Live With Less – Good for the Dog; Good for You

Honey likes to read in bed.

Books just help me sleep. I don’t take them too seriously.

If I got rid of all my history books, did that mean I wasn’t smart anymore? That the time I spent working for two Philadelphia archives was wasted? That I should never have considered grad school?

Paring down my book collection for a move just got complicated.

Who knew that my “stuff” held so much meaning? Was I doomed in my efforts to live with less? Or could my dogs teach me how to transform my relationship to my stuff?

Dogs and Stuff

When a foster dog comes to our house, I assume they won’t want to share. I remove all the dog toys from the floor. And I feed the new dog in a separate room from where I feed Honey.

Some dogs have issues with someone taking their stuff. I can’t afford fights in my living room. My upholstery is dry clean only.

As I get to know the new dog, I introduce toys gradually. Perhaps a tug toy they can pull with Honey. But when I leave the house all toys go out of reach.

I’m very conservative. But you know what? Most dogs do not have problems sharing their stuff.

As long as they know they’ll get it back sometime, or that there’s something even better across the room, they don’t get too attached.

Honey does have some favorites—toys that are particularly important to her. Her big stuffed lamb is at the top of the list. Lamby never comes out when there’s a new dog around.

Honey the golden retriever uses her voice to communicate.

I love Lamby.

Lamby is special and I don’t allow any other dogs to play with her.

Maybe I need to figure out what items in my life are special to me. And pay less attention to all the other stuff.

What Makes Stuff Special

As I look around the house, I see the baggage I’ve attached to my stuff.

  • I can’t get rid of that because it was a gift.
  • That’s an antique. It should be dealt with properly.
  • That family heirloom won’t last if you keep using it instead of wrapping it in acid free paper and putting it in a safe place.
  • Don’t toss that out. You might need it some day.
  • That book says something about who you are. It’s got to stay.

Did you notice I didn’t say, “I can’t get rid of that. It’s special. I love it.”

When I look around for things I find special, I don’t see much. Mostly I see projects I need to complete, things needing to be cleaned, and stuff looking for storage.

And if my stuff isn’t meaningful to me, why do I have it?

Honey's favorite gift is her stuffed lamb.

I’ll never let you go.

Living With Less

My life looked quite different when I was in my twenties.

I owned a three-story house with six bedrooms, two fireplaces, and a crystal chandelier in the living room. The house itself was a never-ending string of projects. Not the least of which was filling it with furniture.

Luckily, my love for a huge house was accompanied by my innate cheapness. If I had been less frugal, I would have filled the house but saddled myself with debt.

Instead, I filled the house but saddled myself with projects as I pulled items out of the dumpster or bought them at used furniture stores.

And with two crazy dogs, Agatha and Christie, who had no respect for my stuff, the list of projects got longer and longer.

My current house is half the size of my first one. And it’s still too big. And filled with too much stuff.

It’s time to learn to live more like a dog.

Honey the golden retriever plays with her stuffed lamb.

If I have to move, I can take everything important to me in one trip.

Lessons From the Dog

I can learn a lot about living with less by using Honey as my example:

  • Hold on to things that are really special to me and give me pleasure. Find my “Lamby.”
  • Rotate my “toys” to keep them feeling fresh and new. Using the library is one great way to do this.
  • Be willing to share. If someone else loves something I have, give it to them.
  • Once I give something up, really let it go. Don’t dwell on it.

Yeah, that sounds about right.

Honey the Golden Retriever naps after the holidays.

When you live with less, you sleep better.

For Those Who Don’t Want to Live With Less

An interesting discussion with my Facebook friends showed me how differently we all think about these things. Everyone has a unique relationship to her stuff. And not everyone finds it meaningful to live with less.

But William Morris has something to say to all of us: “Have nothing in your houses that you don’t know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.” Even if he wasn’t a golden retriever, in this, Morris was a wise man.

So I’ll stick with my original challenge to live with less. And I’ll encourage you to do it too. Even if living with less means only that you surround yourself with things you find meaningful and lovely.

Honey the boxing golden retriever takes on The Hammock.Useful Giveaway – Kurgo Hammock

And speaking of useful, we have only a few hours left in our Kurgo Wander Hammock giveaway. Read my review to see if it would be useful for you and use the Rafflecopter to enter.

Don’t wait. The giveaway ends at midnight tonight.

Your Turn: Do you have a complicated relationship with your stuff? Does your dog?



