What Does Your Stuff Reveal About You?

What types of items are you most attracted and attached to? You keep buying these things, even though you already have so many. And you just can’t bring yourself to get rid of any of them.

We are defined by our stuff.

In just about every home I’ve decluttered and organized, I have discovered one or two types of items that clients accumulate, and those items are different for everyone. But it does give me a quick snapshot of what each client values most. Let me give you some examples you might relate to:

  • Are you attached to books? Then you are not alone – this is a popular one. Many of my clients have amassed 1,000 books or more. For most, books represent knowledge; book collectors love to learn and want quick access to information.
  • Are you attached to your children’s toys, baby clothes and school artwork, even though the kids have out-grown them? This is very common. Holding on to these things can indicate that you attach great value to your identity as a mom/dad.
  • Are you attached to things from your early days, like your high school varsity jacket, your prom dress or your old record collection? This could represent a longing for simpler times with fewer responsibilities and obligations.
  • Are you attached to your trophies, awards and other forms of accolades you’ve received? (I can certainly relate to this one). It often means you value approval, accomplishment and credibility.

I could go on and on, as I find this so fascinating and revealing. If you didn’t see your group of items in the examples above, let me know by commenting below, and I’ll respond with my thoughts.

Our stuff defines important moments in our lives and the reason we get emotionally attached to it is probably because of the memory connected to it. Gaining insight into why we continue to buy and keep certain things can be very helpful because awareness is often the first step towards change.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not suggesting you get rid of the things you value most. In fact, quite the opposite: honor those items instead.

Here are some ways to show your valuables the respect they deserve:

  • Keep your books out of damp basements and display them on tall bookcases, organized in a way that makes it easy for you to access them. Treat yourself to a beautiful step-stool to reach the top shelves.
  • Gather only the most treasured toys, baby clothes and kids’ artwork and lovingly create a memory box for each child to keep these all in one place. Clean the baby clothes and wrap fragile items in tissue paper. Label boxes with child’s name. Another way to express this strong value is to start a journal where you can write motherly tips and memories that you can pass down to your children.
  • Find a picture of yourself wearing your varsity jacket, or your prom dress, and put it in a nice frame. If you don’t have any photos, put it on now or lay it on your bed and take a picture of it for your album. Show your kids and share some stories from the old days.
  • Choose the awards and trophies that mean the most to you and display them on a bookcase, shelf or mantel rather than shoving them in the corner of the spare room closet.

You see, decluttering and organizing your home is not about getting rid of everything. It’s about surrounding yourself with the things that speak to you, make you feel happy, and reflect the person that you are.

However…. (You knew this part was coming, right?)

I encourage you to limit how many of these things you keep; otherwise, they will go from being a joy to being a burden. Decide what you feel is a reasonable limit, and challenge yourself to stick to it.

Don’t forget to comment below on what you are attracted and attached to.

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This post has 28 comments

  • Lynda says:

    It’s so important to consider how to honour the things we keep, which is a way of honouring ourselves. If we bury our precious things in stuff, are we refusing to honour ourselves? I think so.

  • Pam says:

    Hello Hellen! Have you advised any artists like myself that feel remorse when they sell a work? It sounds wrong but there it is.

    • Hellen says:

      Any other artists out there that can relate to Pam? I can see how that would happen. You birth them so, in a way, they are your babies.

      • Barbara says:

        Hi Pam and Hellen,

        I’m also an artist and have a hard time letting go of my artwork; either for sale or purging for space. Creating art comes from a very personal place and can be hard to let go of! What helps me is to take photos. Photograph the artwork itself, hanging in the gallery or wherever it’s available for sale and if possible with yourself and/or the buyer.

        Extra digital photos can always be deleted to not add more clutter! Knowing my “baby” has found a happy home helps. Also, perhaps do a little meditation or prayer releasing your work to the right person who will find much joy in your creation.

  • Kristen says:

    Weeding the book collection is one of the hardest tasks I know of. Because unlike toys or trophies, you can’t really take a picture of it for a scrapbook. When you toss the book, you give up access to the information in it. I was able to do this recently with a few paperback reference books that were outdated. That I could send them for recycling helped, and I kept reminding myself that if I need to research those topics again in the future, I can get more current information. But novels and hardcover books are still hard to get rid of.

