jump to navigation

Why Do We Keep Stuff? September 13, 2012

Posted by nrhatch in Art & Photography, Mindfulness, People.

Donald-DuckaWe went to a Think and Drink at the South Florida Museum last night ~ “Why Do We Keep Stuff?”

We left before the conversation really got off the ground (because we had to go home and check on our stuff), but the moderator tossed out lots of good questions for consideration:

* What does our STUFF say about us?
* Why do Museums curate collections?
* Is a Library a Museum?
* What can we learn about others from dishes and pottery shards?
* How long should we hang onto relics from the past?  Forever?

3D-ApeMost animals in the wild don’t hang on to stuff.  Even if they had opposable thumbs to help them “hang on,” they don’t seem to have the need or desire to cart a bunch of stuff around from point A to point B.

They just are as they are.  And that’s enough.  For them.

What about us?  Why are we different?

What makes us hang on so tightly to objects that have outlived their usefulness?  Why to we have Junk Drawers (and Garages) overflowing with stuff, stuff, and more stuff?  With caps missing bottles?  And bottles missing caps?

Why do we collect things?

What types of things do we collect?  Antiques, Teddy Bears, Diaries, Pottery, Art, Zebras, Paintings, Santas, Cameras, Political Buttons, Cars, Shoes, Clothes, Old Letters,  Jewelry, Books, Movies, Music, Baskets, Bowls, Fiesta Ware . . . outdated electronic Gizmos.

Frog-CircusWhen did we start collecting?  What makes us expand our collections?   Is it the thrill of the hunt for one more trophy?  Or something else?

Perhaps it’s the desire to connect the dots from Past to Present to Future?

What say YOU?

Or, better yet, what do your DISHES say about YOU?

Related posts:  Life and the Concept of Clutter (All That Matters) * Junk (WP Daily Prompt)


1. suzicate - September 13, 2012

Much food for thought here…I’m afraid to think what my dishes say about me; depends on which set, lol!

nrhatch - September 13, 2012

My set of china (which has only been used about 3 times since we got married) says that we like to entertain INFORMALLY. 😆

suzicate - September 13, 2012

Haha, so does mine…and the everyday dishes (one set given to me and one set bought) says I like to conserve water….ok, I just don’t run the dishwasher until it is absolutely full which takes both sets 🙂

nrhatch - September 13, 2012

We also have a “set of plastic plates” with compartments . . . light-weight (for balancing on our laps in front of the TV) and designed to keep runny foods (baked beans and cole slaw and fruit salad) separated from one another! 😀

2. katecrimmins - September 13, 2012

For me it’s not my dishes but the remains of prior hobbies which I believe I will want to do again as soon as I get more time! I carted 50 lbs. of wax to three different houses before I concluded that I will never make candles again and gave it away, very painfully!

nrhatch - September 13, 2012

Oh, yes! We don’t want to let go of hobbies and interests that brought us joy . . . even if we KNOW we must let go of those hobbies to make room for something else. It’s like saying “good bye” to “who we once were” or “who we hoped to be.”

3. speccy - September 13, 2012

I think i don’t keep stuff, but then I look around at the books and the bowls and the rugs, and I know different. Comfort, familiarity and, the very odd time, might be useful!

nrhatch - September 13, 2012

I hear ya, speccy! Since 2000, we have downsized our home from 4000 sq. ft. to 1800 sq. ft. to about 1000 sq. ft. In the process, we have jettisoned TONS of stuff.

And, yet, when I look around . . . we still have way more stuff than we need, use, or LOVE.

4. spilledinkguy - September 13, 2012

I’m such a contradiction here. I HATE clutter. If my apartment has a lot of ‘stuff’ just sitting around, it literally starts to make my head hurt. You know those super-minimalist homes you see in architectural magazines? That would be my dream come true. On the other hand, I often come across ‘stuff’ – things I know I could re-purpose in an art project if I just held onto it long-enough (and I’ve got that old waste-not want-not thing beaten into my head, too). Limited closet space is probably what keeps it at bay – because if I can’t store it out of sight, I’ll probably not keep it. Usually. 🙂

spilledinkguy - September 13, 2012

Hahaha… ‘OI’

nrhatch - September 13, 2012

I believe it’s spelled Oy . . . as in Oy Vey! 😉 In any event, it’s fixed!

