Throughout history most people have lived with few possessions, by necessity, economic limits, or cultural norms. Early nomadic groups moved regularly. Most people for thousands of years were, or are still, just surviving. After WWII in the United States there was an economic boom that resulted in many people owning homes and experiencing financial stability for the first time, although noting that not every group benefited. The average size of a house in the 1950’s was around 1000 square feet. That increased to 1660 by 1975, and up to 2623 in 2018. Of course the larger houses of today have more closets and storage space, which naturally get filled.
Many people I know are having to figure out what to do with all the stuff that our parents accumulated, while we ourselves are trying to downsize at the same time. Closets and cupboards and drawers are crammed full. The young adults generally do not want any of it. Thrift shops are full. I admit that I have been a part of the problem, although over the last 10 years my mindset has been evolving. I have a vision of a more minimalist clutter free house, but it is challenging to get there.
I grew up in a home where you kept things in case you might use them later. My mother was a seamstress and artist. You might need that piece of elastic or craft paper. You might use that pattern again. My mom was also an excellent cook and liked entertaining. She loved her sets of dishes and china, and bought new ones at regular intervals without getting rid of the older ones.
Over the last 30 years in my own household, the things we accumulated changed as our children grew up and their toys and activities changed. I tried to get rid of things periodically, but somehow the house was always full. I also like sewing and creative activities, which require many tools and stashes of supplies. The laundry room, garage, and backyard shed were full with who knows what. I was always busy with more immediate needs, too tired or too overwhelmed to clean out closets and other storage spaces.
At one time we had five snowmobile helmets on a shelf in the laundry room. They were left from the 1980’s when my husband worked for a snowmobile magazine, but we have never owned a snowmobile. After much nagging and urging, I finally convinced him to pass the helmets on to his cousin who actually had a snowmobile.
We had a large guest bedroom that did not get much use in our early years of marriage. Any time there was box from a purchase or delivery, I would open the door and literally toss it in that bedroom. Eventually the room was filled solid with boxes. I delegated the job of flattening and disposing them to my husband, but he would never get around to it. Somehow, unlike me, he was finding time to watch TV, so one day I piled all the boxes up in the family room, blocking the space between the recliner and the TV. Finally that job got done and the guest room became available for human habitation again.
In preparation for moving last summer of 2019 we got rid of what seemed like massive amounts of stuff, including most of our furniture. It took a lot of mental energy and time to figure out what to do with various items we didn’t need or want any more, rather than throwing them in a dumpster. It was hard work. We sold things on Craigs List (almost getting scammed once), donated to various organizations, gave items to family members, recycled things, took bags of mixed paper to a business for shredding. Two pieces of furniture were placed in the alley at my sister-in-law’s house in Minneapolis. They were gone by the next day, taken by someone who needed them.
When we moved here to my parents home at the lake, we were adding what was left of our own possessions to their already full house. My sister and I had been working for years to sort and purge from our parents house, but there was still a complete household here. There are now boxes stored in the basement and garage including things from our kitchen and living room that I was not ready to get rid of. There are also boxes of things that my parents brought from their previous house 20 years ago that had never been unpacked.
My mom had sets of China stored in boxes in the basement, classic purses that were not really in style but might be needed to match a future outfit, drawers and chests of beautiful sweaters, trunks of high quality wool fabric (even though she had not sewed any clothes for many years), extra cookie tins stored in the basement bathroom. As she got older, she did not remember what she had anymore much less where it was stored.
We had an entire trunk full of random extra hats, mittens and scarves from our old house. My parents also had baskets and plastic bins of extra winter gear. I dumped all of it on the living floor and sorted it all out. A few items in bad shape were tossed out, some organized for keeping on hand. Two entire grocery bags full were donated to the “Welcome Center” in Pelican Rapids, MN, where they were given directly to people who needed them.
Now that our parents have both passed, my sister and I continue with the endless task of sorting and purging their things. I also continue paring down my own clothes and belongings. I have a vision of a clutter free life, and hope that when the time comes, my own children will have an easier time dealing with what is left of our lives.
P.S. My husband is now thinking about buying a used snowmobile, to keep cabin fever at bay over the upcoming covid winter. He will need a helmet. I will need a helmet. Any possible guests might need a different size helmet. Too bad we gave away those five helmets.