Tuesday, June 24, 2014

My Ongoing Zero Sum Game

For as long as I can remember, I was a collector of things….stuff….possessions. Whatever space that I inhabited, I filled it. I remember, growing up, that every surface in my room was covered with a collection of one sort or another. My wardrobe was full of books (no surprise there). My closet had clothes in it and boxes of other things. The space under my bed was a solid mass of boxes holding more things. I couldn’t tell you now what was in those boxes I just remember that I had them. I slept on an antique, four poster bed with wooden slats. If the slats had ever given way there would not have been any change in mattress aspect because it would have been held up by the solidly packed boxes underneath.

When I went off to college I took a boat load of things that I am sure I didn’t need and didn’t use. I brought it all home and took it all back the next year…with a bit more added to it. My room in nursing school was loaded. When I graduated and moved to a condo all my stuff went with me as well as more stuff that I needed to set up house keeping. When HHBL and I got married we combined households and moved to a roomy two bedroom (AND a small study) apartment that was crammed with my stuff. He is and always has been more of a minimalist so I am sure that all the stuff was a drain on him. Books. Stuffed teddy bears. Stuff. Always inflow and very rarely if ever outflow. We moved from an apartment to a very small house….and I added a bit more stuff. We moved from that house to a larger house and had three girls….and I added a bit more stuff. Then we moved to OCK which was TWICE the size of the previous house…..and I added more stuff. I envied people who had more stuff than I did. I am amazed at this now but it was so true then. As is often the case, our stuff expands to fill the space that we inhabit. I am not now nor have I ever been a hoarder (isn’t that what they always say?) but I did love trips to the Dollar Store and anything that could help organize the stuff. Going into The Container Store for the first time was what I can only describe as an existential experience…and an expensive one.

Then we put OCK on the market the first time. The real estate agent came through the house and said, “You need to pack up stuff. You need to pack up a lot of stuff. You need to pack up HALF your stuff.”

HALF our stuff? There won’t be anything in any of the rooms if we pack up all that stuff. The house will look bare and empty if we pack up all that stuff.

If only……

Somewhere I have a picture of the mountain, and I do mean mountain, of boxes that were packed up and put down in the basement in anticipation of selling and moving (which didn’t happen then). I formed my own boxed possessions pyramid. I cannot find that photo which is most likely good as it will scare the living daylights out of most of you. But I think I can give you a glimpse. OCK had about 1000 square feet of finished basement….and a slightly larger amount of unfinished basement. Those boxes filled up about 500 square feet of basement space.

That is just ridiculous.

OCK stayed on the market for an agonizing 14 months without a single offer and very few actual showings. Most likely the mountain of boxes in the basement just plain scared them away. Once that 14 months of agony ended and we took OCK off the market I went down in the basement and asked myself a very important question.

“How much of this stuff have I actually missed in the 14+ months that it has been packed away from my prying eyes?”

The answer was staggering to me.

Not much at all.

Yes, there were a very, and I emphasize very few things that I had to dig out and unpack during that period of time. Very few. Most everything else that was in those boxes had nothing to do with my every day life. The boxes were labeled…sort of…..but I couldn’t really tell you the exact things that were in each of those boxes. They had no place in my everyday life. And it was at that time that I took the first step on the path to our zero sum game.

If something came into the house, something else had to go out. But before we could even GET to that point there was a lot of work to be done.

And crap to get rid of .

I went box by box, unpacked it, looked at the stuff, took out practically nothing, closed the boxes back up, took them up the stairs from the basement leading directly into the garage (EVERYONE with a big house needs a staircase like this), placed them in the empty garage bay and when that bay filled up I called Volunteers of America and waved the boxes goodbye. Yes, I am sure that many of those things had monetary value to them. I could have spent hours and hours putting price tags on them and having a garage sale. But I had long ago raised my fist in Scarlett O’Hara like defiance and said, “As GOD is my witness, I’ll never have another garage sale again! My time is more valuable than that and so is my sanity!” Yes, I could have taken time and tried to sell the stuff on Ebay or Craigs List…..but I refer you back to my Scarlett O’Hara moment. I understood that these things (some but certainly not all) had monetary value but I just had to let go of that and in doing that I let go of the stuff.

And I began to feel lighter.

That first time I decreased the box load by over 50%. And it felt so good that I went through more boxes that hadn’t even been in the boxed possessions pyramid. More stuff went to the “garage donation bay”, and when it filled up again I called VOA and waved goodbye to more “unnecessary plastic objects”. And if ANYONE can tell me what the name of the singer who said that quote and album that quote came from…..I will give you a prize.

When the VOA truck pulled away I felt lighter still.

Then I started on closets and drawers and cupboards. And I filled up the garage bay again.

Did I tell you that I had a lot of stuff?

We put OCK on the market in April 2012 and took it off the market in May 2013, still unsold. But during that time I continued to clean out and pare down. SOMEDAY we would be able to sell her and move to somewhere smaller and when that time came I didn’t want to move ANYTHING that we didn’t need and use. A month after we took OCK off the market…..we sold her. Never say that the Lord doesn’t have a sense of humor. We found Chez Knit, we packed up OCK, we filled up the garage bay TWICE MORE for donations to VOA (if you are counting that is FIVE times) plus made numerous other trips to the local AmVets station with car loads FULL of stuff. We packed up the rest and moved and STILL had things that we dragged to the curb for that final garbage pick up.

And that is when we really committed to the zero sum game approach to life here. If something comes into Chez Knit, something else has to go out. I unpacked the mountain of boxes that we still managed to move and in the process I cleaned out even more stuff that had somehow missed the other “sweeps.” Stuff is sneaky. It doesn’t want to go to a new home. It likes to stay right with you and hide and breed in the basement and make more little stuffs. All the boxes (or at least 99% of the boxes) are now unpacked and when anything gets brought into Chez Knit….like say the entire CAR full of stuff I brought back from the cottage…..something has to go out…..like the entire car full of stuff I took to Goodwill the next day.

And every time I take a load of stuff to Goodwill (like the 4 boxes I took yesterday) I feel lighter still. One of the progeny the other day said, “Well, you and Dad are pretty minimal.”

I just wanted to jump for joy….

And clean out another box. 


  1. We'll be listing our house sometime in the next five years, so I've begun clearing things out, but not really in earnest like you did. I think it's time for my Scarlett O'Hara moment.

  2. I have been gathering items in my garage for a couple of years thinking I'll hold a garage sale. But you've inspired me to simply let it go.

    That is an amazing amount of "stuff" and I'm sure the VOA was thrilled to get it. I may just share this post with my daughter as she seems very much like you described your younger self.

  3. Just wondering, does that apply to yarn?

    1. You know me fairly well, my KnitSib....what do you think. We won't even TALK about the 10 skeins of Regia that will be arriving on Friday........

  4. Oh my - you could be telling our life stories! My daughter's bed fit the description of your bed. We wouldn't have EVER known if the slats fell! We used to halfway tease her that one day her bed would fall into the kitchen. Luckily, it never did. We just downsized from a two story three bedroom, to a two bedroom one story with a basement/garage. We have that pyramid of crap in there. Can't enter it from the garage door. Can't really enter it from one of the side doors. It is sad! This house was my Mom and Dad's so we have their stuff here as well. Not a good thing for a hoarder! :) Thanks for the inspiration!


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