gets dispersed, whether kept, sold, split up between beneficiaries or thrown away. You no longer have any need of stuff. It will go where it will, no matter what your estate plan says!
Do you agree that stuff has it’s own life cycle? Have you found a way to skip steps?
Maybe the new trends toward less clutter, tiny houses and minimalism will change the cycle of stuff?
Thank you for this “spot on” post! I am smack dab in the middle of this “Stuff Dilemma”….With the passing of my Father and the kids growing up and moving on, DW and I have the “perfect storm” of “stuff”. We have found no easy way. This is tough physically and emotionally draining work that must be done. It is sad to me how little value ($)is placed on “stuff”…Maybe we just don’t have the “right stuff”….Thanks once more for an insightful post.
As long as it has a meaning and isn’t purchased to impress or prove oneself to another person, getting stuff is ok. As long as thought is dedicated to the ecological impact, I have no problem with it…