I’m with you . . . I would love to have a truly Zen Space . . . with nothing extraneous hanging about. It is harder for me to “let go” of certain things once I have them than it is for me not to bring them home in the first place. If I could go back and tell my younger self just one thing, it would be: DON’T BUY SO MUCH STUFF!

5. Judson - September 13, 2012

Why do we humans hang onto stuff when our animal friends do not? Well, that’s probably a philosophical, if not downright spiritual (avoiding the term religious here) question that has to do with how we were “created” provided of course, that one believes in creation. For me personally, nostalgia is a very potent force in my life. I have studied my ancestry extensively and I am particularly interested in what happened before I got here … and I’m also concerned about what others will want to know about me after I’m gone. While I’m not big into “collecting” per se, I do tend to hang onto stuff that has personal meaning … things that other people would classify as junk.

nrhatch - September 13, 2012

Good thoughts, Judson.

Whether we believe in evolution or creation, we are different from other animals in the way we view and interact with the world ~ we want to shape our environment . . . rather than being shaped by it. Our Egos want to control and dominate. We aren’t content with mere survival.

And our Ego likes to feel IT won’t be forgotten when we take our last breath.

6. nuvofelt - September 13, 2012

My ‘stuff’ definitely connects me to the past. Mostly family past in some shape or form. Everything has a story, and I can relate it to our children – if they want to hear…… I’m glad I’m not an animal, I like my links to the past. 😆

nrhatch - September 13, 2012

Is it your “stuff” that maintains the connection to the past . . . or your thoughts (about your stuff) that maintain the connection?

I expect our “stuff” merely acts as a catalyst to our memories. We see the object (or photograph of the object), and it sparks the neural connections and pathways in the brain.

Our stuff acts as a portal to the past.

nuvofelt - September 13, 2012

Indeed yes. And that’s why it’s so important. Without a spark there is no memory – or at least, the memory is lessened.

nrhatch - September 13, 2012

Maybe if we had less “stuff” to care for, we’d have more time to remember the stuff we want to remember? And more time to share our history (and herstory) with others?

Just a thought . . . a think, a thank, a thunk. 😉

7. Tammy - September 13, 2012

I so want to be void of my stuff – not absolutely everything but most everything.

nrhatch - September 13, 2012

I’m with you, Tammy. We have far too many things for just the two of us . . . but “it’s good stuff” that I don’t want to just toss into the dumpster or drop off at Goodwill.

I’m waiting for my nieces and nephews to start setting up housekeeping so they can become the curators of some of these collections. 😉

8. colonialist - September 13, 2012

My excuse is ‘it might come in useful, sometime’. Every now and again, one item out of thousands does actually become exactly what I’m looking for. The trouble is that to find it took more time, effort and expense than buying a new widget would have done …
So, having thought that through, will I stop behaving like a cross between a demented squirrel and a magpie? No way!

nrhatch - September 13, 2012

You should work for a museum, Col . . . curious curators are paid to be hoarders and magpies. 😉

Some things are kept for just that reason . . . the thought that we might, possibly, maybe, need IT someday. Usually only in a very blue moon, of course.

9. Three Well Beings - September 13, 2012

Oh boy! Do I have a spotlight shining right on me with this post. I am a collector, daughter and granddaughter in a long family lineage of collectors. I know that the generational “pass down” here is holding onto items with sentimental connections and most of the “things” have both personal and monetary value. However, it’s a bit over the top. I think my mother’s home could be considered a museum…it borders on very organized hoarding. Since we are approaching critical mass, there will be a day of reckoning, but I’m not looking forward to it.

Also, Nancy, I wanted you to know that a friend of mine teaching a university course on human development told me she is going to share yesterday’s post on Alzheimer’s with her students. I thought you’d like to know that. Debra

nrhatch - September 13, 2012

Yup . . . that’s the hallmark of a museum in the making. Organized hoarding. 😀

Thanks for letting me know about the share of the post on Alzheimer’s, Debra. I expect that your friend, the professor, would enjoy the book which sparked the post.

