What to Do About Other People’s Stuff

I receive a question by email so often that I made a fill-in-the-blank form for it:

I wish there was one common answer that would fit every scenario and relationship, but so much of it has to do with your family’s background, communication style, and level of drama. Some of it you can control, and some you simply can’t.

One time Megan from Faith Like Mustard commented,

“Unless your family is on the same page, it can feel like you are getting nowhere on the quest to downsize. However, I admit that I could spend all my time just downsizing my own stuff!”

That is the best strategy–to focus your efforts on what you can control instead of trying to control other people.

Because people are precious; they will always be more important than the details or the circumstances.

The simple truth of the matter is that living in relationship with people means accepting how they come with their own stuff, even if it’s not how you would like it.

So you can kindly and respectfully draw your own boundaries:

“Thanks for thinking of us, but we have plenty.”

“No thanks, we don’t have room.”

“I don’t really need it, maybe someone else could use it and love it.”

Or you exchange a gift for something that suits you better, or else pass it along to someone else, all while appreciating that someone cared to give you something.

Maybe you discreetly donate the stuff you don’t want.

Or you can close the closet door and nicely pretend the stuff isn’t there.

And you move on, so that you don’t spend your precious energy worrying about stuff that is simply stuff. It’s only temporary, and the goal is not to have the most streamlined, organized place ever. The way you treat other people is how you will most be remembered.

Be gracious. That’s what matters, and all the stuff is a detail.

I don’t want to give a short answer and then act like living it out is easy. What are some practical steps that you’ve taken in this situation?
About Rachel

I write about practical tips that will help you simplify at home. Connect with me on Pinterest and Twitter.

Comments

  1. We showed through being consistent in our actions with what we were saying and now generally people understand if they choose to give us a gift that does not fit within our guidelines for what comes and STAYs in our home then it will not stay long. It is hard at first and I feel frustrated they are wasting their money but hey, we’re consistent and it is their choice and their money.
    Angela´s last post…update

  2. Oh goodness, my hubby has a bad habit of procrastinating with purging “his” stuff… and after years of this, I’m only now learning how to be patient with him. But man is it hard… Thanks for the encouragement. :)

  3. People take priority over stuff. This became crystal clear to me when my daughter called from several states away to announce that they had been assigned to come back home after six years away (military). She asked if they could stay with us as their future was uncertain: a brand new first baby who would only be a month old when they arrived; the excitement of possibly getting to purchase their first home; the tenseness of a possible deployment to Iraq or Afghanistan. I said, “YES!” and my husband helped as we immediately began sorting and getting rid of everthing in our small house that was no longer serving a purpose. A brand new granddaughter was my reward! And it was helpful when my son-in-law arrived, closely followed by the moving van of everything they owned. He would stand beside me as I pondered “things” and silently and quickly load up anything I handed off to him to be disposed of!

    • HeatherS says:

      I think this is one of the sweetest things I’ve ever heard. Your daughter is a lucky girl. :)

  4. This is great! I love getting rid of things. Thankfully, my family is of the philosophy that “it’s just stuff!” One habit we are getting into is giving gifts that “go away.” For example, flowers, food, or our favorite: spending time with the person by taking them out to a nice meal. People seem to follow suit when you start giving gifts like this :)

    We also like to all go in on gifts so that the person can have something (one thing!) they really need instead of a bunch of things they don’t.

    Finally, we have a rule: one thing comes in the house, one thing goes out. We try to follow it the best we can, but with a baby on the way, I don’t know if we will be left with anything after the shower :)

    Jenna
    momofmanyhats.blogspot.com
    Jenna´s last post…Mikes ManCraft

  5. I like your last point. The answer is easy. The living it out is not. As it is with much of life.

  6. “Because people are precious; they will always be more important than the details or the circumstances.” This is one of the things I just keep trying to instill in myself. As soon as I read it I was reminded of this post’s artwork, which I keep for when I start to slip.

    http://www.sarahjanestudios.com/blog/2011/03/11/friday-thoughts/

  7. We have been dealing with the “boomerang effect” with a load of toys that I gave to my in-laws, to donate to their local church yard sale. My MIL has, apparently, forgotten that those toys were to be donated and has been giving them back to my daughter as gifts the past few times we’ve seen each other. I struggle with anger- “this is so annoying!”- and sadness- “she doesn’t even remember that I gave this to her to get rid of!”. A constant, good reminder is that- yes- people and relationships are more important than stuff. So I thank her and then deal with the “stuff” later, in some other way.

    • Wow! Is your husband willing to gently ask if she could go ahead and donate them so she realizes and this stops? I know you are trying to be polite, but it sounds like this might be causing bitterness; so it might be nicer to let her know and move on.

      • My husband would be as gentle as a sledgehammer. So I think I would have to say something, not him. I’m not sure if I will or not. I have requested “no gifts” multiple times before, very directly, firmly, but kindly. (Not as a blanket statement, but more like “Thank you for thinking of her, but with our small apartment we really can’t take in much more. Can we keep this at your house for her to enjoy?” etc etc.) It stops for a while, then resumes again. I suppose I could have the conversation again, specifically about the boomerang’ed toys.

