Friday, July 19, 2013

The Value Of Our Stuff

Early this morning I sat and wrote thoughts that just flowed from my heart.  I am taking an online organizing workshop with professional organizer Aby Garvey (Simplify101).  Over the past few years I have struggled to let do of ‘stuff’ – to simplify our lives.  My heart said that’s what I wanted but when it came right down to it, I just didn’t do it.  Something happened last night – really, maybe this morning as I thought about what happened last night.  These are the thoughts I shared on the workshop forum this morning:

In the course of life, things happen that get our attention - 'wake us up'. That's what happened last night, maybe it really happened this morning as I thought more about the meaning behind it. I want to share it because it may impact someone else the way it has touched me.
What is the real value of our stuff? Not the value we think it has, but the real, true value when all is said and done. Let me illustrate with something that happened next door to our home last night.

We have lived in our home for over twenty years. Our next door neighbor was one of the nicest men you could ever hope to meet. He was a highly educated man - a man whose life experiences held your attention when he shared them. He was a veterinary research doctor doing research to improve the life of the animals his research involved, as well as the lives of human beings through what was learned. I could listen to him talk about his life's work for hours. He was a quiet neighbor, a friendly neighbor who treated everyone in the neighborhood as if they were family. He loved our children, applauded our accomplishments and enjoyed meeting anyone who passed by.

His parents built his home in the 1970's. He never married so he was free to move in with his father after his mother's passing. The day came that his father was gone and he continued to live there by himself. The house and the yard were kept in pristine condition. Nothing was changed from the day it was built. It was a vision of the 1970's, right down to the dishes in the cupboards. He planted fruit trees and gardens that produced fruit and vegetables for his delight. Then, suddenly, one day a few weeks ago, everything changed. He could no longer live alone. His eyesight had failed so much that it wasn't safe for him to be there by himself. In what seemed to be the wink of an eye, his nephew found an assisted living apartment for him, a for sale sign went up in the yard and soon he was gone! He's not far away and we will keep in touch, but it's just not the same without him next door. He took very few things for his tiny, little apartment. I'm sure family took some things that had meaning to them. Most everything was left behind. The house sold quickly and rooms needed to be emptied.

Late yesterday afternoon a truck pulled up and people began to work next door. In about an hour's time an 'Auction Today' sign went up out front and another one down the street. I was gone when the auction started. I came home to find that my hubby was not at home. I was certain he had gone next door to be part of the auction. Soon he came home with some tools he had purchased and what he told me has made such an impact on the way I view my stuff! There were things that went for two dollars and five dollars and entire walls full of things in the workshop that went for ten dollars and fifteen dollars. Not many attended the auction and those who did weren't interested in some of the things at all. Afterwards, my hubby and I went inside with the neighbor who was overseeing things for our former neighbor. The furniture was still there, things were still hanging on the walls. The kitchen was in tact - no one wanted anything in there at all. As I opened cupboards and drawers and closets I saw things that would bring some big dollars on EBay or Etsy - things that are 'hot' items right now. But no one wanted them. Vintage bone china teacups and saucers that had belonged to our neighbor's mother still stood on the shelf where they had sat for many years.

This morning it all dawned on me. The value I place on things isn't their real value. When all is said and done and I have no more use for them, the only value they have is what someone else sees in them! I have a garage full of stuff and an attic full of stuff. And cupboards and closets packed with stuff! When I begin to go through boxes and shelves and try to simplify my life, I just can't seem to let go of much. Some of my family members tell me I 'can't just give it away' - because it's valuable. It’s worth something!  Today I would have to ask, 'to whom?'  Yes, I could hang on to things and let my children deal with them sometime in the future. Or, I could spend hours and hours of time and energy to have a garage sale. But I can't stop wondering, 'what is the real value of all of this stuff?'  Some has sentimental value. But it has been in boxes for years and years! Some has been saved 'because I might need it someday'.

After taking Aby's workshops through the last couple of years I thought I was getting it. But I was only just beginning to get it! This morning I think it has all come together - and I am ready to let go. I don't want an auctioneer to stand in my home, or garage, or yard and ask, 'does anyone want anything in this kitchen?' and then sell it for less than what he charges to ask the question. It's time to let go of the things that 'weigh' me down. The clutter, the things that I don't use or truly love enough to use or to give them a place.

This has been long but I wanted to share the big 'aha' moment that has finally gotten through to me. The things we value so highly may never be valuable to anyone. Over the next weeks and months there will be big changes in my home. My longing to simplify life - and stuff - will happen. For once I really understand the value of my stuff. The quote by William Morris will be my guideline: 'Keep nothing in your home that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.'  I think I've got it! Finally, I think I really understand!

