Having more joy by having less stuff

June 09, 2011|Alicia Notarianni | Making Ends Meet

If stuff were money, I'd be rich. Living high.

Alas, my stuff is not money.

It is clothes, toys, school projects, mementoes, knickknacks and furniture, books and paperwork — much of it is junk, really.

It's not as if my house is visibly cluttered, at least not the living areas. My mind being a topsy-turvy drum of abstract random commotion, I crave order around me. So the main rooms are pretty tidy.

The attic and cellar are another story entirely. Those mares' nests seem to have taken on lives of their own. Sometimes when I open the attic door and something rolls down the steps, I recoil in horror. When I enter the cellar, I hold my hands to the side of my head, blinding myself from the mounds of stuff. If I were to allow myself a glance, I would plunge into operation dispose and organize, lost and unable to emerge in the same solar day.

I read long ago in a magazine the "love it or use it" principle, and it stuck with me. The idea is that only things that you love or use should be in your home. Otherwise, it's outta there.

For years, it worked for me, and I reveled in the tranquility of orderliness. If I needed anything, I didn't have to take my best guess and commence digging through bags, bins and file cabinets. I'd go to the source and return unruffled, item in hand.

Nowadays, not so much. Ever since the arrival of my last two children, it's become increasingly difficult to keep the clutter at bay. It seems the supply of baby stuff, hand-me-downs I store by size and season, toys for each gender and every stage, and crafts from every outing pile up faster than I can pare down.

My friend tells me not to sweat it, that most everyone's got what she calls their "room of sacrifice." You know, the place where you throw all the junk you don't want to be seen by last-minute visitors.

Nonetheless, the disorderliness ate me for a long time. I finally had to come to terms with the fact that with two active parents and four lively kids, we were going to have some degree of clutter. It bothers me, but I no longer lay awake at night ruminating about it.

Still, having more stuff than I need does not make me feel rich. On the contrary, it makes me feel gluttonous, wasteful, incompetent and rather miserable.

So here is my challenge to myself. As I am able, I've been taking whatever time I have — be it 30 minutes or five. I open the attic door and I weed through — keep, sell, give-away, throw-away. If I can't deal with it right away, give away works. I take the bag to the trunk of the van, and when I'm running errands, I deliver it.

Not obsessing, not giving up. It feels like a good compromise.

Kind of like living high.

Alicia Notarianni is a reporter for The Herald-Mail. Her email address is

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