So my story starts with a couch. It was the very first piece of brand new furniture my husband and I bought together. It was a hide-a-bed, perfect for having overnight company and I still remember spotting it at the furniture store and feeling so grown up buying it. This is back before we had kids so we kept our things nice. No spills, no problems.
Then came New Year’s Eve. Our motto at the time was “Todd and Amy are Fun” so of course we had a big old bash in our brand new duplex. As the night wore on, the couple in the other side of our duplex came over to join the fun. We had never met them before but the more the merrier was the motto. Until Midnight…when it happened.
The beverages had been flowing. As midnight approached, our neighbor decided to shake up a brand new bottle of champagne, popped the cork at 12:00 and sprayed it all over our living room. And all over our new couch.
I didn’t handle myself well. First, for some reason we initially thought dumping baking soda on the stain would fix this? It didn’t. For future reference, baking soda is what you use to put out grease fires friends. But on a champagne covered couch? It just made it worse.
I looked at my brand-new-now-ruined couch. I said some mean things. Our neighbor said some mean things. I offered no grace. She stormed home. And a chance for a friendship to blossom was ruined. Let’s face it, even bringing out the garbage became pretty awkward from there on in.
All over a couch.
This all came flooding back to me a few months ago when we hauled that very couch up from our basement. The stain from that night is still faintly evident on the back of one of the cushions. There are other stains and bruises and marks all these years later. Because this ruined couch became the play couch once we had kids. We no longer cared if it got stained as it was already a wreck. Kids could eat on it, do art projects on it and make the cushions into forts. No worries. To them, it was the fun couch.
A few months ago, it was time. The couch hit the curb. We actually had to pay to have it hauled away. In the end this is what happens to our stuff right? It’s old. It’s used up. It is no longer needed. It costs us time and money. And off it goes.
It was in the moment of watching the monster couch get loaded on the garbage truck that it finally really hit me. The couch had actually served us better ruined. I was nostalgic for it leaving because it had been used and loved. We didn’t worry about it being perfect so we really lived on it. That ruined couch was a gift.
Waiting on the curb for it’s ride to the great living room in the sky….
Because here is the thing, it’s how we use our stuff that brings us joy or brings us stress. If we live to serve our stuff and accumulate more and keep things perfect, our things can make us miserable. If we live to have our stuff serve us and those we love, our things can bring us joy. Clearly, putting stuff before people is crazy, no one would say that’s a good idea….and yet it is so very easy to do.
I can think of many times I have chosen things over people. That night with my potential new friend I certainly did. That couch remaining picture perfect was so much more important than offering grace and friendship. And why? The couch just ended up loaded into the back of a garbage truck, broken and battered.
I see myself do this same thing with my kids way too often. When I yell at a child who accidentally spills milk on my new rug. When marker on a bedspread sends me reeling. When I am hounding and hounding my kiddos over messy rooms and unmade beds. When I have a full on freak out over my favorite cereal bowl shattered on the floor of the kitchen. When I hear the sound of my voice yelling, “We can’t have nice things with all these kids!!”
Ummm…why is that a bad thing? It’s actually the biggest blessing of them all. Nice things are great in their place, but all these kids? They are an actual and amazing TREASURE. I cannot imagine anything more in this world that I could ever dream of having. They are my reason for everything. What’s a cute cereal bowl without an adorable little messy haired sleepy child to eat Rice Krispies out of it I ask you?
I know this and yet…things can unwittingly move into our hearts. They can take over our minds. They try and make us forget what it really important. Our people. Our people are what we should be focusing on. Not our stuff.
The glamour of the aisles of Target, that Pinterest page of picture perfect everything, our Facebook newsfeed showing that awesome whatever our friend just got. All of these are ways things just muscle in and try and make us believe THIS is what we need. These things will bring happiness and smiles and laughter and joy…just look at the ads my friends. Things are very tricky liars, they bring none of these things after about the first 10 minutes.
Because newness wears off and we are always left wanting more. Eventually, so many of our things end up in the garbage or in the Goodwill bin or on a garage sale table for $1.00. We don’t realize this when we are chasing those things because we are drunk with the idea that these very perfect curtains will make our house better. We don’t remember that they won’t make our home better. Only we can do that with how we treat our people. With how we love on them. With laughter and sorrow shared in between our home’s walls. With how we share meals and memories and fun. How our home is really has not one thing to do with the stuff that is in it.