        The whole topic makes me feel weary, because I just anticipate have this conversation over and over again, for years to come.
        Katherine´s last post…Threeeeeee!

        • I would consider the returning toys as a learning moment that you’ll have to do the donating yourself next time.

          It’s hard for grandmothers not to give any gifts to their grandchildren, so maybe you could request needed things such as shoes or new school clothes. We’ve also used “Can we keep this at your house?” to benefit everybody.

  8. I am lucky that most of my family gives money or asks what we want for birthdays and Christmas. Since we have been on a quest to declutter, I think most of my family knows how we feel about excess stuff. We also live in a 1 bedroom condo so it is really obvious that space is a constant battle. I would suggest not hiding your goals of less stuff. It will hopefully make people think twice about gifts and to not be hurt if you turn down their great deal. It is always hard though.

  9. Jessica says:

    Sometimes you can ‘forget’ to take it home :-D

    With the dinky clutter (candles, decorative soaps) it goes straight in the trash. Things that are expensive or sentimental get put in a storage bin or a vacuum bag in the deep, unusable parts of the closet. For some reason, that process makes me feel less annoyed about having to keep it. I live in a studio apartment and plan to move out of state in a few years, so I see junk as an assault on my current comfort and future mobility. I’m also a big fan of gift lists. I think some people feel selfish doing it, but I’m careful to have inexpensive things. Often a cheaper thing that I actually need is much more welcome than an expensive thing that I don’t want. I even make a list of stocking stuffers! I find it very fun to get a bunch of little things that I’ve wanted and wished for: a good chocolate bar, a tube of (the right!) makeup, an interesting spice, a new paperback. The end result is less stress for the giver and more pleasure for me. My family has started making lists too, and it’s awesome.

  10. When I was young, my entire summer wardrobe got mistaken for Goodwill donations and off it went. Before that, my favorite stuffed animals were bagged up and never seen again because my sister brought home, well- nevermind.

    Just saying that respecting people’s stuff is indeed important, or you could be creating a complex that can only be helped by watching successive episodes of Hoarders!

    I know that wasn’t completely your point, but it got me thinking. :)
    michelle´s last post…A Promise Without the Awkward Terminator Impression

    • As a child several things that I cherished were donated. These were devastating to me, and make it hard for me to get a rid of things now. I think it best for parents to model appropriate ways to handle stuff and teach children good habit about clearing out old things and what an appropriate amount of things is in the first place. I am trying to do this with my own children even if it means I have to tolerate their junk until they understand how to manage it.

      • I agree – as parents, J and I are respectful of the things our son loves, and we know what things he doesn’t play with. We are able to siphon out the unusued items and donate them, and he is able to keep the thing she loves.

        I think as he gets older he’ll be more capable of this – we have him cleaning his room already, so he knows what he has.

        I secretly watch Hoarders too…scary stuff!
        Kaylen´s last post…I Forgot The Crock Pot

  11. Well said! I usually just accept it with a gracious “Thank you!” and bring it home. If I can then decide to use it, re-gift it, exchange it, and in some cases, I hang onto it for what seems like a respectful period of time, then I re-evaluate it’s status. Sometimes it’s on display during that time and others get put in a storage area. This is the hardest for me as I like every area clean and purged, but like you said, people are more important than the things and the issue is really with me, not them.

    One thing I’m doing proactively is communicating my philosophy of trying to have only items that are both beautiful AND serve a purpose in my house in moments that are appropriate. Since they know this about me, I’ve received more gift cards as of late. A great option for me!
    Amy @ Homestead Revival´s last post…Gracing The Family Table

  12. As you said, being gracious is key! If I receive something as a gift that is not to my liking, it will be graciously given away or donated to a home/place, where it will be well used. I will not allow it to sit in my home as I am strong follower of clutter-free living.

    Each of us has an opportunity to model certain behaviors. I choose to model thoughtful gift giving. I would rather inquire as to the wants/needs of someone or give money or a donation in honour of an event, than give a gift that will not be used or passed on or clutter someone’s space. When it comes time to b-day parties for my kids, I solicit assistance of a close friend, who is also a mom of my kid’s friend to organize a gift that would be meaningful to my child. My daughter really wanted an iPod last year. A bunch of her friends gave some money towards a gift that that she was really excited about.

