Calling all hoarders

All going well, at this time a couple of days from now we will be back aboard Carina. The past five or six days have been a marathon of sorting and packing in preparation for our Tuesday morning flight. Five days ago, the bedroom we sleep in at my father-in-law’s house looked like a cyclone had blown through, with all our belongings strewn everywhere as I began the task of choosing what to pack.

One day last week Julian and I took four bags of unwanted clothing, books and miscellaneous other stuff to a charity shop, and I have now filled two more bags to donate to charity shops tomorrow. Our two pieces of hold luggage have been packed, unpacked, repacked, at least five times each, as I assess how much they weigh and what’s left over and what still needs to be packed. With each unpacking and repacking, stuff gets jettisoned in favour of other stuff. Clothing, books and toiletries that I thought would definitely be coming with us have been discarded in favour of other things. I have decisions to make about what I want aboard and what we need aboard.

When we flew to the UK in May the girls and I had two pieces of carry-on luggage. When Julian joined us three weeks later he had one piece of hold luggage and one carry-on. We’re going back with two hold (packed right up to the 20kg weight limit) and four carry-ons. Why are we going back with so much more stuff than we brought over?

All of this has got me thinking more generally about our accumulation of stuff; about how, once we have something, we find it hard to let it go; about our commodity addiction. We find we suddenly don’t want to live without stuff we never even knew we wanted before it was given to us. We burden ourselves with material possessions, physically and emotionally weighing ourselves down. As I jettison unnecessary stuff this week I’ve been thinking about what we really do need.

Why was I even considering a dolphin-shaped eraser that Lily got free with a magazine and that she’s never even taken out of its plastic wrapper? Why was I feeling guilty about leaving behind a book Katie was given over the summer in which she is not even remotely interested? The girls and I came over with four pairs of knickers each; four pairs of socks each; four changes of clothes each. Why am I now stressing about the excess clothing we’ve all acquired over the summer? Do I really need ten pairs of knickers and eleven pairs of socks (in addition to the five or more pairs already aboard Carina)? Does anyone need that much?

The answer, of course, is that I shouldn’t be getting my knickers in a twist about any of these things. As we get closer to our return date more and more stuff is jettisoned, mostly out of necessity, to get our luggage below the airline weight allowance, but also out of my growing realisation that we don’t need all this stuff.

Why are so many of us hoarders? Even as I embrace a lifestyle of uncluttered simplicity I find it difficult to get rid of stuff once I have it. Once something is in my possession I have this gnawing angst over getting rid of it, even if it is of completely no use or value and takes up valuable space. I can understand when it’s something I’ve paid money for, but why am I so indecisive when it comes to things given to me either by someone else or acquired free with some other purchase – things I never asked for or wanted in the first place? I’m more ruthless than a lot of people, but I still find discarding unwanted stuff tough. What is it about our material possessions that makes us want to hoard them to us, keep things that have no value, that are neither utilitarian nor bring us joy? Why do we stuff our stuff into cupboards, store it on shelves, bury it under more and more stuff?

I’m not talking here about the things we have in our homes that are without utility or monetary value but that give us joy and pleasure simply to have around. We all have things that are precious to us, that give us joy to look at or touch, that remind us of who we were or are or who we want to be. I’m talking instead about all that stuff that is hidden away, that takes up space, that is worthless to us in every sense.

I have tried very hard not to accumulate anything over the past five months. Yet accumulate stuff I have. The past week has been a tiring and often emotional de-cluttering of unwanted and unnecessary excess. I still think we’re bringing too much back to the boat. Admittedly, we’ve stocked up on teabags and factor 50 sun screen (which is more expensive in southern Europe), the rapidly-growing Lily and Katie have new clothing and foul-weather gear to replace the now too small ones aboard Carina, we’ve got some Spanish-language resources to help us with our studies, and books to keep us all going for another few months.

But here’s the thing. I bet I could halve the amount of stuff we’re bringing back to Carina and we wouldn’t miss what I’d left behind. Maybe I’ll have to jettison more in the next twenty-four hours. Maybe I’ll do it because I want to. In the past week I’ve filled six grocery-bags worth of stuff we no longer need (or never needed in the first place) to take to the charity shop, and I have recycled at least three other bags worth.

So, here’s a challenge to you. Can you find one thing in your home that you no longer want or need? Can you find ten things? Twenty? More? What can you do with that unwanted stuff? It might go straight in the bin (landfill or recycling?). But I bet the chances are you can give it away (to a friend, a charity shop, Freecycle), or you can sell it and make yourself some money (eBay, Gumtree). One person’s unwanted junk can be someone else’s treasure. Does it make you feel good to make a little space, empty a shelf, clear a little clutter? Let me know how you get on!


12 thoughts on “Calling all hoarders

  1. Well Martina, having read your post I am going to start trying to rid myself of ‘stuff’. My plan is to pick one item a day that I haven’t used or worn for months/years, and that I don’t love, and recycle or bin it. I will make it a habit for the next few weeks and see how I get on. I too find it difficult to throw stuff out or give it away, it’s easier if I know that someone else will use it. I love seeing a newly cleaned or de-cluttered press or wardrobe so I should be on a high in a few weeks when the whole house has been sorted – keep you posted!

    Best of luck to you, Julian and the girls and have a safe journey home to ‘Carina’.