This morning the house next door sits quiet and dark. In a day or two everything left from a life lived well will be put in a truck and taken away. The new buyers will soon begin work to make the house their own and it won't be long before it is full of stuff again. I hope they treasure everything that graces the house and yard. If they don't, it really has no value at all!

There’s no way to tell you how deeply this has touched my heart.  I have two beautiful teacups and saucers – a gift from our former neighbor.  I think every time I look at them I will think about what may be left behind when no one sees value in the things that mean so much to me!


  1. This is so true Adrienne! My brother is an antiques dealer and has been for most of his adult life. He goes to auctions and has told me before, "the things that people value so highly that they spend their lives in pursuit of amassing a collection, will go to the highest bidder when they are gone." Profound. We think it is so important to decorate our homes with collections, but what if we spent the time in pursuit of loving and helping people instead? There is nothing wrong with collecting beautiful things, but they are just things. The time and love we give to others has a legacy. The time and love we give to things...not so much. Maybe it is a function of growing older and realizing we really don't need it all. I filled my Jeep with boxes and took them to Salvation Army last week. I have started to get tough about what I keep. I see no sense at all to save something because of sentiment if it is going to sit in a box unused. If I cannot display or use it, I need to get rid of it. I find the memories of my loved one remain intact without the clutter. Sorry this is so long, I think I am having the same thoughts that you have!

  2. Thanks for this beautiful post Adrienne! When my parents moved to assisted living we had an attic, a garage, a 4000 sq foot home, and a storage unit to go through. There was also a living estate sale. I think one of the greatest gifts people can give their children is the gift of not having to sort through their stuff some day. If there is something sentimental that we think someone may want someday, give it to them now instead of putting it in a box. I truly believe that if we have not used it or enjoyed it in over a year we need to get rid of it. The only exception to that would be important photos and letters. Again, thank you for this reminder. It helps me to focus on the treasure of heaven and on matters of the heart.

  3. Adrienne ~ you posted beautifully about a topic that I have been struggling with for many years. In the long run, it is all just stuff, and it really doesn't make us any happier to "have" all that stuff. In fact, it weighs us down. I'm seriously considering having an "estate" sale to dramatically downsize what I own. Making all the decisions on my own about what to do with stuff is overwhelming sometimes. Wishing you well on the journey.

  4. I'm glad that you are coming to those realizations! It was really hard to let go of many of our possessions when we downsized several years ago, but it had to be done!

  5. You expressed yourself so well in this post. I'm a person who has a hard time letting go of things. Good thoughts for me to ponder. ;)

  6. It is so startling when you see a lifetime of belongings for sale. I can't even imagine. I'm trying to let go of things right now myself. Oh how we hold on. Four years ago my mom had to move and I had a 3,000 square foot packed to the brim house. It was an awful summer that I will never forget. I swore I'd never do that to my own children. Traveling light is not an easy thing to do though.

  7. Ok I need to read this again and again - you have been to my house and see how I need to simplify! Maybe you can come with Daffodil and help me!!

    I have been on bear watch for the past few weeks. We had a fire a few weeks ago which has caused bears to come into town and they are trying to get to my honey. Am hoping to harvest the large hive which has about 60 lbs. this weekend. I hope he doesn't get in to the hive before I have time to harvest!

    bee blessed

  8. What a fantastic post, Adrienne!!! It couldn't have come at a better time. I have been reading Zero Waste Home and I feel like I'm finally ready to let more and more go. It takes multiple passes, but yes. I don't want to burden anyone with my things when I am gone. And, heck, I don't want to burden *me* with my things!! I just want to have what I need to be happy and nothing more. It's hard to get from point A to point B, though. I'm working on it!! ~Angela~

  9. Hi my good friend, it's me, Marilyn! I have just moved to Whidbey Island, and unpacking is such a chore. I am going over all the "stuff" I brought with me, and can't find a place for everything. And guess what; before I moved I had the church take 5 truckloads of stuff from our home in Oregon for their yard sale. Five! And I still have too much stuff. Your article really struck home with me, and as I am going through everything, I am keeping a place for 'give aways" stuff I really don't need or love. thanks Adrienne, and I'll email you too.

  10. We all need encouragement in this area of our lives. I have started and etsy store and slowly selling dolls and a few collectibles, ebay was not so helpful. YES we have stuff and our children are not going to want them. Clean out and purge... my new motto.


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