Friday, May 13, 2011

It's Just Stuff, part one

I grew up with the mentality that if I had something that I didn’t need or wasn’t using, and someone else did need it, I should give it to them (or at least lend it). It was just a thing. Getting rid of things was easy.

I also grew up in a home where we had enough. I never worried about having food or a home. I never worried about my parents being able to afford to pay for the things I needed. My parents may have struggled and sacrificed when they first married, but by the time I was aware of money they had more than enough for me to be able to do the things I wanted. If something broke, we had enough money to fix it or replace it. If someone were injured, we had good health insurance and enough money to see that they were treated. If an unexpected expense came up my dad might grumble, but there was enough money to cover it. If there was a school activity or sport I wanted to participate in, I only had to ask. I do not remember ever being told that we couldn’t afford something. I do not remember ever going hungry because we didn’t have money for food. I don’t remember hearing much about money except when my dad complained about how much my mom spent shopping. On worthless stuff.

So I came into my marriage believing that stuff was of little value. That it wasn’t worth worrying about.

When we got married, we were poor. We had debt. We couldn’t live like we had when we'd lived with our parents. If something broke, we may or may not be able to replace it. We couldn’t afford to do all the things we wanted to do and still pay our bills. This was an adjustment period for me, to be sure, but luckily I was not an overly materialistic person. I didn’t need lots of stuff. I wasn’t a big shopper. We didn’t have a lot, but we were okay. For a while.

Then we went through periods of unemployment. Over the course of twenty years of marriage my husband was laid off ten times; he was our only source of income (I was a stay-at-home mom). That makes it difficult to build any kind of base to work from. The longest time he was out of work was seven months. We had been keeping our heads above water before this. Then the bottom fell out. He got a severance package and we tried to manage that well. We hoped for this time of unemployment to be of short duration like in the past. It wasn’t.

Before long we were in a difficult place. If we didn’t change things soon it was going to get ugly.

We sold an old, small motor home we owned. We sold our boat. We cancelled the satellite service. We quit eating out. We got rid of any extra expenses that we could. This helped, but it wasn’t enough for long. We eventually ended up turning to others for help. Our parents. The governenment. Church welfare. We had to have others help with our debt and pay for our food. We used food stamps, Medicaid, and other services. We did without. (As difficult as it was to ask for and accept help, I am so grateful it was there.)

I believe that when you have to do without it sometimes changes your perception of stuff. You no longer take stuff for granted because you don’t know if it will last. You hate to let anything go out of fear that you might need it again in the future and don’t know if you will be able to replace it.

These difficult times altered the way I saw stuff. When someone offered hand-me-downs I never considered refusing. I knew we couldn’t afford to buy new clothes, so we’d better accept what was offered. People frequently gave us stuff because they knew we were struggling financially. I found myself accumulating more and more even though I wasn’t shopping. Accumulating didn’t seem so bad when I wasn’t buying it.

But then we found ourselves in a position where we had enough. In fact, we had more than enough. Maybe not financially, but materially. We were overflowing with stuff.

And my old feelings reasserted themselves. I saw all the stuff and how it was taking over my life. I felt suffocated by it. I didn’t need it. I didn’t want it. I didn’t even like most of it. Why was I letting it into my life?

I’ve been systematically trying to change those behaviors. I’ve been trying to get back to my minimalist mentality toward stuff. I’ve been trying to get rid of all the stuff that’s come into our lives over the years. It takes time.

And I have noticed that when I try to make a major change in my life, when I’m sure of my choice, something always happens to challenge that decision. To see if I will stick to my guns. It happened this time, too.


Rubye Jack said...

What a bummer with the loss of jobs and money! I've been through the same and actually get food stamps now while living in subsidized housing so kind of understand. I also did the same minimalist thing when moving out here. I'm so glad you had people to help you out and that things are better for you guys.

Dawnelle said...

I took candids of my house yesterday. As you know it's been a major bone in my marriage. I realized by the time I got to my kids' rooms that the major problem was too much stuff! My sister is coming soon and (God bless sisters) will help me clear out/organize what I have. What a high! Getting rid of things. However, there is one thing I will not apologize for collecting--spices. In my life, spices lasted forever in a cupboard even when they were used regularly. But we were so low financially, we ran out. Now I get a variety of flavors and try some I've never used before. I don't ever want to have to decide again whether I get taco seasoning or garbage bags. I want to know the spices/flavors will be available for a good long time. (Not that I intend to go overboard. But in variety, I definitely have.)

Vicki @ Grams Made It said...

Good luck with minimizing your stuff. I'm working on the same thing. Cleaning out my mom's stuff after her death convinced me that I need less stuff.

Thanks for coming by on my SITS day. Come back any time. You are always welcome.

Far From Perfect MaMMa said...

Thanks for the visit SITS Sista! Your perspective is very clear in this post. If ever you forget about how you feel about stuff hopefully you are drawn to return to reread your post. Thank you for the reminder!

Eat. Live. Laugh. and sometimes shop! said...