And our kids? They need to see they are more important than our stuff. And they need to see that life is more than just chasing down more and more things.
On top of all of this, the more stuff we have the more time it takes to manage. It’s time that could be spent with our people. Because all those Target runs mean I have accumulated some THINGS. The endless organizing, bin labeling, moving around and trying to manage the stuff. The redecorating that inevitably happens as I go. So many Saturdays spent cleaning the garage or the basement. Again. Making kids clean and reorganize their stuff. Again. Buying more bins to hold our stuff (which often means I end up leaving with even more stuff, because….Target endcaps). So. Much. Stuff. I can’t even.
So last month, as we threw out our couch, we made an executive decision in our household (and by we I mean me…the kids are being gently dragged along and my dear husband is happy I finally see the light). Stuff is ruling us and we have way too much of it. Enough. My mantra is, Remember the couch…it’s all just stuff. It is time to break free and let it go.
I have taken charge. FlyLady, one of my favorite “get your world under control” sites, has always said you can’t organize clutter. I didn’t view my things as clutter. I thought it was my valuable stuff. Now that I am waist deep in digging us out, I am learning the value in my life doesn’t lie in my stuff. The great memories I have are not contained in objects. Like that couch that was hauled away, used and stained, it is all just stuff.
I enrolled in an online course through the website Becoming Minimalist for some accountability and am methodically working my way through my house and getting rid of so much of it. Here is a random list of things have purged so far:
- 40ish bags of clothing. This includes clothes we weren’t wearing and that didn’t fit, as well as things I had doubles of and anything that didn’t make us feel fabulous. The rule has been, only keep your favorites. One of the best bits of advice I have gotten from Joshua Becker of Becoming Minimalist is, more choices do not make life easier. We now just have to chose between our favorites in the morning and this SO MUCH easier. Plus I got rid of most of my pants with buttons…yoga pants and leggings for the win!
- 6 boxes of kitchen items Including mismatched glassware, extra kitchen utensils (really how many spatulas does a girl need? Hint: the answer is not 10), a million expired spices, 5 extra square baking pans (I had 7…what?!?), a boat load of water bottles and coffee cups and kid plates, and you guessed it, a ton of mismatched Tupperware.
- 2 boxes of picture frames. I had so many frames lying around with pictures in them. I thought I would “find a place” for them. Instead, I grabbed a photo album, took the pictures out of the frames and put them into the album and then gave away the frames and gained 2 square feet of closet space.
- 7 sets of sheets and blankets. I had accumulated enough sheets and bedspreads to have 7 more kids apparently. Instead of going that far I gave away the sheets and blankets. You’re welcome husband.
- 6 boxes of books. So hard for this literacy coach. I kept our favorites on one bookshelf in the basement, as well as keeping our most read books on the book shelves on the main living areas of our house. I am using Anne Shirley’s comment from Anne’s House of Dreams as my guide here (any other Anne of Green Gables fans out there?), “Every book in our bookshelf is a friend.”
There has been a ton of miscellaneous that has left as well. I’d say we are only about half done. 2 kids’ bedrooms, the basement and the garage still haven’t been touched. And oh, that basement. We’ll get there.
As I dig out while putting stuff in it’s proper place, I use these two guiding thoughts:
Everything we give away has a chance to be a blessing to someone else.
Everything we keep should cultivate joy.
These are the mantras that keep me going when the going gets tough.
This is my dream my friends. I want to be free from a life bound by caring for stuff and shopping for stuff and thinking about stuff. I want a life where we are free to spend our time living for our people, caring for our people, finding time to care for other people. And making memories we can hold onto without buying a single souvenir.
I am already feeling so much lighter. Less stuff under foot. Less things to manage. And a healthy realization that the stuff we have can be cared for without putting them before everything else.
I continue to want more, but now my more is different. I want more time with my people. I want more moments spent reading aloud to my kids. I want more time spent in family walks. I want more time looking at the stars on a warm and cloudless night. I want more time spent really listening to these kids when they tell me about their day. I want more time spent laughing and making dinner and making plans. The more I want has nothing to do with stuff. And the only way to get more precious time, is to cut out what doesn’t matter.
I am at the beginning of my journey here, no doubt. I have much to learn now about how to bring less into this house so we don’t end up right back here again. If this resonates with you and you want to join drop us a comment and we can hang together.
2 Corinthians 4:18 As we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. AMEN