10. Irene - September 13, 2012

Oh, you’ve asked the wrong person. Which set of dishes? I have about 4 sets, maybe 5, I lost count. How much is considered “stuff”? An attic FULL, TWO ATTICS FULL? Three curio cabinets? No, I don’t hoard, but I do have a-lot of stuff! Mostly collectibles. And I love them because they’re FUN! I’ll say maybe 1/8th of it has any value. Some of it is left over from my childhood (Tom Thumb Cash Register-who can you throw THAT out?) and my husbands. I haven’t gotten to the point where I can part with some of the kids toys. We have quite a collection of Lionel trains, but no place to set them up so we’ll hang on to them until a place to run them comes available. I will admit it takes creative organizing to find places for all my stuff.

nrhatch - September 13, 2012

Ah, see . . . I think I asked the RIGHT person, Irene. You obviously have ample experience curating your collections with creative organization skills!

Some of the stuff that’s hardest to part with is the stuff we enjoyed as kids. Perhaps our Inner Child, like Peter Pan, doesn’t want to grow up?

11. Arlee Bird - September 13, 2012

Why, why, why, indeed. All I know is that I have a lot of crap and I can’t make myself get rid of it.

nrhatch - September 13, 2012

I think it multiplies while we’re sleeping, Arlee. We keep toting stuff to Goodwill . . . but our closets are far from bare. 😉

12. Pocket Perspectives - September 13, 2012

We’re letting go of lots of our “stuff”…it’s remarkable to me how difficult “letting go” can be… there seems to be strong motivation/need to collect and hold onto things. We have difficulty giving it way, too; Goodwill, in this area, (where many large households must be clearing away “stuff”) is usually full and not accepting most donations…can you believe that? …and it’s good quality, useful items, too! Oh well, it’s a process…letting go.

nrhatch - September 13, 2012

When Goodwill is not accepting certain donations, we usually have good luck by calling the Habitat for Humanity Re-Store. Especially with large pieces of furniture.

I find it’s easier to “let go” if I know that I’m helping others by parting with the item in question. It’s much harder if I think “it” will end up in the landfill.

13. klrs09 - September 13, 2012

I posted about this very topic last weekend. Seems it’s on everyone’s mind — perhaps just the time of year? Maybe we’re like the squirrels — hoarding for the (supposed) hard times ahead.

nrhatch - September 13, 2012

I love hoarding food . . . especially C~H~O~C~O~L~A~T~E!

nrhatch - September 13, 2012

Loved your post. Added a link above. Thanks for mentioning it:


klrs09 - September 13, 2012

Thank you!

nrhatch - September 13, 2012

You’re welcome.

14. Don - September 13, 2012

I haven’t really kept stuff and that’s not because I’ve attained some great spiritual feat of detachment, rather for most of my working life I’ve had to be on the move. Because of this you learn quickly to travel light. I’m now deeply rooted and have a few things which are special to me, but the attitude of not holding on to stuff is still with me. I sometimes wonder if I’ve missed something along the way. Some very good questions there, Nancy.

nrhatch - September 13, 2012

We travel best when we travel light. I rarely wish I had brought MORE stuff with me . . . I often wish I had packed LESS.

Being deeply rooted without being weighed down by too many accumulated accessories? Doesn’t sound like you’ve missed a thing, Don. 😀

15. Val - September 13, 2012

My dishes tell the truth about me, that I am mismatched and clumsy. But I keep them because – what the heck – they still work. Like me! 🙂

nrhatch - September 13, 2012

Bwahaha! A few of our plates are sporting nicks, chips, and superficial cracks ~ proving that we believe the adage that “perfection is over-rated.”.

Yay for clumsy and mismatched hoarders, Val!

16. Andra Watkins - September 13, 2012

Since I have five sets of dishes, I’m sure they’re screaming that I have a problem……….

nrhatch - September 13, 2012

This reminds me of a poster I saw today featuring a disapproving cat, captioned “I read your journals . . . You are messed up.” 😉

17. Maggie - September 13, 2012

I hate clutter… I’d love to throw out/donate/give away all but the very minimum of what I need. But I admit… there are certain things I own that I am far too attached to.

nrhatch - September 13, 2012

I have a hard time letting go of antiques, handmade crafts, art, music, books. It’s easier not to “adopt” it in the first place.

