Heavy Stuff

Terry Lieb Mindfulness 8 Comments

What are we going to do with all of this stuff?!?

As you may know by reading my past posts, based on our advancing age and increasing physical limitations, Rita and I are planning to move into some kind of life care community at some point in the future.

In looking at several communities and their various housing options, from cottages to hybrid condos, it became very clear most of the stuff from our four-bedroom house, oversized double garage, two large attics, and large outside shed will have to go!

Thus we began the challenging process of going through all the stuff which we have accumulated during our 49 years of marriage. Actually we both have “stuff” we have hung onto from before our marriage!

House in the woodsOne of Rita’s initial suggestions was that we take a notebook and go through each room deciding what each of us felt was absolutely necessary for us to take along when we move. Once we finished, we looked at our rather short list, surprised by how little we felt was absolutely necessary. Most of the stuff would never be needed again. Honestly much of it we don’t actually need at this point in time!

So why had we accumulated so much “unnecessary” stuff in the first place? I wondered.

I expect we’re no different than most people; and that most of us collect a wide variety of stuff for different reasons. Some of it was inherited and carried an emotional component that made it hard to part with. Some held precious memories of our kids’ childhoods. Some things we were storing for future projects that never materialized; others we held onto because they are “too good” to throw away even though they aren’t good enough to actually use.

Some of our possessions were no doubt bought for the image they projected or the meaning they conveyed. Growing up in fairly humble circumstances, building financial security was always very important to me. And “financial security” had a well-defined look: a house of a certain size on a few acres, furnishings of a certain quality, cars of a certain condition, etc.

Possessions, like money, can make us feel more secure. They may prove to ourselves or others that we are successful or have “arrived.” We may think they make us appear more desirable to be around. We may have bought yet another myth, that more stuff leads to more happiness or even that what we own is a statement on our value or worth.

I only started really wrestling with these questions in a serious way after we were forced by circumstances to downsize, but this realization can come much earlier in life. My son and his wife realized it when only in their thirties, beating his old man by several decades!

When they decided to go from a large five-bedroom house with extensive, beautifully maintained grounds to a two-bedroom apartment in town, I was sure they’d regret it.

Boy was I wrong! Far from regretting their decision, they’ve reveled in their new “digs” and the lifestyle it allows. Freed from the massive demands the upkeep their house and grounds required, they have more time to do what they enjoy. Instead of being isolated on their rural property, they are within easy reach of dozens of neighbors and have developed a vibrant social life. Overall, they just seem lighter and easier.

I didn’t really understand the psychological impact until I experienced it myself when we started to shed some of our own “excess baggage.” I titled this blog “heavy stuff” because it isn’t unlike the weight we carry on our bodies.

I remember several clients over the years I was coaching in my wellness program who told me, “The weight just came on gradually and I guess I just made the necessary accommodations or adjustments. It was only when I lost some pounds that I began to appreciate how all that excessive weight was compromising and limiting all God had called me to be.”

The weight of all that stuff we had slowly accumulated and were storing was definitely weighing us down in ways we never really understood and are hard to explain. As we began weeding out the excess, we are feeling more and more freed up to make decisions which now allow us to live out some of the new possibilities we feel our “sneaky” God is opening up for us!

As I said in my last post, it often is the very things we don’t choose that ends up taking us places we never expect. In this case, the process we assumed would be filled with grief and loss was instead fertile with new potential and opportunities for growth and transformation.

New potential and opportunities

However, despite our growing excitement about downsizing, the actual process was still pretty overwhelming since it was such a massive undertaking.

To help us tackle the project, we decided to reach out to an expert. The professional organizer we contacted was amazing. She was clearly doing what she was born to do: sorting through, categorizing, and “right-sizing” other people’s stuff!

Her first suggestion was to break the insurmountable task into manageable bits, and to approach it like you would eating an elephant (one bite at a time)!

To get me started, we tackled my overflowing workbench where I had been piling everything for too many years. She started with half a dozen empty boxes and garbage bags, each for a different outcome: recycling, charitable donation, selling on craigslist or Facebook, giving away to friends or family, etc.

She would pick up an item and begin asking a series of questions such as:

When did you use this last?

Do you see a possible use in the near future?

If by some stretch you did find you needed it after you got rid of it, could you replace it without much trouble or expense?

Typically, after answering the questions, it was clear whether the item was worth keeping, and if not, all that remained was deciding what to do with it. That has often turned out to be another source of unexpected blessings as we get to enjoy seeing our unneeded stuff take on a “second life” with a new owner.

Although we often give things away to charitable organizations like the Salvation Army, Goodwill, and Habitat for Humanity, on several occasions, for reasons I can’t fully explain—perhaps a quiet nudge from above—we have advertised a variety of items for sale.

On one occasion we advertised several household items which were “far too good to throw away” but we hadn’t used in years. A young woman showed up who explained she had just finished nursing school and “basically needed everything!”

Out of nowhere a strange possibility surfaced. Instead of taking the money we asked for the items, we asked the young woman to donate the amount to her favorite nonprofit, one she felt was making a difference in the lives of folks less fortunate.

Her first response was confusion, maybe even suspicion. “Why don’t I just give you the money and you donate it?” she asked.

“No that won’t work for us; we want you to decide where to donate it and to have that experience.” She then asked if we had any suggestions, which led to a very interesting conversation, including serendipitously discovering that she had just graduated from the nursing program that Rita had attended about 50 years earlier!