  2. Forgot to add that every Wednesday night after choir practice a few of us gather at a friends house for tea and chat – you know this Martina! Well, over the past few months we have been bringing clothes that we want to cast and giving or swapping between us. Anything that is not wanted by our own little group gets put in a bag for the charity shop. The only downside to this is that I sometimes bring home more than I got rid of!! xx

  3. This struck a chord with me as I’ve been increasingly wary of how much “stuff” we have. As we are going to move in the new year, probably somewhere smaller, I’ve been trying to sell or give away as much stuff as I can. It’s hard but you have to be ruthless. I find it harder to give away my girls’ toys though as I know the will pretty much play with any toy that they see and I feel like I’m taking something away from them. However I know that they won’t miss it when it’s gone and they have plenty of other toys to play with. We still have way too much stuff and I can’t see how we could ever live a minimalist life!

    • I find children’s toys difficult too, but they rarely notice when I make toys disappear! My children still have way too much stuff, but there are only a few things they play with over and over again – Lego, Play Mobile, dolls and soft toys. Lego is one thing that hasn’t been jettisoned from the luggage. We’ve acquired some more over the summer to top up our already impressive onboard Lego stock!

  4. Hi there,
    Enjoy your last few days here in the UK with your family. I hope you have a good journey to Carina and that you can settle back in your life aboard quickly.

    I was really interested in your blog about STUFF. I empathise completely with your difficulties with paring down your things in order to fit your life aboard ship (and on the plane in the meantime).

    Ive reached the stage where my children are now grown up twentysomethings. One has flown the nest but has left much of his stuff here, one still lives with me and the other is at university. Ive also had to retire early from my career and Im going through all the things that I once needed and considering whether they still fit my life today. And Im finding it tough!

    Clothes have been easy to cull as has kitchen equipment: dishes, gadgets and ornaments have all been donated to charity. Books are my downfall, however as are the materials I created as a teacher. Ive culled both but there are still piles lurking in cupboards that I know deep down I wont need again….. but I cant throw them out…not yet.

    Recently I have been better at not buying new stuff, but Im dreading the Christmas ‘stuff-fest’ where all sorts of useless things are bought and kept just because they have been given as gifts. A January cull is on the cards.

    Looking forward to hearing how the return to Carina goes.

    Best wishes,

    • Ah books! When we bought our house I had a huge wall-to-wall, floor to ceiling book case built to house all my books. Even still it was sagging under the weight of them! Selling them was tough at first. We went to car boot sales all summer in 2011 and over the months I got to love selling them, because I knew I was sending them out into the world and to new readers. I kept a few – my academic books and my very favourites that I couldn’t bear to part with. These days I don’t keep any books. As soon as I finish a book I give it away.

      As for Christmas – I know how you feel. I love Christmas but I hate the ‘stuff-fest’. Because we live far away, grandparents often send us money to buy gifts for the girls for birthdays and Christmas on their behalf. We usually buy some small presents, but use most of the money for experiences – a trip to an aquarium, a night at the ballet, going to the movies, etc.
      Thanks for your good wishes. I’m feeling surprisingly organised right now. And I’ve suggested a Chinese take away for dinner – not sure when we’ll get one again!!

  5. Gosh what a timely post! A week today we leave our apartment and begin our journey west towards our home Temptress of Down. I know we have far too much to fit in the two suitcases & a pair of sailing bags plus our carry-ons but have til now been an ostrich and ignoring the situation.
    Thanks for reminding me I must have a huge clear out before then.

    Fair Winds

    • Get your head out of the sand, woman!!! hahaha. I’m glad I started last week. If I had left it until this weekend it would have been way too stressful and I probably would have made some hasty and poor decisions about what to bring and what to leave behind. However, I have had the luxury to do this – Julian finished his job last weekend, so he’s been able to keep the kids busy and out of the way while I bury myself in packing.

  6. I think a lot of people will be able to empathise with your difficulty in getting rid of stuff. Most of us have far too much stuff, I know I do, and even though I’m more of a thrower-outer than some people I know, I’m still more of a hoarder than I want to be. There’s that feeling that you might need something and so you keep it just in case. I have, on the odd occasion, experienced the delight of having kept something that eventually comes in handy (a spare kettle springs to mind), but there’s no way I can claim that everything I keep will one day come in useful. The good thing about your situation is that you’re forced to pare down because you physically don’t have the storage room at sea, whereas when you live in a house or a flat there isn’t the same pressure to get rid of things. In 2013 I gave myself the challenge of getting rid of 365 things, one item for each day of the year. I was sure I could do it by including little things such as a pair of earrings I never wore. I’m sorry to say I only managed 111 items over the whole year, but at least all of them went either to a charity shop or to someone else. It felt good to get rid of some stuff and you’ve inspired me to have another bash at it. I hope you manage to take everything you need and not too much that you don’t.

    • I’ve been tempted by the one thing a day challenge. Could I cheat? One sock today, it’s partner tomorrow? An old jigsaw puzzle piece by piece? Haha! Good luck with your de-cluttering. My first job today, our first full day back on the boat, was to sort out the girls’ clothes. They’ve outgrown so much in the past five months. No point unpacking the new clothes until I’ve eliminated the too-small ones. And, bonus, I found a charity bin around where I can deposit them to be re-used.

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