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  1. As I get older, I’ve adopted more and more of your philosophy. All that ‘stuff’ is hard to take care of, keep clean, move around – and we moved many times when we first came to CA. Luckily my mom was the opposite of a hoarder – she tossed everything, so some of that is innate. A guy I worked with many years ago – he was fresh out of college – used to say he wanted to be able to put everything he owned in the back of his car and move across the country at a moments notice -you never know when that big break might happen. I’ve thought of that often, ever attained it, but it’s not a bad philosophy. Certainly our dogs could do it.

    • I’ve always liked the idea of being ready to take up stakes in search of adventure on a moment’s notice. Your friend had a good philosophy.

  2. Mike Webster says:

    From the Husband:
    If asked, I’d make a strong case for keeping the Husband.

  3. Oh, it’s all true. I fantasize about being a “half load” if we ever have to move. But the papers, the books, the sewing projects I’ll never complete… Add young children to the picture and the flood of stuff coming into the house has been overwhelming. In my mid-40s I’ve finally gotten to the point where getting rid of things I don’t love or need feels great, and the kids have each willingly unloaded carloads of stuff from their rooms. And then my mom, with her fine taste, extensive travels, and five bedroom house full of her collections (valuable and worthless), died. But I must say: having an entire big house of her stuff to deal with has given me new motivation to deal with my own stuff. But yes, the dog could move out with his harness and leash, a big chew toy, and a handful of grooming tools. Okay, and a clicker.

    • I suspect many of us experience a crisis of dealing with stuff when our parents die.

      We cleaned out several apartments for my mother-in-law. She was bipolar and unable to manage the amount of stuff. But it was easy because everything could just be tossed.

      My own mother also has fine taste and a house full of collections. I dread tackling it someday. It would be easier if she just hoarded junk. I could just toss that away.

      As for your dog’s list of stuff–I suspect he’d want the clicker to remain with you. Along with a big box of treats.

  4. I inherited a complicated relationship with stuff from my parents. I think my mom is a hoarder. Her “stuff” was more important to her than her relationship with me and my sister. My dad has a ton of “stuff” that has value because it belonged to someone in his family, but there is a tenuous line of connection. When he started planning his move last year, he started foisting all kinds of stuff on me, even articles he’d saved for many, many years because they mentioned someone he knew. I didn’t tell him “no” about a lot of those things, and I guess I figure that once my dad has passed away, I can get rid of a lot of it, and some of those things will quietly be let go starting this spring. It has made it hard for me to sort through the value of the things in my own life, and I admit that I have a sort of love/hate relationship with it.

  5. Great post (as always!)…..Are you getting ready to move? And what the heck were you doing with a 6 bedroom house in your twenties??!!

    Every January, I got room to room, looking for stuff to give away or trash….any my house is still filled to the rafters with junk….An example: old (but fancy) dishes from my step-mother that haven’t seen the light of day since I moved into this house 15 years ago. They are probably valuable to the right collector but I’m too lazy to find a way to sell them….Tubs of Christmas decorations that stay in the attic year round……Zillions of cute party platters but we never throw parties….

    Gah! Sometimes I get anxiety attacks thinking of all the JUNK I have but can’t seem to get rid of…..

    I had a next door neighbor for a few years whose motto was “Just cut the cord!”… should have seen the stuff that would be out on the curb waiting for the trash truck! For that matter, a bunch of it is now in my house 😉

    • The trash picking gene is deadly, Taryn. I have trouble resisting it myself. Luckily my sister repurposes old furniture so I have the excuse of scoring fun things and sending them to her. :)

      As for the story of Pam–in West Philly, where I lived when I bought my first house, most of the houses were 3 stories. In it’s day, it was the upper middle class suburbs in the Victorian era. By the time I got there, the neighborhood had seen better days and my beautiful house on a distressed block was an affordable $70,000.

      I keep down sizing. I hope my next home is a sailboat.

  6. We don’t have much room for “stuff” in this house, thank doG! I love the antique furniture pieces we inherited from Sam’s parents, so they are safe from any “purging” I might do when the spirit moves me. Most of my stuff consists of photographs and greeting cards. But there are some Christmas tree ornaments hand-made by my grandmother, and some antique dinnerware (from my other grandmother) that will go to my brother’s daughter one of these days. The rest of the crap in the attic that I brought down here from LI can go in the trash if I ever get around to cleaning it out. I just HATE going up there because it is always either too hot or too cold. I wouldn’t mind getting rid of the two fake Christmas trees (a tall one and a table-top sized one). But I think FIRST we need to tackle the bedroom and coat closets. Yikes!