    Oksana from http://www.ordermatters.com/blog

  13. My mother-in-law is currently “gleaning” her house, which means mostly that every time I see her lately she gives me a bag of old papers and trinkets from my husband’s childhood that she’s had stuffed in closets for years. I set aside one plastic bin, and everything that can fit in there can be kept. Everything else keeps mysteriously disappearing on trash day. :)

    I should mention that my husband doesn’t care at all…he said I could get rid of all of it, but I think some of it is cute, so I’m saving it.
    Jessicah´s last post…such a big girl

  14. a woman from my church once gave a workshop on decluttering. one thing she said really stuck out and with me.
    “do not worship at the alter of—” time, money, relationship. she said that a lot of times we don’t want to get rid of something because we invested a lot of time making/shopping for something. or because we spent a whole lot of money on it. or because someone special gave it to us.
    love the person, thank them graciously, and love the relationship/person. not the thing. things break. things get lost. things lose their usefulness. but people and relationships are the important thing.

    one thing we have done for our kids is ask relatives to send them magazine subscriptions for birthdays and Christmas. then the kids get a birthday present every month, and they are small, so they do not take up a lot of room, they reread them over and over, and when they are ripped…. they disappear, and no one notices because they were all stuffed in a magazine box anyway, and usually by that time, they have 2-3 more.

  15. I was given a mohair sweater by my mother-in-law years ago. Great color, nice cut and very good brand. She just didn’t know that I am allergic to mohair. Wore it once in her presence – with the proper amount of antihistamine – and carefully stashed it away at once.
    I would never give it away though. I just can’t risk her seeing it on my sister or anything. Sometimes you just have to take one for the team.

    Hideous vase from a distant aunt? Well, this might just be a funny, “Happy Tuesday!” present for someone I really love.

    Eszter

  16. Yup, it’s a tough one. And despite years of decluttering, there are still things that I grumble about that dh won’t release yet (eg china set and silverplate flatware that I’ll never use because I’m not a formalware person, busted sewing machine that belonged to his mom, would cost over $100 just to get working again, but she won’t sew again and I already own two machines etc.) Frustrating, but I try to focus first on my own stuff and that of the kids (eg be the example), and just breathing through picking my battles. As the longterm clutter reduces, the truly ridiculous nature of keeping such things gets clearer as they stand out more and more from the stuff that we actually like/do use. I do have faith that they will eventually leave *someday* ;-) I found the book “Simplicity Parenting” to be very wonderful for helping reframe some of this as far as the kids’ wardrobe/toys/rooms are concerned. For my own stuff, putting myself in the shoes of someone looking at it after I’m gone is helpful. ie – would ANYONE else but me even have any clue what it was/why I was keeping it? Would they likely keep it for it’s own intrinsic value outside of the sentiment I attached to it? If not, and it’s not bringing me daily/regular JOY to own it, then out it goes. Lastly, I think sometimes people worry much too much about what other people gave them. VERY few people I’ve come across are the types that will SEARCH for said item in your house. Most would have no way of knowing if/when you got rid of it. And even if they ask “where is xyz”? A simple “hmm, I don’t know where that is right now” often suffices and they forget about it (even if “I don’t know” really means “I don’t know where the person lives who bought it from the thrift store I donated it to” ;-)

    • “really means ‘I don’t know where the person lives who bought it from the thrift store I donated it to’”

      LOVE IT!

    • You let him get away with murder – I’d never let DH keep stuff like that. Especially things we had duplicates of. I barely let him keep his little boxes full of childhood things as there are 9 of them. One box I could understand, but 9??? Seriously, he doesn’t need every Lego he ever had.
      Kaylen´s last post…Mac N’ Cheese Party

  17. My best friend makes no secret of the fact that A) she lives in a small house and B) doesn’t want “stuff.” So last summer I bought her six lily plants for her garden as an early Christmas gift. She loved them, and they are growing like crazy this year and will bloom soon. A few weeks ago, she said to me, “If you want to buy flowers for the garden again … ” and I bought her some bleeding hearts. I knew what flowers she really wanted, we shopped together, and the flowers will bring us both pleasure for a long time!

  18. I don’t really think there is a hard and fast rule for this. Every situation and family is different. Personally, we have let everyone on both sides know that we don’t care for stuff, that we donate a lot, and that we prefer experiences over stuff. I think it will take a few Christmases and birthday to sink in, but everyone is really understanding and cooperative.
    jennie´s last post…You Are What You Eat – Simplifying Your Food

  19. My husband inherited (quite literally) the entire contents of his grandmother’s huge home. We sold and donated most if it. Thankfully no one gave us any grief.

    Now, my grandmother is “cleaning out” and trying to give all of us (my mom/dad & sisters) all kinds of junk. Most of it truly is junk. She’s also begun telling stories about an item’s origin which may or may not be true. I’ve started saying, ” thanks but we just don’t have room.”

    As a way to keep from contributing to other people’s clutter, I try to give gifts which can be consumed or used up (food, wine, movie tickets, etc.)

  20. I can’t think of one thing that I own so precious to me that I could not live without. Still…I have a lot of stuff. My daughter and husband have helped with our now third annual purge and we’ll be having a garage sale in a couple of weeks. It sure feels good to get rid of stuff.

  21. I have a feeling I’ve commented here not too long ago on the topic, and my attitude about this has changed over the years on this, probably since my last comment even. Thank you for writing about it! The most important thing I want to remember is the people matter-not the stuff. But I do need to keep bounderies and feel free not to keep things I don’t want or need.