    • Hellen says:

      I know what you mean Kristen. I love books too and I do get attached to my favorites. However, I don’t tend to reread novels so they are easier to let go of for me. It might help to donate them to your local library so you can always visit them when you miss them. That way, others can enjoy them perhaps as much as you did. By the way, I love the new e-readers; we don’t have to worry about storing books anymore!

  • Patti says:

    Hi Hellen….thanks for this and the offer to reply. I have spoken to you before by email and am no further ahead with our splendid chaos…aka clutter. I believe if I had more time and energy, my house would look different and be better organized. For me, I have too many piles of clean clothes in my bedroom…I think from lacking them as a child. I have lots of books, but have pared it down. I love baskets and used to collect them…but do so less now…I think my desire to contain things. My children cannot part with toys or artwork or clothing they never wear…we have to take stuff secretly and they often don’t notice. My husband has multiple tools, computer equipment, wood, old bikes, books, LEGO, old toys, etc. He always wants more and has a habit of leaving things everywhere. All of our surfaces are covered with papers and kids toys and things we have no room for. We often think we will post on kijiji and sell stuff, but our time is so short…we get home around 6 pm each day. sorry for the long email…feel free to use part of it on your list. I’m sure you are inundated…and I feel sometimes we are a lost cause…just have to take the time and do our best…and try to let stuff go! Once I did a journey with a therapist and we found my heart covered in clothes…layer upon layer, wrapped. Getting to the bottom of our traumas is not always easy since many things have been forgotten from childhood….and from yesterday! Merry Christmas Hellen…if I had any money, I’d hire an organizer, but we are in too much debt!

  • Patti says:

    Yes, I would be like to be notified…and thanks Hellen, Patti

  • Books (including my manuscripts from draft to draft) are the thing I keep most. I do donate to the library, but here they tend to put most of such donations into their booksale, so it isn’t a way to ensure access in the future. I accumulate many picture books, as I’m a children’s writer and also review books on my blog. I’ve found the best way to donate the ones I’ve read that are still in pristine condition is to give them to the local children’s Rehab hospital. Those kids really appreciate having stories read to them during their treatments, and speech therapists also use some of the books in their work with the kids.

    • Hellen says:

      What a great idea Elizabeth. I find it’s a little easier to let go of things when we know they are going to be used and enjoyed by others. It’s such a good feeling to know you are helping others, especially children, wouldn’t you say?

  • Willow says:

    When my grandmother passed away, my aunt had quilts made out of her clothing and gave them to my mom and my other aunts. I always thought this was a really nice idea, and then yesterday I saw a woman on TV who had made a quilt out of her daughter’s baby clothes after her daughter had grown up. I thought it was a wonderful way of keeping them without the clutter – they were beautiful quilts, and the comforting memories of these clothes could literally be wrapped around you. While my grandmother’s quilt is more a decorative item, the baby clothes quilt was used on the woman’s couch as just another cozy blanket. Of course, this would only work if you honestly have the time or resources to complete the task.

    • Hellen says:

      Willow, that’s a wonderful way of honoring those items and the memories attached, and recycling at the same time. You are right though, the key is to be realistic about your time so this doesn’t become a ‘should’ that gets put off year after year. For those who don’t have the time or the ability to make a quilt, hiring someone to do it is an option.

  • Fi says:

    I love blogs. I used to subscribe to over 50 blogs! I would spend hours every evening reading article after article for fear of “missing something important that would be most useful in my life”. Physically there wasn’t anything to purge but I knew I had to cut back on my reading. Over the course of a year I pared down the blogs I subscribed to to five of my all time favourites. And Hellen, your blog is one of them. I love organizing my day, my closets, my clothes, my personal effects every 6 to 12 months. It gives me a sense of peace in my life when I awake every morning and look around my place and see that it is beautiful and simple with only the essentials I need to live.

    • Hellen says:

      Fi, you make an excellent point: that streamlining our reading material to what’s most important to us can give us peace of mind and save us time. I know it can be a little unsettling at first, worrying about what information we might be missing out on, but trusting that we can access the information when we need it can make it feel easier. By the way, I’m truly honored that you have chosen my blog as one of the ones you are keeping – thank you.

  • Sophie says:

    OMG! I just read this and it is totally me! Hellen i used to love watching your show and just stumbled upon this blog! I am in the process of going through things at home but am finding it difficult to get rid of things such as those mentioned in your blog…I find it extremely hard to part with my textbooks from university,as well as my notes, children’s toys and artwork, and especially my pre-pregnancy clothes which I haven’t worn for at least 4-7 years!! My resolution is to focus on decluttering – my room is full of bags of things I have been tired and lazy to put away in their proper spots. My husband and i have started putting stuff in boxes but now we have all these full boxes in our basement hall and don’t knOw what to do with them or where to put them! This is so overwhelming and it just seems never ending !!!! Any suggestions??

    • Hellen says:

      Sophie, you are not alone in feeling overwhelmed – decluttering can be daunting for anyone. My suggestion is to break the job down so it doesn’t feel so, well, overwhelming! Try doing a box a day or scheduling bite-sized chunks of time in a way that feels right for you. It may also be helpful to get support, either through coaching or working directly with a professional organizer, to tackle any underlying obstacles and get motivated. Perhaps you could give yourself a deadline to work towards, and if you are not satisfied with your progress, you could seek help at that point. What do you think?

  • Helen says:

    Last summer I managed to go through 20 years of magazines that I had collected at our cottage, I took out only the articles that I would actually go back to and put them into binders in categories I would be able to find quickly. I recently emptied out my home office and craft room to do some renovations, as I am putting the finishing touches on bringing things back in I am trying to be more mindful of what I will use and what I am just hanging on to. But I am also trying to surround myself with my belongings that give me peace and inspiration to work harder towards my dreams, (so I think the one thing missing right now is a dream board to keep me heading in the right direction, I will try to get that done soon).
    I am also a firm believer in repurposing, so anything that is in good condition I try very hard to find those things a new home. Thanks for all your inspiration.

  • Tammy says:

    Something not mentioned was old clothes that still fit, but are past their expiry date and should be gone. Because I can’t find a replacement, I’m hanging on.

    • Hellen says:

      Tammy, you’re right, clothes is a big one for a lot of people. My experience is that it’s usually only once we let go of what does’nt work that the things that are right for us show up. If the clothes are ‘past their expiry date’ you won’t feel good in them anyway, so why keep them?

  • Marianna says:

    Hi Hellen – I have recently discovered your show “Neat” on a local station and am inspired by your great ideas. They are practical and achievable. How would you handle a spouse who is buried in paper clutter? He probably has every sheet of paper that has ever come into our house (bills, junk mail, magazines, etc.), plus many books he never has time to read. There are countless boxes (too many to count) cluttering almost every room of our house. I have offered to create a filing system for him, but he does not want me going through any of “his” stuff. Any suggestions? Thanks.

    • Hi Marianna – Unfortunately, we can’t help people who don’t want our help. All we can do is be there to set an example and offer our support. Everyone’s process is different. Perhaps an objective third party (i.e. a professional organizer in your area) could be brought in to help, if your husband is open to it. Would you be willing to ask him?

  • Jill says:

    Hi Hellen,

    Today, as I was going through some things to de-clutter, I was wondering why I might have an attachment to ‘paper’ things. Paper mountains are my biggest problem. I am a good housekeeper, and I go through my house about 3 times per year to clean out things. It is unreal the amount of paper items I have (stored away)…bible study notes, recipes, obituaries, my own writings, how-to articles, etc. It seems that I do let go of some of them each time I go through things, but I still end up with too much. The other areas that I have a hard time letting go are books, my fabric and craft supplies. Any thoughts?

    • Hi Jill, You pose an interesting question. As much as I hate to answer a question with another question, I need to in this case. What do these papers represent for you? For example, are they reminders of actions you’d like to take in the future? Or perhaps reminders of things you’ve accomplished in the past? Or something else? Your response holds a clue.

      • Madi says:

        I have the same situation as a freelance writer/editor working in a small apartment. I find when I try to get organized things just get moved from one spot to another because there is so little room and storage space. Lots of books too that I continually purge but always acquire more for my work. So I think the papers and books represent my work and knowledge. Where do I go from here?

  • Rose says:

    I took your advice a long time ago and “honoured” a music box I had from my childhood. It’s no longer hidden in a box. It now has prominence in a bookshelf (a neat one) that I see everyday. Thank you.

  • ray adamek says:

    We watch you show quite often and I want to know if you ever re-visit the homes you have done a year or so later and if people are keeping up with the organization.