How to Fix Your Broken Relationship with Stuff

by Tammy Strobel on November 8, 2010

Editor’s note: This is a guest post by Melissa Gorzelanczyk. Melissa writes about simplicity and finding beauty in everyday life at Peace & Projects.

“Instead of trying to improve our relationship with our stuff, we settle for simply cohabiting the same space.” -Laura Crawford, The Path Less Pedaled

Question for you: Who decided it made sense to store unused stuff in plastic bins?

Somehow many years ago, I caught the plastic bin epidemic that swept our nation. I had a basement full of stuff – photo frames, books, fabric remnants, 4-H plaques, candles, random kitsch. To wrangle my cluttered landscape, I made a simple plan. First, build several rows of wood shelves. Second, fill plastic bins with excess stuff. Third, place bins on shelves. Applause! I did what any sick bin-aholic would do and bought close to 30 plastic bins for my mission.

Bin-aholic goes to rehab

It wasn’t until I started reading about minimalism that my forgotten stuff began to haunt me. The problem was that my relationship with stuff was broken. Until I fixed it, no amount of plastic bins would solve the chaotic clutter that always took over my basement storage room.

I knew it was time to take action. Bin by bin, I started to revisit my intentions for all that stuff. I decided to break up with the unwanted and unneeded things in my life. It was officially over. I was done with stuff.

And that’s the key.

If you want to have a healthy love affair with your stuff, you need to change the way you keep it, treat it and spend money on it.

Here are some ways to fix your relationship with stuff and create a calmer environment at home.

Try life on the minimalist side

One way to do this is by focusing on a specific area of stuff, like many did by joining Project 333. This minimalist fashion project encouraged others to wear only 33 items for 3 months. Impossible, you say? Not so fast. I was able to put some of my newly emptied plastic bins to work by loading most of my wardrobe into storage. Give yourself permission to let minimalism be a learning process. Find out what feels right for you. After all, becoming minimalist isn’t a contest, but a collaboration of inspired people.

You can be bold without throwing away all your clothes. Drastically minimize a category of your stuff for 3 months. Move the rest of your things into a holding area. How does it feel? What do you miss? Will you take the rest of your stuff back … or break up with it?

Love the item now or never

If an overstuffed closet makes you cringe, can you admit that this is not a healthy relationship? Sometimes we hold onto stuff for reasons we don’t fully understand. For me, the emotions surfaced while whittling my wardrobe for Project 333. It was surprising to realize I was emotionally attached to items I rarely wore.

To help get past emotional attachments that don’t make sense, take items out, one by one, and ask yourself these questions:

  • Why do I keep this?
  • Is this beautiful?
  • Is this useful to me right now?

If you struggle with the answers, kick the item to the curb, literally. Acknowledge your emotions, but stay strong. Detach and see how you feel in a week.

Get rid of extra baggage

Our culture has become obsessed with disposable. Even items that aren’t disposable – like hair dryers and tank tops – are kept around in bulk “just in case.”  This is a wasteful mindset that will end up costing you money, not saving it. Get rid of the duplicates – donate them to those in need. If your hair dryer breaks, use the time you would have spent digging through bins of stuff to buy a new, quality dryer you’ll totally love.

Ignite your passion to shop local

Put your money to work in your community. Support local artists, woodworkers, knitters and purse makers. Don’t make the cheap, made in China items your first pick. If there is something you want or need, plan ahead and make it a pleasure instead of pointless consumerism.

It’s really like putting your relationship with stuff in reverse. Shift gears and go in a new direction. By experimenting with minimalism, appreciating quality workmanship and focusing on community, you can invite stuff to have a place in your life.  You can start defining who you are by the things you do, and not the stuff that clutters the path.

How about you? Do you feel like your relationship with stuff is broken? Tell me more in the comments below.

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Editor’s note: Check out Melissa’s blog Peace & Projects. While you’re at it, follow her on Twitter. She rocks!

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Photo by stephenvance

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