Of Cabbages and Kings

We got a new bunk bed so that two of them can share a room, and I had to rearrange all the bedrooms today to accommodate the new furniture while still keeping the old bed for when we move to a larger house. It was like one of those puzzles where you have the one empty space and you have to slide around all the other pieces to make a complete picture. I ended up with a file cabinet that doesn’t currently have a home, but it’s out of the way at the moment so I have a little while to figure out if it will fit somewhere else. I also have 3 bags at the front door to drop off at goodwill tomorrow, bags of kids clothes that went into the attic for the next consignment sale, and a laundry basket of hand-me-downs for my friend who just had a baby.

I feel kind of caught. I feel like we have too much stuff stuffed into this house – we have 1750 square feet with 5 people, which leads to a lot of things with different levels of importance to the different people looking at them. Plus, we have this vague idea that we want to move in a few years when a new development is supposed to open up a little north of us. It’s pretty much our only chance of getting into a new house on this side of town unless we buy an existing house, knock it down, and then build on the lot.* Until then, we are not going to move because we have a fantastic house payment after living here for 12 years and refinancing already, and the kids just started school and we don’t want to uproot them any more than once. So we are trying to hold on to things that we have already purchased (like the bed we just replaced) that are perfectly good that we would have to repurchase when we move. Selling or donating something I already like and own, just to have to buy another one in a few years, feels like a waste – especially if I can find a place for it in the space we have. I also try to resell as many of their clothes as I can to try to recoup some of my investment, especially with things that are still nice and someone else could use and love.  So those have to all have a space to be stored between the bi-annual consignment sale that I participate in.

I don’t have any formal “one in, one out” plan, but I do try to keep the number of things that we own at a manageable level. You would not walk into my house and ever imagine that we are into any kind of minimalism, but I try to implement those practices where it makes sense. For example, I try to keep my closet following Project 333. I actually only swap out my closet twice a year (cold weather/hot weather) and I keep more like 50 items, but that has actually really cut down on the amount I own. I have also gotten rid of a bunch of “fashion” jewelry and a lot of things I was saving for when/if I ever fit into them again. I also try to keep our household items at a reasonable level – like, I donated 3 sets of cloth napkins that I had accumulated over the years and some random serving pieces that I never use.

But there are places where I majorly suck at any kind of restraint. I really struggle at the idea of cleaning out the kids’ toy boxes because that is THEIR stuff, not mine. And their clothes are hard for me to get a handle on these days – sometimes, they just refuse to wear what I buy and I end up buying more that they actually like and feel good in. They are real people with real opinions and feelings, and I try to respect that. I also pretty much refuse to purge books and and any kind of crafty art supplies that they (or I) might want or need. I feel like there is a certain level of “stuff” that needs to be available for inspiration or exploration or creation. I had that when I was growing up, and I want them to have that same kind of freedom to play and explore and test out new ideas.

It’s a balancing act. To have enough stuff to cover our needs, and a lot of our wants and desires, versus choosing not to buy things out of financial and moral** obligations. To provide enough that my kids don’t feel deprived, but not so much that they feel entitled or ungracious. To provide stimulus and materials for imagination and creative play while not overwhelming them with such a pile of toys that they can’t pick something to play with at all. I don’t pretend to have a good answer, despite all the blogs and websites out there touting the minimalist lifestyle as the be-all and end-all to life’s questions. Frankly, the life of a nomad homeschooling our kids out of an RV as we travel the world looking for adventure is not appealing to me on any level. I’m just trying to make the best decisions I can with the kids and responsibilities I have and hoping it works out in the end.

*Footnote – this is actually our Plan C/D when discussing a new house. Plan A = buy new house in desired neighborhood. Plan B = buy older house in same neighborhood and remodel. Sometimes Plan C is knock down an existing house and build on the lot, and sometimes Plan C is to stay in this house because the payment is so cheap and the kids won’t have to change schools. Those last two options switch up depending on how we are feeling that day.

**Our society is set up in such an unsustainable way, there’s no possible good end to continuing to accrue financial and environmental obligations that we will never be able to pay back. But it’s also deeply ingrained in us (and sometimes I wonder if the “us” is the human species) to move through the world as magpies collecting shiny things that are so beautiful and useful and fun that we can’t possibly leave them behind. It bothers me immensely the amount of plastic that our household consumes (and disposes of), but I’ve yet to come up with a replacement plan that meets our needs and doesn’t simple move the waste creation to another point of the manufacturing process.

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Talk to me of shoes and ships and ceiling wax.  What do you keep versus what do you purge?  How do you make that decision?  And how do you store or display the things you have?

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One thought on “Of Cabbages and Kings

  1. There must be something in the air because yours is the third post I’ve read this afternoon about people trying to downsize/declutter/minimize their possessions & simplify their lives. I’m going through the same thing — dh & I are contemplating a move into a (smaller) condo. We recently painted the house, which meant moving a lot of stuff around. You never realize how much STUFF you have until you start emptying out your closets, lol. Since I started trying to get rid of stuff earlier this year, I’ve given my old stereo & vinyl LPs to our nephew, a huge amount of my scrapbooking supplies to his fiancée, & sent almost 60 cartons (small, liquor-store sized) & uncounted bags full of stuff to the thrift shop — including 33 cartons of books alone. The books are the hard part for me (& I still have four IKEA bookcases crammed full)… anything that I have on my e-reader was an obvious discard, as were books I’ve read & probably won’t pick up again, and even books I haven’t read but am not likely to read in the future. I also got rid of a bunch of small appliances that I’ve either never or seldom used — a hand blender, an electric wok, an electric grill… In most cases, if I really, REALLY regret it, I can buy a replacement, right? So far, that hasn’t happened.

    As for storage, I swear by clear Rubbermaid storage bins in various sizes. Also an assortment of different sized Ziploc bags for smaller items. 🙂 Even when you have a lot of stuff, it’s so much neater & easier to store if it’s “containerized.” Good luck!

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