It is amazing how hard times can teach us so much! I lost my mom a few years ago and it made me feel the same way about "stuff." Why do we collect it? Why do we want more of it? And so on. I have become much more of a minimilist. It is, after all, just stuff.

Anonymous said...

That is so true!! Sometimes people who are having difficult times are the ones who have to fight tight fistedness more than those who have more than enough. But then I think about the widow woman in the Bible. She put in all she had. That's really giving. It's really giving when it hurts you to give.

Our experiences sound very similar. I came from a family whose needs were always met. The last 23 years, when I've been married, divorced and married again have never once seen abundance.

But my heart yearned to give. So, I started a foundation where I use coupons to get things for free for widows and single moms. This does cost me a lot of time, which I do have, but no cash, which I don't have. God always gives seed to the sower.

I wrote about this experience in my blog...@ God Gives Seed To The Sower.
and I chronicle my donations at my other blog The Proverbial Shopper

Sharon Rose said...

Interesting that you write this as we are currently cleaning out this big house!

What voids are we trying to fill by collecting stuff? That is the question I always start asking myself.

Thanks for the reminder.

Greg Hendricks said...

I just finished reading a book (well listing to the audio book version) called STUFF: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things By Randy O. Frost and Gail Steketee.

I grew up in a hoarding household and have a long and complicated history with stuff. It is interesting to read your post since I feel I have had the opposite experience growing up, but now finally feel I can do with a lot less. I agree with the minimalist stance to a point. It is still a complicated thing for me though as items I accumulate tend to take on emotional meaning. The book was very enlightening.

The Blonde Duck said...

Popped in from SITS! I'm the same way--it's so hard.

Running Circles said...

I can't wait to read the rest of the story. Stuff has very little value in my life as long as I have the things I need. When I was younger, stuff meant a lot more whether it be trying to fit in at school or the people that surrounded me. I wish you good luck in finding balance and sticking to your guns.

Unknown said...

Visiting from SITS. When life throws us curveballs, the best thing we can do is learn from them, and become stronger in the end. Sounds like that is exactly what you have done!

dawn said...

Oh I so loved this post. No. Really. I am waiting to find out the rest of the story!

Thanks for stopping by to read my last few posts. I have been gong thru something... no idea what... but something lately.

I actually woke up sobbing Sunday morning. I have a vague memory of a dream and a deep and heart-wrenching sorrow that stayed with me for several hours after I awoke.

I think there is a blog post in there somewhere, when I figure out what this something that has been going on is.

Thanks for taking the time to talk to have no idea how much it helped.

Katy said...

If it helps, Robin, I have always been impressed with how you stick to your guns. You are very good at it! (Must be all that practice!) Best of luck!

Britton Minor said...

Oh how I relate to all of this. Growing up, my divorced parents had diverse lifestyles--my mom lived in poverty for a while, while my dad married money and lived for a few years in a house on a SoCal ocean cliff. But somehow, I came to battle with "stuff." Garage sales provided far more opportunities for toys for our little ones, and so it was easy to accumulate too much in a short period of time. It was only when we moved into a different home that I was able to purge the excess. Now I work daily to keep things under control, and I rarely let the car drive to a sale--though I do have a great story about a serendipitous garage sale coming soon!

lesapeamusings.blogspot said...

Hello Robin, Thanks for coming by on my SITS day. I can so relate to everything you shared... make those changes you will be definitely happier for it.

Lisa @ Lesapea xx

Angie said...

I can relate. While my family didn't have a lot growing up, I made a pretty nice life for myself (bought my own home, new car, etc) and my husband and I were able to afford the things we wanted when we got married. But the past few years have been a little tough for us and business just isn't quite the same as it used to be. I also found that the "stuff" just doesn't really matter. And when we do start accumulating things it almost feels a little stifling. Glad your experiences brought some clarity for you! Stopping by from SITS.

Shell said...

I have viewed stuff the same way. But, am in need of a good clearing out!

AdriansCrazyLife said...

Thanks for visiting me on my SITS day. I hope you will find some ideas to help you with your decluttering problems.

Unknown said...

I think we have all been through major changes in the past few years. My husband has been in and out of work 11 times since 08. He finally has a job that he has been with but we still feel like the floor will drop any moment. Strange times for all of us but in the end it will be OK.

Janet White said...

It sounds like you are very level headed. We do what what to do!
Thanks for stopping by my blog today. Just returning the favor. SITS!

Gretchen said...

MMM Can't wait to read part 2. I can't believe how well you held up under a 7-month layoff. I can't imagine what we would do. It's so scary. We almost realized it last month with the possible government shutdown.

I usually associate buying things with feeling secure... I KNOW - I PROBABLY NEED THERAPY ABOUT THAT! lol. But even when we're completely without 2 nickels to rub together, I like to feel that I can buy a pack of gum if I want to. That i can go to a garage sale if I want. I dont' need much, but I do need to have SOMETHING to feel free to spend if I want.

*sigh* I really loved this post.