    I completely agree, in all things we want to change, to start with what we can do about ourselves to change, and do it. Every time I make a positive change, it ends up affecting the entire household over time. Initially, they hold onto old ways tighter, but when I don’t try to change them, and if they LIKE what I’m changing, they join me eventually even in some ways if not completely.

    The thing about accepting gifts from people we love has always been a delicate issue, and I’ve kept things out of guilt as well as gotten rid of things and been asked to explain why or later wished I’d kept it as my tastes changed. As a general rule, I find it easier to get rid of things given by people we don’t see regularly, unless they have passed away. You gave me an idea. I have 4 small things from a loved one who has passed away. One of the items, I don’t want but have kept these years. I recently noticed that another relative would LOVE that item. So I will pass it on to her guilt free if she really does want it!

  22. My email might have been the one that prompted this post. The problem I am having is that I inherited a closet full of my deceased grandmother’s things. None of which I remember her using or have any sentimental attachment to. I would like to get rid of the majority of the stuff but feel I must keep it since they are family keepsakes. My mother is a packrat and lives with us and she would be quite unhappy if I didn’t keep everything. I guess the answer is to keep it until I can unload it onto someone else so I can keep the peace. I might have to wait a long time for that. I am in the middle of a major clean out and all of the unwanted stuff is driving me crazy!

    • Would a storage unit help your particular situation? That way, it’s not GONE (to satisfy your mother) but it’s also not in your house.
      treen´s last post…advance planning

    • My Mom just recently went through this and although she was more understanding with giving stuff away, one thing that really helper her was going through each thing with my sister and I, telling us stories and then moving on. We also didn’t just suggest giving it away but donating things respectfully. For instance her wedding dress. She was SO tiny when she married that no daughter or granddaughter would ever fit in her gorgeous silk dress. We are sending it with a copy of her wedding photo to the archives in our area. Just an idea. Make her part of the process.
      Janet´s last post…monday musing- dreams into plans

    • A keepsake is “something small kept in memory of the person who gave it or originally owned it.” My grandmother inherited a set of dishes that she doesn’t use. They don’t have any appeal to me. Since they weren’t used, they don’t hold any special memory, so I wouldn’t consider those a keepsake.

      Since your mother lives with you and she wants them, I hope it all fits in the part of your house that you’ve allocated to her.

      • Good points, maybe I will just pack it all up and put it with her things. I am not sure that she wants them as much as she wants me to keep them. Somehow I was designated as the keeper of family “heirlooms”. My minimalist ways confuse and annoy my mom. She just doesn’t understand. Thanks for all of the good advice!

        • Take heart, Katie! My mom is the same way and is only now (after many years) starting to understand me. I think I understand her better too. She grew up very poor and had next to nothing, so for her, stuff is a type of security. She feels that I, who am much less wealthy than she, should want to keep everything too. We are at odds sometimes, especially when we lived together, but with a mild and gracious discussion of boundaries, we got through it with improved understanding and appreciation for one another’s view.

  23. My mom drives me nuts with this. Her house is loaded with junk, but when she does her “major clean-outs,” she gives her married kids things like their only framed pictures in the house, the one piece of art kept from all the years in school, etc. But oh my, there is still plenty of room for all of the junk from her parents/grandparents. It makes us feel pretty worthless that in a house full of trash, she thinks the few mementos she has of us are “clutter”.

    So, maybe be careful to be consistent? If the only stuff you want to get rid of is anything given to you by your mother-in-law, and it’s the same sort of stuff you gladly keep when it comes from someone else, I think that could legitimately hurt feelings.
    MightyMighty´s last post…Eating better for less

  24. I just recently sent out a mass e-mail to all my friends and family telling them about my need for less. If an occasion arises when gifts are called for I will only ask for things I need. I have also decided to make a list of different charitable organizations they can donate to in my name. Oxfam actually lets you make a wish list of items that your family and friends can purchase (like honey bees, mosquito nets, goats, or veterinary equipment) that will be donated to people in third world countries. I think that is a much better use of resources than stuff for me.

  25. I love the way that you are always so gentle and respectful in the way that you give advice. You never speak from a soapbox. Thank you for that.
    Buffy´s last post…The Four Oclock Hour

  26. Love this. I read it right after my husband got mad at me this morning for throwing away his stale brownie and his fireworks left over from New Year’s. I am going to have to try the “close the closet door and pretend it isn’t there” method in the future :)
    Jen´s last post…Flowers Fade Friday- The Fruit of the Spirit

  27. My future mother in law, whom I adore, has picked up a few things for me that I would never have chosen. She doesn’t have a lot of money, and her gifts are thoughtful. A set of mugs that I find unappealing? I use them regularly…because she wont be around forever and its important for me to make her happy and comfortable when she visits my home.
    Karen´s last post…Your Poor Son Must Really Have Issues

  28. Sue Walsh says:

    I have a suggestion for those who have a loved one to pass away. I make memory bears out of a man’s shirt or a woman’s dress. It is a sweet way to remember that person and serves as a keepsake that can be loved and hugged. It helps the family to choose one favorite item of clothing and then give the rest away.

