How Permanence Produces Clutter

I've never thought of myself as the sort of person who has a problem with clutter. I've always been relatively good at culling household items that don't serve me anymore. Even when we lived in a tiny studio apartment, we would regularly go through our belongings and get rid of boxes full of stuff.

Usually we'd go on these purges after watching Clean House with Niecy Nash. Did any of you ever watch that show? It's like a mild version of Hoarders with a happy makeover ending. I was totally addicted to Clean House. Moving on.

We always swore up and down that we would never allow ourselves to get buried by crap we didn't need. Back then we were moving from small apartment to small apartment whenever our leases ended. We could divvy up all our worldly belongings between my Dodge Neon and his Ford Ranger. It was a simpler time.

We've been in our grown-up house for five whole years now. And let me tell you, five years in a three bedroom house is a whole lot of time and space in which to accumulate stuff. We aren't hoarders by any means, but ever since I started my journey towards minimalism, I've been astounded by how much stuff we have. Stuff we don't need. Stuff we don't use. Stuff we don't want.

Over the past few months we've gotten rid of hundreds of items. Maybe thousands. And I find myself asking, how did we get here? How did we collect so much clutter without ever realizing it?

It's not just that we have more space to put things. In our old abodes, we knew we were always less than a year away from moving. We couldn't afford to collect too much stuff. We didn't have the time. We didn't have the space. We didn't have the option of clutter.

But now we're settled. We have two (and a half) kids. We're not going anywhere anytime soon. This sense of permanence, as lovely and comforting as it is, has given way to the slow and steady collection of clutter. It's no longer vital that we keep only the essentials. We can stretch out and cut ourselves some material slack. There's always a corner to tuck away that item we don't want to deal with right this second. Out of sight, out of mind. That's how we got here.

So in battling back the clutter as I trudge toward my minimalist ideal, I've found it is useful to go back to the mindset of our earlier years together. What if we were moving in a month? What would we really want to keep? What would I lug across the world to put in a new home? What items really add value and meaning to my life?

Turns out, not many items make the cut. Not nearly as many as I have.