When we first move out from our parents’ home and into a place of our own, we need basic things to run a household, from kitchenware to bed linen, from furniture to electronics, etc. Some of this will be hand-me-downs, some will be bought used, some will be new.
Then at some point we might meet a partner and move in together. Another set of circumstances: we both bring our own things (and baggage) with us. That leads to the age-old issue of having two of each item, but strangely we are having a hard time of letting go of either of the doubles! That might be a question of keeping things ‘just in case’ the relationship won’t last, or of not being ready to call everything ‘ours’, but rather keep the ‘mine’ and ‘yours’ going for a while. And by the time that is no longer an issue, we have gotten used to owning stuff we have in surplus stashed away in boxes we never look at.
Then our family might grow: children, pets, elderly family members, friends… all of which come with their own paraphernalia, needs and belongings. While a pet’s needs can be met fairly easily (mind you: not everybody is able to withstand the advertising industry that keeps telling us pets need more of this or that), and elderly relatives come with their own baggage that falls under the same denominator as ‘moving in together’, children pose a new conundrum: not only do their clothes have to be replaced with larger versions within a relatively short period, they also have a pretty sharp mind of their own. They want things! Preferably lots of them. The pile of stuff is growing. Again.
Then, many years on, the kids are taking flight and move into their own place (see above). What now? You have a house full of things that could be remnants from any period of your life, could not even be yours to start with (partner, children, relatives), and parts of the house serve no other purpose than to store things for yourself or others. You may want to downsize your home from a four-bedroom to a two-bedroom, but what to do with all the stuff? Who gets to decide?
Part of the problem is that in the past we could simply move into bigger spaces when things got cramped, if at all possible. That gave us more room to navigate, but also more space to collect more stuff. In my book, it’s best to avoid having too much storage space to start with: attics, garages, garden sheds and rarely used spare rooms attract unused stuff like those sticky fly catcher tapes. Once the stuff is there, it will never leave. So what to do about this?
I believe that – apart from being told from a young age that accumulating stuff is not necessarily a good thing – the period to watch out for is when we take our first steps into the world on our own. This is when we start accumulating our first really personal items. Luckily most of us have little money at that time of our life and things are relatively tame. When we move in with another person is the time when we REALLY have to learn to stick to what we really need/want. That is why “two of each is one too many” is the title of this piece.
This is when you have to learn once and for all that one of each is enough. Yes: there is need for caution, the relationship may not last, or other things might happen. But they could at any time anyway, and if you are missing something once the partner moves out, you’re really only back to the point where you were setting out on your own. It could actually be helpful to start from scratch completely and not fall back on what was your life ‘before’.
Putting things in storage – be it a box in the attic or a storage container somewhere else – is just procrastinating your ultimate decision if you want to keep this item and use it or not. My stance is clear: when I don’t use/need/want something, I let go. No point in hanging on, really. In the end it’s all in the mind – and a little bit of practical consideration, of course.
Why do we keep things? Because we suspect we might need them at some point. Because we were told at a young age to never waste anything. So we hang on to things, as immediately useless they may be. There is no need to do this! At least not all the time. Let “two of each is one too many” become your personal mantra to start with and you’ll find that suddenly things are looking quite different. You might begin to ask yourself why you keep a lot of things, and that is a straight path forward as it keeps you on your toes whenever you wonder and take a decision to let go.
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Hi, my name is Tilo Flache. My current mission: help my clients declutter mind and space.
This blog contains pointers for your journey towards a happier living experience.