    Another way that helps me to get rid of something that I am having a hard time letting go, is to take a photo of it. It doesn’t take up as much space and is a sweet reminder of the generosity of the one who gave the item to me.

    • After her father died, my mom made a pillow for her mother out of one of my grandpa’s suit coats and neckties. That way, it was something that could be decorative or be something my grandmother could hug when she was missing grandpa. Great way, as you said, to keep a keepsake of a loved one and then discard the rest.

  29. I must say, for a long time I pointed the finger at others when feeling overwhelmed by the stuff here. I have come to find out just from ridding my own though, that it makes a huge difference just focusing on me.

    I always have been good at decluttering, but it turns out I am a bit more of a shopper that I ever thought.

    Now I strictly get rid of something when something new comes in. It sure has curtailed the habit of shopping. I am finding so many things are not necessities after all.

    I started with my abundance of glasses and coffee mugs and clearing that out made such a difference. I have space to put things away without stacking. My husband likes the space and is loosening the grip on some of his extra stuff too now.
    Megan@declutterdaily´s last post…Day 123 – Exercise Equipment

  30. I like how you focus on “people are precious” – I so agree. My policy is that once someone gives something to us, it is ours to do what we want with. Unless it is a family heirloom! Otherwise, I donate it or pass it on without guilt. If the giver asks where such and such is, I say “I don’t know” because I truly don’t know exactly where it is anymore. But really, I’ve only had that question once or twice. Most of the time, people who give a lot of gifts forget what all they have given! Sometimes I will even make a point to show a grandma how my children are using/wearing one of their gifts and the grandma doesn’t even remember that she gave it! So I have an untroubled conscience on this point.
    Margo´s last post…Smoke- A Theme

  31. I, too, take no guilt on about passing on stuff that someone has given to, or dumped on, me. I try hard not to get dumped on, although I also try to be a gracious recipient, and to not take on emotional-baggage around the stuff, as well. The recent issues of bad weather was a good reminder – if a tornado ripped through the house, would I replace it? And would the giver put more importance on my survival – or the stuff? For me, helps keep it all in perspective. (BTW, while not as bad as other areas, North Texas area had recent storm-scares, and the only ‘things’ that went with me into the closet under the stairs was my cell phone, laptop and purse – in that order).

  32. When my mom passed away, my brother decided that I should be the keeper of her belongings, including what was important to him. This created huge conflict, since I was in an apartment with my family of five and he was living alone in 2000 square feet (he despises clutter, too, go figure). I ended up donating or selling about 3/4 of it, keeping only the true heirlooms and useful quality pieces. He asks occasionally about xy or z , and I usually answer “it’s being well used”, I just leave off the part about it not being used by me.

    My in-laws have slowly gotten on board with our toy restrictions – no junk from China, no small pieces, no noises that can’t be turned off. Fortunately, that pretty much leaves books and board games! Of course our kids have toys, but we are very selective, and the constant influx of wally-world discount stuff was overwhelming to the kids and making a disaster area of our house.
    rachael´s last post…Salt and Light- Garrison Keillor

  33. My husband is a sentimental pack-rat. So is my son. The difference is my son is 21 going on 22, works, studies and is hardly home and plans to get his own place once he graduates college. So he’ll take his stuff with him. Whereas my husband is with me for life. He keeps everything. He still has his HS football jersey and your the t-shirt post you did helped me understand his t-shirt collection.

    My daughter is like me, she purges all the time.

    My rule is, and has been for years…if you can contain your stuff in the space you have allot then you deal with it the way you want. But if your stuff starts taking up the space of others or you cannot keep things in order, or it makes the house look messy, it’s time to purge. :)
    Anita´s last post…100 a Week Grocery Challenge Roasting Hot Dogs and Making Smores

  34. Great post, Rachel! I completely agree with you. It’s hard to change someone else, so I’d rather focus on changing the way I feel about it :D
    Maaike Quinn @ Life with FlyLady´s last post…Most Popular Posts of May 2011

  35. “Because people are precious; they will always be more important than the details or the circumstances.

    The simple truth of the matter is that living in relationship with people means accepting how they come with their own stuff, even if it’s not how you would like it.”

    THIS IS MAGNIFICENT!! Really it pertains to every relationship and not just their physical clutter stuff, but all their thoughts, opinions, and emotional baggage.

  36. Frances says:

    My grandmother likes to get us things, despite us warning her that we live in a tiny apartment. We’ve started donating them to our church’s yard sale. We really do appreciate her gifts now because it helps raise money for church activities! As for our own stuff, we both want to reduce our things but we do so separately. I could never decide for my husband what’s unimportant. On the other hand, my grandparents had a huge struggle with this. They both hoarded and would point the blame on each other, although now it’s just my gran. We sometimes convince her to get rid of things. We always add to what is being pitched and she never notices because she forgets about the things after the joy of buying them has passed. It’s hard to watch her live like this but it makes her happy so we only step in when she wants our help (making room for more).

