We’re in full-tilt holiday mode, and my unsquelchable anxiety about the proliferation of STUFF has kicked into high gear. After years of living in tiny apartments, I’m well trained to worry every time new STUFF comes into the house — where will we put it all??!?!?!
Having kids takes the stuff situation to another level. In addition to the incredible amount of things we regularly use to care for them (strollers! pack & plays! diapers! teeny clothes that get outgrown immediately! special plastic dishes! sippy cups with many tiny parts that must be washed individually!), there’s also a proliferation of toys… and all of the toys have millions of tiny pieces that get dumped everywhere, every day.
I’ve found taking control of our finances to have the wonderful side effect of drastically reducing the amount of stuff that finds its way into the house. The less we buy, the less we have to manage. And, whether we simply don’t buy something or we buy it used, there’s waayyyyy less packaging for us to discard every week — a major win both for our sanity and for the planet. (As I tweeted earlier this week, we’re creating mountains of garbage with nowhere to put it… cheery!)
Paradoxically, simpler living (including having less stuff and spending less time shopping for, returning, unpackaging, and managing stuff) opens up more space in life for other, more enjoyable things.
Weirdly, stuff takes up mental energy. I actually find it difficult to focus on work when there is clutter around — I keep my office extremely clean, and only leave things on my desk that I’m actively working on (i.e., things that have an immediate to-do). People are often surprised to see the state of my office, and some have even suggested that my clean desk makes it look like I’m not busy. But for me, when there are piles of things around, I feel overwhelmed and distracted — those things are taking up little bits of my energy, even when I’m not attending to them!
I’m not the only one who thinks so. There are loads of people talking about the power of simplifying life in all respects — less stuff, less commitments, and a low information diet free you up to focus on work you care about and spending time with family and close friends. Marie Kondo, Mr. Money Mustache, and Tim Ferriss are some big ones, but so many other people touch on these issues.
So what to do about the holidays? The volume of catalogues we’re receiving is over the top; as soon as we empty our recycling bin it seems to be full again. And we’ve started receiving gifts from relatives already — in fact, almost all of the toys in our house were gifts from loving relatives. We are so lucky to have those relatives, and for our kids to have so many great things to learn and play with. Having a rotating stock of interesting stuff for the kids is good — it keeps them entertained, and they learn from building with legos and blocks, putting together outfits for dolls, arranging stickers on a window, etc.
BUT. Too much is too much! Here are some things we’ve been doing or plan to do to simplify our lives even during this season of frenetic buying and giving:
- Ask for replacements for your worn out things. I’m a pretty simple creature. My style has remained relatively stable for the past 10 or 15 years. Last year, my rain boots were looking pretty ragged, so I asked for a new pair for Christmas. I didn’t get them, and then, during the year, I didn’t buy them for myself. By this fall, the boots had worn through in one place (rain boots with a hole — less effective), and were starting to look shabby indeed. So I asked again, and got them! I am SO excited to have a fresh clean version of an old standby — I’m actually looking forward to a rainy day. And, I gave away my old pair on our local Buy Nothing group to a very appreciative gardener! The number of items in my life remained constant, I couldn’t be happier with the gift, and no boots were added to a landfill. WIN-WIN!
- Use a wish list. Going along with the above, it’s only possible to manage what you’re getting and giving if you and your relatives exchange wish lists. That definitely takes the surprise out of things, but hey — we’re adults, we can handle it!
- Set a good example. We don’t like to receive a ton of stuff, so we try not to give a ton of stuff. We often give tickets to concerts, comedy shows, or theater. One year, I planned a trip for my husband. We also love giving and getting food — a nice bagel breakfast from our favorite place in New York, for example. Food gifts hit all the marks if done right — something luxurious the person probably wouldn’t buy for herself, and it gets used up, so doesn’t leave behind unwanted STUFF. Another good option for kids is a membership to a local museum, zoo, or play space.
- Use the holidays as an excuse to purge toys. Someone I know told me that before every birthday and Christmas, she makes a point of going through and donating toys that her kids have grown tired of to make way for the inevitable wave of new stuff that’s coming in. Her kids are a little older, and she includes them in the process — a great learning exercise, if you ask me!
- Get off of mailing lists. We started getting catalogues addressed to people with our last name, but first names that don’t exist. What is this?! Have our identities been stolen? Is someone applying for stuff with our address and last name, but making up a new first name? I have no idea. It’s disconcerting. But it spurred us to start calling and getting off of mailing lists — not just for those shady items, but for everything. This is annoying and time consuming, but hopefully over time the onslaught of junk mail will subside… That will also mean less glossy photos enticing us to buy unneeded stuff.
So there you have it! Would love to hear other tips for keeping things in check during the holidays and all year round!