18. viviankirkfield - September 13, 2012

Well, the ones in the sink say, “clean me” and the ones on the shelves say, “Don’t you dare buy anymore…we are too crowded in here already!”

nrhatch - September 13, 2012

That’s great, Vivian! I’m constantly “weeding out” kitchen cabinets, but they are far from bare. 😉

19. jeanne - September 13, 2012

I love the thrill of the hunt…and then I love displaying my little collections for awhile and then I move on to the next treasure hunt.

nrhatch - September 13, 2012

Years ago, I collected Santas and Zebras and loved “bumping into a new treasure” to add to the collection. Then, one day, I thought, “How many Santas do you need? How many do you want to pack up each January?”

At that point, I started divesting myself of the collections . . . giving Santas and Zebras to my nieces and nephews for Birthdays and Christmas. They loved getting them and I loved shedding them. 😀

20. jannatwrites - September 13, 2012

I’m glad you mentioned that you went to a talk at a museum, otherwise I would’ve thought you’d peeked in my windows and wondered, “why?” 🙂

I have too much stuff and I don’t know why. It wasn’t that bad until we had kids, now, between their stuff and ours, it’s just ridiculous. I also keep stuff I should get rid of because I don’t want to ‘waste’ it and I might need it someday. (If I can ever find what it is I need when I need it.)

nrhatch - September 13, 2012

Hey! Are you accusing me of being a Peeping Nancy? I would never peek through your windows . . . I would ring the doorbell and take a GOOD LOOK around. 😆

Having kids makes STUFF multiply even faster ~ toys, clothes, artwork, hobbies, games, movies, etc.. Plus you have less time to WEED OUT the unwanted from the necessary.

There . . . I let you off the hook until your kids are out of the nest. 😀

21. sweetdaysundertheoaks - September 14, 2012

We got rid of a bunch of stuff in early Spring and I mean a bunch! And I think we don’t have a bunch of stuff, I am not a big collector anymore but we still have stuff that I would get rid of if and when we downsize again… 🙂 No problem about it either. I am the throw away person and CH is the want to keep it person. But I ain’t giving up my last few teddies which do link to the past. My only set of dishes are Fiesta and I don’t know what that says about me. I’m a little colorful but basic? I do have a whole lotta casserole dishes that I have hauled around, gifted to us when we were married. I only use two of them, seriously. Nancy this is some topic!

nrhatch - September 14, 2012

You’ve got your teddies under control, Pix. When he worked with a custom builder, BFF knew a homeowner whose stairs were littered with teddies . . . with only a narrow pathway to traverse the treads. Because of the foot traffic kicking up dust, the teddies had to be removed, dusted, and replaced every few days. Ack!

Fiestaware is colorful . . . and simply elegant! 😀

22. Perfecting Motherhood - September 14, 2012

I’m not a hoarder and I can’t stand hoarding (I know because I was married to two of them… at different times of course). I hate the mess it comes from, the wasteful space it requires, the twisted reasons for keeping useless things.

But I do have clutter in a couple of closets and in the garage because I create “piles” of things to donate or sell as I don’t need them anymore. I get a lot of that with the baby & kid stuff. And selling it takes some effort so I don’t get to it very often. But I’m proud to say I sold a whole bunch of things this week, including 3 strollers. And I managed to make almost $250 in the process, so I can’t complain. I still have a long way to go but I’m in the mood to get rid of it one way or another.

nrhatch - September 14, 2012

Yay, you! It’s awesome to find a buyer to pay for the stuff we no longer want or need.

Other than the occasional garage sale, we tend to be impatient clutter busters . . . we usually end up going the donation route. so we can get rid of “it” sooner rather than later.