  37. I was taught by a friend that, in order to really clean up clutter (a habit I struggle with), I had to free myself from keeping things just because I received them as gifts. It can become a real trap.

    If I have a family heirloom or other such precious gift, I would certainly check with family before giving/selling/donating.
    Rhonda´s last post…New Kids- Site Maintenance- and Other Stuff

    • Good idea, even when the heirlooms aren’t precious. We had an old couch that belonged to my great grandmother. I called my granny and told her we wanted to give it away, but did someone else in the family want to have it? Someone wanted it after all, but at least it didn’t stay in our house.

    • I agree with you on checking with other family members — when my great-grandparents moved to the nursing home, my mom really wanted a particular rocking chair that was really special to all of us, but she was too shy to ask for it. It got sent away to someone outside the family, and there was nothing we could do about it.
      Charity´s last post…If You’re Into Old Movies- Fashion History- or Costuming…

  38. Oh boy this post couldn’t have come at a better time…we just had 1/2 the house packed up and put into storage so we can put our house on the market…We unearthed numerous pieces of family furniture that ALL need to be repaired/restored/re-upholstered. Really, I love stuff but do I need 4 victorian balloon back chairs with their original horsehair upholstrey???

    And, there is mooore where that came from. No idea how to deal with this as my mom will be passing more and more things on to us, especially since we’re moving to a house twice the size we are in now so “house too small” no longer will be an issue!

    Ack any suggestions, most appreciated!

  39. Stuff? You want to talk about other people’s stuff? My cousins gave me 20 years of letters between my grandparents, along with a lot of other historical documents regarding them, from the 1920s until my grandfather’s death in 1948. There is a lot of history there, so I’m putting it up on a blog, but I’m wondering if I’m wasting my time. How do I tell if anyone else is interested? It seems a sin to throw all the letters away.

    • Depending on where they lived/grew up/what their cultural heritage/ethnicity was, I wonder if a local museum/historical society or similar organization might be interested in them?

  40. I find people don’t ask me about their stuff after they give it to me, so I will take anything someone is trying to get rid of. Sometimes I will ask if they mind if I pass it on if it doesn’t work for me and they always say yes. It almost never comes into my house. I take it right to Goodwill. I feel like I am doing a public service; helping Goodwill and helping someone clean out their junk.

  41. The first Christmas my husband and I were married, our little car was actually put off balance by all the “stuff” our family sent us home with. Like you said, we “closed the closet door and nicely pretended the stuff wasn’t there.”

  42. My mother passed away 5 months ago and we were only given 10 days to clean out her apartment. We boxed and bagged the whole apartment in 8 days and moved all of her stuff to our house. My living room is still wall to wall furniture and boxes. I still have boxes in my kitchen with some of her kitchen items. I just can’t seem to make myself to start going thru her things. I know that I could go thru a box a week or a bag a week, but I still feel overwhelmed with the events of the passing of mother. I know this is something I need to do soon, but where do I find the motivation to sift thru 67 years of her life.
    Stephanie´s last post…The Stone

    • That sounds extremely hard! My mother died 7 years ago (I can’t believe it has been that long!) and my dad blitzed through her stuff in such a short period of time. That was the way he needed to do it, but all of a sudden it just seemed like all of her stuff was gone!

      The wisdom we heard so much after my mom’s death was to take things one day at a time, and recognize that the first year is so so difficult. Be patient and gentle with yourself about her things. If there is a charity event coming up that you feel good about, let that prompt you to sort through one or two boxes. My mom had beautiful long wool coats that were not my style, but reminded me of her. I knew I wanted to pass them on, but wanted to be selective as to where they went. One day a friend of mine asked if I had any clothes that might suit for women who were trying to return to the workforce, either after homelessness or living at the Salvation Army. I was so pleased at the idea of helping with this that it was a joyful thing to pass on her coats. I pictured women gaining confidence from getting to wear this nice item of clothing (because, let’s face it, that’s important!) and was happy to pass them on. It took the sting out of getting rid of things that had so many memories attached to them.

      Finally (sorry for the novel), enlist the help of a friend. Make some iced coffee and cinnamon rolls and set aside two hours on a Saturday to go through some boxes. When you are maxed out and can’t sort anymore, stop there. You can resume later. Your friend might be able to help you with the emotions of the things and with decisions about them that you have a hard time making.