  7. I’m on a mission to get rid of stuff. I have far too much, my dogs are happy with a couch and a bowl of food, I won’t say I’ll go to THAT extreme, but I do intend on weeding through a bunch of stuff.

  8. My weakness is books–seven crammed bookcases, but my solution seldom works out well. Every year i donate many to our library book sale. And every year i come away with almost as many as I donate.

    • Weekly visits to our excellent local library help me limit my purchases. I don’t think I’d do so well in a library system that was less well funded.

      My rule is that if I donate 10 books to the library book sale, I can buy up to 5. That way I’m always downsizing.

  9. Well, you know how we live and what I think of “stuff”. The emotional attachment to things is the worst. I have moved a lot in my life so getting rid of things has always been easy for me. But even at that, I have a hard time with the emotional stuff. But that’s OK. I am allowed to be attached to things that really matter. Things from my childhood, or my boys childhood. All those irreplaceable things. The rest, is just stuff.

    • It’s a sign of maturity when we have strong attachments to things that are meaningful, instead of just random junk.

      BTW, I love your new gravatar photo.

  10. My relationship with stuff changed so dramatically after my divorce last year and I think I’m still figuring out what it all means. In all truth, my 1000 sq. ft. apartment is probably too much space, but I don’t believe it’s filled with too much stuff – yet. My old home was so stuffed to the gills with things my ex kept or that his mother kept that I think it has forever changed how I view my relationship with stuff and I endeavour to keep it down to the “I use this” or “I love this” mentality…

  11. I’ve recently been very intrigued by the tiny house movement; however, I adore my books, shoes and sentimental knick-knacks! I attach a great deal of meaning to seemingly small things: a bookmark, a coin from a foreign country I traveled to, a sweater of my mother’s, but simultaneously feel burdened with all that I own. It’s always an interesting discussion, and I admire those that can live minimally, even if I’m not sure I could ever pare down so much myself.

    • When I talk to people who live on sailboats, they talk about finding that one thing that has special meaning to them and paring everything else down. But I don’t think most of us can do that unless we have to.

      I guess you could buy a tiny house and find out what’s most important to you. :)

  12. Interesting question!
    I am a neat freak, so general clutter is not welcome, but we do have some ugly-ass decor kicking around that I’d be happy to trash if not for that “but it was a gift” obligation. Though, I figure the statute of limitations on that is probably 7 years. The Husband has more trouble sorting through and throwing out stuff more than I do, so that’s where my biggest struggle is.
    My closet is a good example of weird ‘stuff’ issues for me, though. I try to purge relentlessly twice a year at least (or whenever I find myself standing there, disgusted with how unnecessarily full it is – I feel one of those coming on soon). Luckily there are a few places around here that actually still welcome clothing donations.
    Books, however, are all lovely and beautiful and I will keep them all.

    • Hmmm, a neat freak who lives with Newfoundlands. You do like living dangerously. :)

      My mother in law and my mother love giving presents. I used to hang onto them out of sense of obligation. But I found they never looked for things once they gave them to me. Now I just keep a box for donations and put gifts right in there.

      I can relate to the books. I have managed to pare my collection down quite a bit. But I still love a beautiful book.

  13. I guess my question is why? Why do you feel it’s so important to live with less? Why do you recommend we try it? I have my own thoughts about the answers to those questions but I’d really like to hear yours.

    Not everyone values the same things. You like to travel and want to live on a sailboat. You won’t be able to do that if you have lots of “things”. But I want to sit in the garden on a quiet spring evening and watch the birds and listen to the wind rustle through the trees. Having a place of my own where I can find sanctuary is my bliss. Perhaps it’s the introvert in me?

    But to answer my own question why living with less matters, we do live in an increasingly throw-away society and we’re pushing that value beyond products to pets and people. American consumerism and over-consumption is killing our planet. As each generation grows upon the next, we are teaching our children to value things over people.

    We spend our time trying to make more money so we can buy more stuff and less time enjoying the things we do have with our family and friends and lovers and children and pets. We are too busy moving on to the next big thing to stop and experience the moment in front of us.

    All that said, I don’t believe one has to give up all they own to be aware of the consequences of our choices. We can make conscious decisions about what we bring into our lives. To me, living well has never meant having “stuff”. It has meant appreciating the life you have whether it is filled with stuff or not.