Maybe I should try to sell one thing a week on Craig’s List until all our surfaces look Zen? 😉

Perfecting Motherhood - September 14, 2012

I’m impatient too when it comes to clutter so I usually stuff a whole bunch of it in my car trunk on December 30 and donate it. But I’ve had some items that can be sold for decent money (mostly baby stuff) and I could use the cash, so it’s worth the extra time to try to sell them first. I don’t bother with the less valuable items and just donate them to a good cause.

nrhatch - September 14, 2012

Using December 30th as a deadline is a great idea. If it hasn’t found an interested buyer by then . . . out it goes.

23. Perfecting Motherhood - September 14, 2012

Oh, and if you wonder why we like to hoard, don’t look too far. Kids are specialist hoarders, always gathering stuff they don’t need and storing it for future use. I constantly go behind my kids and dump things they collect. I really don’t think it’s a cultural thing. Rather a human nature trait but I’m not sure why. Maybe to make us feel important (we “own” something)?

nrhatch - September 14, 2012

I think it is a trait of human nature exaccerbated by the materialistic culture in which we live.

Stuff = Status. The MORE status symbols we have, the more important we feel. And our Egos LOVE to feel important.

And stuff also gives us a false sense of security . . . resources to tide us over in the event of a “draught.”

Perfecting Motherhood - September 14, 2012

It always cracks me up when I see how much useless junk people fill up the garages with. So much junk they have to park their 3 or 4 cars on the street. Gosh, I hope my kids grow up not to be wasters.

nrhatch - September 14, 2012

There is something a bit off kilter about having a garage that is overflowing with stuff . . . with no room for cars.

24. sufilight - September 14, 2012

When I relocated to Oregon from New York 8 years ago, I got rid of everything except my books and a couple of paintings, and some of my clothes. Yet, as I was reading your post, my mind was going to new stuff that has accumulated that are not useful. Before the year ends I will be doing some winter cleaning..

nrhatch - September 14, 2012

We left TONS of stuff behind when we moved to FL . . . but our villa is still “too full” of stuff we don’t need, want, use, or love.

I keep a perpetual donation box in the closet for small stuff to be donated, but I need to tackle some of the “collections” ~ CD’s, books, movies, clothes. I don’t want a bunch of stuff sitting around gathering dust. Use It . . . or LOSE It. 😀

25. Team Oyeniyi - September 14, 2012

I am NOT a hoarder. Minimalist. If I don’t use it, I want it gone!

But the dishes? Well, I have a $3,000 dinner set I don’t use (the kids are still breaking things). One day I will be able to use it!!

nrhatch - September 14, 2012

We rarely use our china for the same reason . . . BFF is still breaking things. 😛


After 28 years, I have lost confidence that we’ll ever use it. But we still have the complete set. Why? Because the place settings were wedding gifts ~ It seems “wrong” not to hang on.

Arlee Bird - September 14, 2012

My best set of china I probably paid about $30 for buying it piece by piece at the grocery store. I’ve only used it a couple times and on one of those occasions my middle daughter who was about 9 or 10 at the time told our dinner guest how little each piece cost. Maybe that turned out okay since that dinner guest is now my step-daughter. Her mother must have been impressed by my sense of frugality and practicality.

Oh, and the guest’s mother and I were both single parents at the time struggling to raise our kids and get by on our own. That was over 15 years ago. Now our kids are all grown and doing well and my wife and I are happy empty-nesters.


nrhatch - September 14, 2012

That’s a great story, Arlee. Sometimes we attract other “birds” to our “nests” by the stuff we possess. 😀

26. Tokeloshe - September 14, 2012

Lots of food for thought.

We have more stuff in our camper than some people have in their houses 😉

We love stuff, especially mementos of our lives, like shells, photo albums, collections of things we love, etc.

I hate it that as soon as I get rid of something, I need it again.

nrhatch - September 14, 2012

That’s why your scrapbook pages are so interesting . . . because of all those mementos. That said, I rarely wish to “recall” anything we’ve jettisoned from our lives ~ out of sight, out of mind.

27. bluebee - September 15, 2012

For me, it’s sentimentality and guilt (if someone has bought me something I really don’t like, I feel terrible to hand it on or throw it out) no other reason, really, but I’m getting better at being ruthless.

nrhatch - September 15, 2012

Oh, yes . . . the gifts that keep on giving (and giving and giving) because we feel too much guilt to re-gift them away. 😉

Like you, I’ve gotten better at letting go of things I don’t like with the rationale that any rational gift giver would not want me to hang on to something I don’t use or enjoy just because they gave it to me.

