Friday, February 25, 2011


Miss Minimalist herself, Francine Jay, has blessed my effort to keep track of the sometimes daunting journey from overstuffed to streamlined. I also had a visit from some out of town friends, which always throws a schedule for a loop, even if you really love the guest. AND my very good friend is going to have her baby any time now! With the added excitement I nearly forgot it was time for another entry. Luckily I recovered my senses and was able to meet my deadline.


Look around the room. Believe it or not you are surrounded by stowaways. Some are small, maybe even cute, and innocuous. Others, however, are giant space hogging monsters. I'm speaking of the most perplexing category of clutter, "other people's stuff." This category includes those not so thoughtful gifts, lent items,and the worst of the freeloaders the "hey would you hold on to" items. Look around the room again. Do you see them? All the little things you have been given, lent, or begged to keep? Lurking in the corner or hiding in a closet these space wasters wait. Creepy isn't it?

I first noticed my stash of stowaways last year. My family had come to visit and my mother generously gave me a beautiful Hall China pitcher. I was thrilled! My parents, like most parents, worry that Mr. A and I won't have enough (stuff) to get by on. They are always popping in and dropping large thoughtfully packed boxes on my stoop. While I appreciate that they worry and I understand the need to provide sometimes enough is just enough. So rather than hang on to lots of stragglers and stowaways I began taking unwanted items to my school and using them with my students or giving them as prizes (such as candy or books). Soon the extras were spent and my parents has a great cause to support. Now instead of giving me lots of stuff for the house, my parents generously donate to my students and everybody wins.

Sometimes, though "other people's stuff" is not so obvious. Has your sister accidentally left behind items on an over night visit? Did your brother ask you to watch after his bike for a couple of days...two years ago? Or maybe your best friend lent you that 12 book fantasy series you just had to read. I was able to remove almost half of my largest book case by giving back books that had been lent to me. If I really feel the need to read them later I can check them out of my local public library or if I get really desperate I can pick on up from the local used bookstore.

If you have been eying items in your home with suspicion while reading this post, I suggest you start by identifying items as "mine," "gifts,""lent," and "yours." Anything that ends up in the "yours" pile gets a one way trip back home. Of course you should tell the person when and why you are returning the item if you have been keeping it as a favor.

Lent items are much easier to return as they were assumed to be temporary anyhow. Anything you were lent and have finished using, or don't really need in the first place, just return with a polite, "thank you." (A note would be even better.) With these two piles out of the way you can move on to the hard stuff.

Gifts are never easy to remove. Even if you will never use Aunt Millie's childhood croquet set, you still feel like a villain for wanting it gone. Again a good place to start is with a note. If you have a niece who is in love with Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, she may be the perfect repository for this gift.

I found labeling and returning items to be very liberating. I was so pleased I removed the empty bookshelf and finally got a shelving unit (from Ikea) to store my vinyl records. I had been waiting for space to mysteriously appear when I could have just returned "other people's stuff" and been on my way.


  1. Hi - I just discovered your blog and totally can relate. Btw, kudos on an original topic - I've been reading a LOT of minimalist blogs lately (my RSS feed just seems to grow by the hour...) and I have yet to see this covered.

    On topic: My grandmother passed away a few years ago, so our not-so-large family divided up her worldly possessions. Somehow there was a lot of furniture and stuff that nobody really had the space or even use for, but we didn't want to leave the family for sentimental or aesthetic reasons. So my apartment ended up with a PIANO (we have a TINY living room), two huge chairs my grandmother cross-stitched the covers of - plus some smaller items with sentimental value. At the time my daughter did play the piano (she's lost interest now), but now this thing just takes up a lot of space in our living room. It is a beautiful piano, but still - and it's not even decidedly ours (the discussion at the time was sort of like "so - who wants to keep this and make use of it for now"). I hate to sound ungrateful - but I'd still rather not store it in my living room.

    Another thing is a small table in my hallway that somehow got to be the designated "items to return to friends&family" area. Books, clothes, borrowed stuff - you name it - there always seem to be a few items here. And I *hate* that thing - am always SO happy when I manage to empty it (similar feeling to seeing the bottom of the laundry basket - and about as rare).

    Anyway - look forward to reading more from you :)

  2. Maria,
    The "other people's stuff" question can be a hard one to tackle. Certainly you loved your grandmother and I'm sure many of her things were dear to you while she was alive. Somehow once someone passes humans have a compulsion to keep hold of items left behind, lest that person slip away or be forgotten. Memories don't live in the piano or the jewelery box, they live in your heart. If it is time for a new home tell your family it's time, if someone else doesn't feel the same they can take the piano until they have "outgrown" it too.

    Happy De-cluttering,

  3. yay! what a fabulous blog. (found you through miss missimalist's mention of this blog). it's so well written I had to subscribe immediately.

    I too have stowaways at home. but I'm the one who usually does the borrowing. "ooh..great book, could I borrow it?" I now "own" a copy of the DVD Charlies Angels from when I lived in California. I borrowed it in 2000. AND I have yet to watch the movie. I cart it around though.

    Can't wait to read more of your posts!