      I’m so sorry that your mother isn’t here anymore. The loss of a mother is a deep deep sadness. If you haven’t read it, “Motherless Daughters” by Hope Edelman is a good, if difficult, read.
      Katherine@YeOldCollegeTry´s last post…Early to Bed- Early to Rise

  43. I have found that de-cluttering my house makes me feel calmer and more serene almost immediately. I donate TONS of things to Goodwill, and feel great about doing it. I can even get rid of things that most people would just think to throw away- older bath products I no longer use, body sprays, even un-used makeup that I’ll never wear- by using the yahoo group Freecycle. There are many people out there who will be happy to take things like that off of my hands. I had a woman who was thrilled to take about 15 bottles of partially-used nailpolish for her teenage daughter. Check to see if there is a Freecycle group in your neighborhood!

    • Freecycle rocks! We love giving stuff away there and I’m surprised by what people will post – and what they’ll take as well. But hey – keeps it out of the landfill. Unopened toiletries and similar supplies are often very wanted/needed by women’s shelters/homeless shelters etc. to give to the people who need to stay there upon their arrival. Especially women going to a shelter due to abuse are often arriving with children and nothing more than the clothes on everyone’s back and what’s in mom’s purse. There is also a surprising amount of stuff that local humane societies/animal shelters need as well (old fishtanks, blankets, heating pads etc etc), so that’s another good place to check.

  44. I often struggle with this issue. There’s a chapter (and in particular, a specific paragraph) in the book Clearing Your Clutter With Feng Shui that we refer to often for reinforcement. It’s so easy to lose perspective and attach too much guilt to stuff we don’t love.
    Stephanie´s last post…Eat This Only On Days Ending In Y

  45. I’m a horrible person. Since I’m married to a Marine, I wait until the next move and we “lose” it.

    I know. Horrible.

    • There was a fabulous story in some life simplification book I read years ago. A military wife whose dh was deployed and she became the sole adult responsible for packing up/moving the entire household. She took the opportunity to get rid of a lot of clutter in the move. After they settled into the new place, they had a dinner with some friends over. The dh was bragging to the friends about what an amazing job the wife did moving all the stuff. She then said something along the lines of “yeah, that’s because I got rid of about a third of it!”. The dh was initially really shocked and upset, so she challenged him that if he could remember anything that was now missing, she’d buy it back for him. He couldn’t. :-)

      One issue with doing this regularly, of course, is that the partner never learns to NOT buy the junk in the first place/let go of stuff that is broken/unused themselves, so the cycle keeps repeating. Not that I would blame the wife in the example I gave at ALL because she was put in the position to have to move the household by herself. Aside from the time/energy factor, moving BS stuff costs $$$ !!!! But that aside, one technique that can help is to pack up boxes of stuff and then tape it shut, writing a date on the outside of the box with a vague description of what’s inside – eg “dh old clothes”. After at least 6 mos-1 year and no one has even thought to need to look in that box for something – out it goes, donated, without opening it again. That way, it’s something more tangible to help everyone see *exactly* what is excess and just how long it sits just taking up space etc. Already having it preboxed also makes it that much easier to donate away. Sometimes tough to avoid the temptation to open it up just to check, but if it was packed according to some kind of theme (eg extra picture frames, extra clothes, broken toys etc etc), it can give at least a bit more reassurance that there really is nothing good in there that one may be missing.

  46. I, too, am the designated keeper of the family things. Since my Mom had a stroke 8 years ago, my Dad has tried to get rid of their clutter (to make it easier for him to keep up with what needs to be done) by passing it on to me! Lots of things he’s okay with me taking straight to Goodwill, but he wants me to keep too much of it. Fortunately my brother has lots of storage space with his business and has offered to store it for me. Now I just have to get it to him. After going through all this, it’s made me more aware of what my children might have to deal with. Now I continually declutter.

  47. The summer after my son was born my husband and I had to move out of my family’s home to a smaller place. The family home was going to be sold, and still had a fair amount (about ten car fulls) of random things my mother had left when she moved to Florida the previous year. I was seriously downsizing our things while getting rid of hers (mostly through donation to the local thrift store), and taking care of our new baby. My husband’s father was not well, so he was away from home a lot. In the midst of this my mother sent a multi- sided crystal picture frame as a gift. It was extremely unsuitable to have in a house with a growing baby and the last thing I needed was more stuff. I thanked her politely and returned it. I don’t think she really understands the reasoning to this day, but we haven’t received any more crystal picture frames.

  48. Danielle says:

    what a fresh perspective!
    My response sometimes when people offer me things I have no need for is to say:
    Wow! Thank you so much for thinking of me! Actually that might not meet my needs for x reason, but I’m really honored that you were thinking of me. You are so generous! Is there anything I can keep an eye out for that meets a need you have?

  49. Rachel,

    I completely empathize with this dilemma. I have a gift shelf where I’ve stashed some of these items until I figure out where they can find new homes. Sometimes a friend will mention they are in the market for xyz and I can just pass them on and save someone else a little money. My rule is that if the shelf gets too full then the stuff will be making its way to goodwill. Some of these items include picture frames (I have too many already on display), decorative objects, souvenirs, etc

    For the most part, I’ve been lucky in friends and family that prefer getting together for dinner instead of exchanging gifts on birthdays. There are some whom I still exchange gifts with though usually it is books or music through our Amazon wish-lists.

