Tuesday, July 9, 2013

On Things

I come from a long history of scarcity mentality.  Both of my parents came from humble downright poor beginnings and they brought those mindsets into their married life together.  At times when scarcity didn’t actually exist in my home my mom brought it in anyway in her attempts to save more, pay down business debt super fast, and even to pay off the mortgage in much less time.  All these were admirable goals, but they left me with a feeling of scarcity that has been a part of my whole life.

Russ came from a similar background; his parents were both children of the depression, raised to save anything because you never knew when you might need it.  When Russ was 7 his father was laid off and unemployed for several years—I’m sure this added to the feeling of needing to save and salvage and store things.

I have spent much of the last week working on the boxes in my garage.  Because we moved during the school year when most of my time was taken up with homeschooling, we unpacked what we couldn’t live without and did without the rest.  My (lofty) goal when we got back from Utah was to have the boxes all unpacked and dealt with by the end of next week, so that the following week while the girls are at camp I can paint their bedroom.  This unpacking has taken all of my physical energy and most of my mental energy as well.

One of the difficult things about dealing with all of these boxes is that we have moved from a 3500 square foot house that we lived in for 10 years into a 2400 square foot house where at least 250 of those feet are in the entry/foyer.  It’s felt a lot like Cinderella’s stepsister trying to shoehorn her huge foot into Cinderella’s petite little glass slipper.  And let’s just say that this slipper is bulging at the seams…

One of the benefits of this job with Intel was that they gave us a very generous moving package.  Lovely people came into our house and carefully packed up our every possession, loaded it into a truck, someone else drove it to Oregon, where it was all unpacked for us.  This was good because I was so busy working on the house in NC until the last possible minute.  This was bad because it meant that very little got “thinned” out in NC and instead it must (MUST) be done here.  Now.

I’ve realized as I’ve unpacked box after box of books and craft supplies and sewing supplies this week that it’s really hard for me to part with my things.  I’ve spent money on them, they might come in handy sometime, and it follows that I should keep them.  Ironically I’ve been dealing with the kinds of things that I like the best—books and sewing stuff—the things that are the hardest for me to get rid of.  But as I’ve had to face the reality of how much space is (and isn’t) available, it’s given me the incentive to be a little more ruthless.

I wondered tonight as I sorted and organized and threw things into trash bags and goodwill boxes where our kids will end up on this continuum.  We have deliberately not given our kids many of the “things” that their friends have had, preferring instead to use our extra money for beach trips and other experiences.  Will they come out of their childhoods with the same feelings of scarcity that Russ & I have lived with?  Will they be able to part with things more easily?  I guess only time will tell…


Here are a few pictures from my exhausting week.  First the bookshelves on the upstairs landing.  Almost all of the books are on the shelves, now they just need to be organized.  I bought these shelves at Ikea—in retrospect I’m not sure I’d buy these exact ones again but oh well, we’ll survive.


And then the sewing room.  This may not look so great, but it has been a herculean effort.  Before I started the whole countertop was piled high with stuff and there were boxes & boxes of sewing & craft stuff that had to be integrated into the room somehow.  I’m actually a little surprised that I got everything in.  It will need more organizing later, but for now it’s good enough because I am wiped out.



  1. I came from that background too. My parents were savers who had little through the depression. As a result, I am a saver and I don't want to part with things. Even a small scrap of material "I will make into a quilt someday." HaHa! I loved you blog post.

  2. My mom is weird in that way. She throws out the important things and holds on to ridiculous stuff like junk mail. She has always had clutter, though that's been mostly dealt with by her second husband....anyway, all of that to say that I am UTTERLY RUTHLESS when it comes to getting rid of things, but I do try to hang on to my kids' artwork, special clothes, etc. What was more traumatizing for me as a kid was having a cluttered house. I am 99% sure my kids will grow up and need therapy to deal with me constantly throwing away their toys...

  3. My folks were (and are) savers, and I've come out of it with completely the opposite impulse. If I haven't used it lately, if I don't really love it, if I've forgotten what it's a memento of, it goes. I'm just really nagged by the thought that this (thing, whatever it is) will take a certain amount of my life to take care of, organize, remember, move so I can find something else, put away when it gets torn down off the shelf by kids, etc. etc. and when it's gone, I get that sliver of my life back. Perhaps this is neurosis, but an empty drawer is a thing of beauty to me.

    I think some of the lessons that people learned in times of scarcity don't really apply in times of relative abundance.