Work benchOn another occasion I advertised an old engine I had bought many years earlier planning to mount it on a buck saw…yet one more plan that never came to fruition! An older gentleman—older than myself at least—driving a pristine restored antique pickup truck showed up in our driveway.

When he saw the engine, his eyes lit up! He immediately began explaining what an unusual engine it was. After going on for several minutes, he finished by telling me I obviously hadn’t realized the actual value of this engine and should raise my price!

My first thought was to wonder what it was actually worth but as I experienced his excitement, I realized that I didn’t want to put a price tag on that kind of joy. Money is one measure of a business transaction but it shouldn’t be the only one—something I fear often gets overlooked in our profit-focused society.

I said, “I’ll make you a deal, I will sell it to you for the price I advertised if you allow me to visit your engine collection and see this engine after you have finished restoring it.” He became emotional and said “it’s a deal!” Experiencing the joy that old engine brought that old man far exceeded any money I could have received.

Once again I recognized my sneaky God had allowed me to not only sort through my heavy stuff but, even more important, to experience real joy in the process. Downsizing—the most mundane of tasks—has turned out to be an unexpectedly powerful spiritual journey and I look forward to finding out what other gifts are yet in store.




1)     Do you think there is a “psychological weight” to possessions? Is it possible to have too much stuff? Why or why not?

2)     What is your relationship to stuff? Are there any aspects you are uncomfortable with?

3)     We make decisions about what to buy, how much to spend, what to keep, etc. all the time. What are your guiding principles when making those decisions?

4)     Have you ever used things not for their functional use but to try to satisfy some emotional need like security, happiness, or acceptance? Does it work?

5)     What do you think your things tell others about what kind of person you are? Do you think people would treat you differently if you had more or less stuff? Would that affect your attitude toward yourself?

6)     How much time, energy, and money do you spend acquiring, cleaning, repairing, and maintaining your stuff? What else could you do with that time, energy, and money?

7)     Are there any organizing and/or downsizing projects you would like to tackle? If so, what’s holding you back? What can you do to help get started?


Banner Photo by Emile Perron on Unsplash.com

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Mary Ann Owens
Mary Ann Owens
October 4, 2021 2:25 pm

We moved to a continuing care community over 3 years ago and know well the process of downsizing. Unlike many others here that waited till their life demanded the move, we planned ours for several years and didn’t have to rush the process. Gradually as each season passed, we put away the summer or winter things and decided then if they were worth saving for the move. Also I could gradually pare down each closet or area of the house so it wasn’t such a monumental task. That made the last year of getting the house ready to sell and… Read more »

October 4, 2021 4:51 pm

Thanks for getting me back in the mood to get rid of 50-years of stuff. My son has also pressured me to take the time to identify family treasures (heirlooms) that need a story to go along with the item. Otherwise, future generations will lose the connection that must be passed on in time. What a loss.

Anthony Bifulco
Anthony Bifulco
October 4, 2021 6:54 pm

Another home run, you just keep on inspiring people with every article. Keep up the good work.

James Buskirk (Jim)
James Buskirk (Jim)
October 5, 2021 7:22 am

WOW! Terry thanks for the kick start. 19 years ago we when we moved from a 3 bedroom 2 story with 2 car garage and outbuilding into a much smaller condominium we really downsized. Seems we spent the last 19 years gathering more stuff and now it is time to downsize again. Thanks for sharing your experience.

Nancy Robertson
Nancy Robertson
October 5, 2021 10:29 pm

I really enjoyed the stories which brought joy to the new owners of your old stuff. What a positive perspective – looking for the surprises in an otherwise daunting task! We are in the category of having downsized seven years ago, but now needing to do it again because we had either brought too much with us or bought too much at yard /estate sales since being here. So glad you are making good progress! What an encouragement for the rest of us! And may our God deliver us all from “Too much Stuff” into the Freedom of “More Time… Read more »

Dawn Richie
Dawn Richie
October 7, 2021 7:00 am

My downsizing became serious when I moved in with my daughter’s family. I moved to another state and had no money to store furniture. I learned that I could pack my whole life of 65 years in 50 boxes. Both my marriage and my job had ended. I had the time to put value on things and the only value was my daughter’s love. The old house, furniture all weighed me down. Now three years later I have a home of my own where I will teach my little granddaughter to bake cookies. She brought a lot of love with… Read more »

Elsa B Heintzelman
Elsa B Heintzelman
October 10, 2021 7:44 am

Getting rid of “stuff” is a gift we can give our children. Having to clean out the homes of our parents made us very aware of the burden of stuff. I will not burden my children in that way, so gradual downsizing makes sense for us. Church rummage sales, and a convenient local Goodwill helps a lot. Books and family pictures are the hardest. Library sales are good, but my husband’s professional library is tough. Suggestion?

David Kuntz
David Kuntz
October 14, 2021 2:32 pm

I enjoyed this article as always. I have been wondering about this writing for the month. I like to accumulate other stuff but books are a favorite of mine. I haven’t even gotten around to reading most of them. but other stuff I accumulate is much heavier. Expectations, negative thoughts, shame, anxiety. I have been working on that stuff awhile now and I think your exercise of letting go of some more of my possessions may help me learn the process of letting go of some of the heavier stuff or at least looking at it in a different way… Read more »