    We got married two years ago and we specifically mentioned on our wedding website
    “We can ask for no greater gift than your presence and participation in our celebration. We are fortunate enough to already have what we need to start our life together; so we have forgone the traditional registry.” This resulted in 90% of our guests either gifting us with cash or with gift cards, yes some still gave us physical gifts but just a little thought for any brides-to-be.
    Rakhee´s last post…Book Bite The Paradox of Choice- Maximizing vs Satisficing

  50. I just love what you said here

    It’s only temporary, and the goal is not to have the most streamlined, organized place ever. The way you treat other people is how you will most be remembered.

    It has made me think so much about people first and not things (or lack of things). Yes, my space is very important to me but people should be more important.

  51. I too have to approach this kind of thing one situation at a time. It helps me to step back and examine someone’s motivation. Then I’m able to better concoct a gracious approach to unwanted gifts.
    Emily´s last post…A Summer Adventure- Part II

  52. I have been facing this issue this last weekend as for our baby shower, NO ONE decided to be practical and shop off our registry! We have over TWENTY blankets. And not the swaddler kind I actually need, lol! Not to mention our onesie count is around 60 (and that’s just onesies)! So now we’ve got to figure out what to do with all these pink (which is NOT my favorite color) blankets and excessive amounts of pink clothes while scrounging up enough money to cover the essentials like a changing pad or a breast pump. I’m left figuring out who’s feelings I might hurt if I giveaway certain items (no one did gift receipts) just for the sake of no room to keep things. Its a tricky business…

    • What I would do in your situation is try taking them back to the store without gift receipts. Do you have a Target nearby? I would just take a big stack of onesies and explain the situation to the cashier. They can always ring up an item and tell you if it came from their store. Then you exchange them for store credit which you can use for diapers or something else. Most stores will be able to tell you if it was purchased there. I promise no one will ever ask you about the onesies they gave you.

      • I totally agree. I don’t know why it is so difficult for people to shop off registries, especially with babies. There must be something about those cute baby clothes that they just can’t resist.

        When my oldest son was born, we received several handmade baby blue blankets that were not only not our style, but didn’t even match our nursery!

        So I can empathize. But definitely take back what you can – we were eventually able to purchase our travel system and a few other things we needed that way.
        Amy´s last post…My new philosophy on parenting

      • Same thing happened to me so I completely understand. The things you cannot return, re-gift them or donate them to a pregnancy help center. The centers are happy to take any kind of baby item, even when you’re done with it.

  53. My Mom has made lots of hand knit sweaters for me over the years. A few years ago I donated a whole bunch of them. It pained me to do so, but they were out of style and no longer fit. I took photos of all of them so I can remember them when I get sentimental. With people that are “cleaning out” grandparents and parents homes, maybe making a little photo book with pictures and stories about the items would be a good idea? Then you could sell or donate them but still have the memory, which is what counts?

  54. I have a hard time accepting things from people, because I don’t want anything else in our little house. I am about to have my fourth child, and you would think people would realize I don’t need anything this time around. But the fact is, people love me and my family, and it makes them happy to give us something they think we or the baby could use. I was on my way to a baby shower (supposed to be a surprise) and my dad was visiting and said to me, “Lindsay, remember how happy it makes people to give. It is more blessed to give than receive. Don’t take away their joy.” That has stuck with me every day since. I love how you said it, too: “The way you treat other people is how you will most be remembered. Be gracious. That’s what matters, and all the stuff is a detail.” Amen!

  55. My brothers & I instituted a new rule this year for birthdays and other occasions. You don’t bring a present to the occasion.

    If you show up for the occasion, you have to take one thing away with you.

    So far it’s been pretty fun. For my birthday they each took away a rock from my rock garden….not exactly what I’d had in mind, but it made me laugh.

  56. I just found your blog–and I have been reading thru your posts and comments! LOVE IT! It describes much of what we struggle with at our home!! So relateable to me~I will subscribe and visit from now on!

    Thanks for a great read!!!
    Radiomomrhetoric´s last post…“What I Ate Wednesday” Radiomama Mia Pasta!

  57. One thing I’ve gotten excited about lately is giving (and requesting) family experience gifts; like annual passes to the zoo or amusement park or kids museum. Doesn’t take up any room in the house except for the new hard drive I’ll have to get to store all the awesome pictures I would take! ;-)

  58. UUUUGGG! my mom is ALWAYS coming over with bags of dollar store junk for my 3 girls. Dont get me wrong i like a good find at the dollar store lol! no matter how many times i tell her we dont need or want it. she just does not get it. So i guess she will bring it in and i will put it out (trash). i just end up picking it up off the floor where my kids drop it. my mom is the same way with xmas. millions of little junky toys. we love my mom but wish she would maybe buy them each one good gift instead of 20 cheap gifts thta they will throw everywhere. {sigh} thanks for letting me vent ;-)