(And if anyone did want me to cart “it” around “forever” . . . it calls into question their motivation for gift giving.) A true gift has NO STRINGS attached.

28. Booksphotographsandartwork - September 16, 2012

This is a very interesting article and a great question. I used to keep my old teeth. Meaning my baby teeth really. And all the ones that had dental work. I had silver capped teeth. Pieces and parts of teeth. retainers and spacers. Then one day on a crazy stupid cleaning jag I threw them out. Now I wish that I had not. I collect a lot of books.

nrhatch - September 16, 2012

That is, um, an interesting, unusual, and unique collection, Linda. One that people could really “sink their teeth” into! 😆

Collecting books is a bit more “mainstream.”

29. 2e0mca - September 18, 2012

I keep stuff that has sentimental value – (mainly old books from my trainspotting days), though some items have inevitably gone to make room for newer items. I have some old cameras that I hope someday I’ll take some photos with. I have a couple of older Amateur Radio rigs which I hope to restore to full working order over time.

As ever, there is a load of junk in the house which isn’t being collected – it just hasn’t been thrown out yet 😉

nrhatch - September 18, 2012

I cleaned and organized two linen closets and two medicine cabinets yesterday ~ got rid of some expired toiletries, neatly stacked the wash cloths, hand towels, and bath towels, etc.

Then, just for fun, I counted up the bath towels.

Care to take a guess at how many bath towels are folded and stacked in our two linen closets? We have 32 towels for baths, showers, beach, and pool. Seems a bit excessive since the MAXIMUM capacity of our villa is 4 adults and 2 kids. But they fit, so they stay. 😉

30. pix & kardz - September 29, 2012

Where I need to improve – Books. Including text books from college. Geography 101, and every other course since then. I actually still have the dictionary that I used in Grade 7! Need to downsize there, for sure, as my book cases are at the max. The dictionary I may have used from time to time, but it just hit me now that I have never cracked the college texts open again. they will need to go once the current reno project is done. thanks for the inspiration!
Where I have gotten better – Candles. Would always buy them and not want to use them because they looked so nice in their jars or containers. so they began to accumulate in a candle corner. how silly is that. Who was I saving them for? So now they are being used, and it adds such a cozy glow, especially when the daylight hours are getting shorter again. as you say – ah, that’s better! 🙂

nrhatch - September 29, 2012

Books was a big issue for me . . . all my college texts, law books, stuff from seminars, etc. We had a flood in the basement and as I moved books from point A to point B to replace the carpet, I realized that I was NEVER going to crack any of the textbooks open again.

I found a Book Sale at a church. They wanted ANY book. I donated 7 shopping bags of books . . . and became a tried and true “clutter buster” because it felt so GOOD to let go of stuff I no longer needed.

I go through phases with candles ~ when I get “too many” I move from “collection” to “ignition.” This is a great time of year to light them and enjoy the glow. Aah . . . that IS better! 😀

31. BulgingButtons - September 29, 2013

I’ve come to the conclusion that no matter how much space I have I will be at a certain percentage of clutter level, plus or minus a few degrees.

nrhatch - September 29, 2013

I expect that’s the case for most of us. But letting go is so liberating that I refuse to give up. 😀

BulgingButtons - September 29, 2013

Oh, I completely agree!

nrhatch - September 29, 2013

Enjoyed your post . . . definitely a constant battle of the bulge to keep our homes and heads de-cluttered.

32. Downsizing, Simplifying and Letting Go | Cheri Speak - September 29, 2013

[…] Why Do We Keep Stuff? | Spirit Lights The Way […]

nrhatch - September 29, 2013

Good thoughts.

33. Stuff By Us | Spirit Lights The Way - December 30, 2014

[…] Related posts:  A Family Heirloom (Grannymar) * Making Your Dreams Come True * What Have You Created Lately? * Why Do We Keep Stuff? […]

What Say YOU?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: