Back in the office chair again.

Due to a computer swap and an unexpected Outlook glitch, I found 396 unread emails waiting for me when I sat down at my desk yesterday morning. In one account.

(It turned out that at least 300 of them were duplicates of old emails — each of which had to be carefully, individually weeded out — but then I discovered another 70 or so in a separate file. Oh, and then there were the 78 in the other account.)

Not my idea of a “welcome back” present.

Enough about work, though…I’m sure you’re dying to hear all about the moving sale. (Right?) Well, it was Big. Since I spent most of my time running around with a distracted look on my face, I neglected to take any photos of the absolutely enormous quantities of stuff that we sold. So suffice it to say that we filled up our kitchen counters, some cabinets, two bookshelves, a desk, a table, a couch, and a lot of other miscellaneous shelving with sale items. And, quite to our surprise, most of them sold.

We like to think that our friends got most of the good bargains and that our dishes and toaster and blender and ottoman will be quite serviceable to someone else for years to come. I view this part of the sale as being successful in that needed items were redistributed from people who can’t use them anymore (=us) to people who can.

In other ways, though, I found our moving sale to be kind of disturbing. It was a little shocking to line up all of our possessions and find out how many of them we didn’t actually need. As husband mentioned to me later, we accumulated an awful lot of goods in order to meet what we projected that our needs were going to be, not what we actually found that they were. The wedding registry is a classic example of this — we registered for a number of kitchen gadgets and towels and whatnot that seemed so essential at the time and yet turned out to be just a bunch of stuff to fill up the cupboards. And my registry was a lot smaller than some of the others that I’ve seen!

As I was ferrying boxes back and forth, I spent some time listening to NPR’s coverage of the cyclone in Burma and the earthquake in China. And as I thought about the people who had just lost everything, I felt very disgusted with my desire to accumulate: I have spent so much money on what is unnecessary, even within the context of our affluent sociey.

Back when we were initially tallying up our moving expenses, I worried that we wouldn’t have enough money to re-purchase all of the things that we were selling after we move to Florida. Now, however, we are wondering if a lot of these things actually need to be replaced. A lot of the furniture will be, for sure (bed, couch, dresser? I think those are pretty important) but a lot of the do-dahs and decorations and dishes just aren’t necessary. We packed only the four stovetop pans that we really use and sold all but one set of dishes. The new goal: to not immediately buy back all the rest.

I have more thoughts about this issue and would really like to hear what you all think as well. How much is too much? How do you justify a lot of your belongings when you know that other people own far less? What things have you gotten rid of that you later missed, and what have you kept that is completely unnecessary? I think that there’s good grounds for discussion here, especially since it ought be more than hypothetical and involve some actions in the end.

But for now, I live you with my favorite quote by William Morris: Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful. 

What do you think?

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7 thoughts on “Back in the office chair again.

  1. i’ve tried to keep to the same strategy the whole time i’ve been married, and it’s made me happy so far. i only yard sale/thrift things that are so cheap they would be a sin not to buy (however convincing that is to my husband) and then i head to williams and sonoma for the rest. that way i am not invested in my thrifted items and can replace them as i go. and if i am ever forced to go out and buy something new i buy the best and i buy it for life. so when i hit 50 i don’t have cupboards bulging with un-disposed, disposable tupperware and half melted spatulas. and i know how to hold out baby. that’s the trick. if you can make yourself desperate enough you will eventually cough up the $16 for that swank citrus reamer.
    http://www.artandcook.com/products2.php?mode=det&name=Citrus%20Reamer
    then you will thank yourself for it the rest of your life. so don’t give in. and don’t be in a hurry to fill up your apartment, it’s easier to keep clean when it is empty. and my next favorite trick, don’t be afraid to throw away all the toys grandparents give your children. but we’ll save that one for later. ;)

  2. Sarah,
    I had found the Walk Slowly blog before but couldn’t remember the url…thanks! She is very impressive about sticking to her principles and has downsized waaaaay more than I have (um, living out of an RV?). I look forward to poking around the site a bit more.

    Tim,
    I have been ruminating on a post to that affect.

    Mavis,
    I think that’s kind of my mom’s philosophy as well and one that I want to adopt. Unfortunately, I don’t think that our household has been as good at taking care of our nicer things as we could be and some things didn’t make the cut as a result — it’s not enough to own quality, you have to treat it like quality too. Regarding toys, I think I had a taste of that with some of the amazing wedding presents that people gave us…I’m sure that ugly stuffed animals need to go the way of our huge crinkly glass red candleholders.

  3. I completely understand….we have things that we keep hanging onto the hopes that “someday” we’ll need it and won’t have to buy it again. Example: picture frames. They’re expensive to buy, so I have a stash that I don’t even use but every time I go to sell them/take them to Goodwill, I think, “Oh no! This is a lot of money invested in frames and I don’t want to spend that again later!”

    I do appreciate trying to downsize and not just accumulate so much stuff…it’s hard, but it’s a good discipline to practice. Not letting ourselves get caught up in just buying things for the sake of buying them or if they’re fun/cute, but what we’ll actually use.

    When I’ve gone to Mexico or Guatemala for missions trips, I came back (and this was even before I moved out and was married) and thought that I had way too much stuff I didn’t use.

    Downsizing is good I think. But hard.

  4. I’m all for down-sizing. But for our family, the kitchen is one place that we need & use a large number of what other families might deem “extras”….for instance, we often host before Bible-study meals, baby showers, family dinners, etc. where I put to good use several sets of dishes, crockpots, large pots & pans, my second set of silverware, a large variety of linens, punch bowl, wine glasses and the like. Most of these are used weekly, so for me they are essential.

    When it comes to things like house ornaments, pictures, figurines and other dust collectors, I am very minimalistic.

    Right now I’m pondering my children’s wardrobes…..we have been given bag upon bag of clothes and they simply won’t be able to wear many of what we now have. I’m thinking of paring down to a decent collection of play/church clothes per size that I really love and getting rid of the rest. Too much clutter hampers me. I can feel it suffocating me when I enter a room!

  5. Moriah,

    I think that what you are saying is key: you need to own what you use, not what you don’t. If you use a glass punch bowl and 8 matching cups all the time, then it’s definitely not clutter to you. To me, however, it would be a waste of cabinet or shelf space.

    My problem is that, when I was setting up my own apartment and then later setting up our married-person apartment, I misjudged our actual needs in a few situations and accumulated supplies for situations that never (or rarely) happened. I didn’t get a set of fine chine or nice silverware, but I did have pans for sauces that I never make and vegetables that I never steam. So when husband suggested that we sell these, I was initially a little upset (but we got them for our wedding!) but came around pretty quickly.

    All that to say, I think that each person’s list of “essentials” is going to be different and the trick is to figure out what you actually need/use and pass the rest of the stuff on to someone with different needs than your own.

    (And I would definitely feel free to get rid of all the clothes that your kids are never going to wear! I’m sure that it will make someone else’s day to find them at Goodwill.)

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