    Owning stuff isn’t the problem. Being owned by the stuff you have may be.

    • Nicely put, Leslie.

      I decided to write this post because I saw the discomfort and personal pain people felt from having an out of whack relationship to their stuff. That’s an issue for me too.

      People like you who have made peace with your stuff are rare.

      But the bigger concern is what you identified–rampant overconsumption and its effect on the world. Despite not having a car or many other trappings of modern life, just owning a house (and the resulting stuff) means I’m having a far greater impact on the environment than is sustainable.

      I read years ago that to give everyone on the planet access to the same quality of life without devastating Earth, we’d have to live like a European in the early 1970s. With the population going up, that estimate has probably stepped back a bit. Heck, even Nepal uses 1.4 times the resources of the planet.

      I didn’t focus on this in the post because I think it’s dangerous to say that personal actions are the primary solution to planetary devastation. It just lets government and businesses off the hook.

      Remember the crying Indian pollution ad campaign in the 1970s? That was paid for by the soda bottling lobby to stop bottle deposit bills form passing.

      Anyway, I’d argue with you a little bit. Owning stuff an being owned by the stuff are both problematic. They’re just two different problems.

  14. In my twenties, thirties, and forties I spent a lot of time accumulating “stuff”. So many inexpensive projects, not enough time. And I decorated for any/all holidays. After I had moved cross country and back (I still had baby clothes from college age children) I was overwhelmed. Then my mother (the ultimate hoarder) passed away. Disaster is a pretty accurate description.
    Four years later I have only what I need and really want. If I ever need to downsize or move I can handle it. My family will be able to sort through my possessions in a short time, weeks/months, not years.The best part is the extra time I have for fun.

    • I must admit that thoughts of cleaning out my mother’s house have had an affect on my thoughts of stuff. It seems like clearing out our parent’s lifetime detritus spurs lots of thoughts about stuff.

  15. I clear out my house every year. I don’t get attached to stuff. My stuff fits in my (rather smallish) walk in closet on the top shelf. Most of it is Christmas decorations and a few other things. There are certain books (maybe 10 or so) that I keep that I love to read over and over. But the other books I’ve read once and don’t have any desire to re-read, I usually sell to the local used bookstore a couple of times a year. I hardly ever give my books to the library anymore since they don’t typically put donations on the shelves – instead they sell them, which I think defeats the purpose. I understand they use the money from those sales for the library – but just the same – selling a brand new book (that they don’t currently have in their library) instead of putting it on the shelf doesn’t make much sense to me.

    Hmmm…I obviously have issues with my local library and their insistence on stocking the shelves with old (crappy) books no one wants to read.

  16. This is a really good thing to think about–life is better with less stuff. But why is it so hard to get rid of all those things? A byproduct of thinking too much…which is yet another malady that does not plague dogs.

  17. Aw dog. I’m on this journey right now, too. It’s difficult. I might need therapy for it …

  18. I think we do a pretty good job at living with less. We recently loaded up my wagon with Goodwill donations and it felt so good to let go of stuff that just didn’t need to bog us down anymore. I was particularly excited about getting rid of my husband’s box of random computer cords & chargers. Does any human being need 25 AC adaptors? I think not. :) We didn’t have the motivation to get rid of our books but instead promised ourselves that books would be next. That’s the good thing about filling our house with way too much dog than fits: doesn’t leave much space for us to hang on to things :)

    • I’ve found that it feels especially wonderful to know that someone else can use something I’ve given up. Someone was probably thrilled to get the AC adapter they were looking for. :)

  19. Mom has moved over the Atlantic four times in the past twenty years. That pretty much pares down stuff to the essentials and truly loved stuff. We aren’t big stuff people, if we really like something we get it, but we don’t want tons of stuff around. Years ago in high school Mom saw George Carlin live and to this day she remembers his “stuff” routine. It was the absolute best. This is a link to it on video from a couple years ago. Mom still laughs her behind off when she listens to it.

  20. This spring we’re headed back to Pennsylvania to clear out the storage unit where we were storing all of the “stuff” we might need if we moved back into a house. I guess we’ll see how good I am at putting my money where my mouth is when we start going through all of that! It’s funny, because I haven’t seen this stuff in 3+ years, but somehow I imagine when I’m standing there looking at it I’ll find it more difficult to let go.

    • Many organizers suggest that you put stuff away from boxes. And if you don’t miss it after a year, get rid of it. I’ll be interested to hear how you feel confronting your storage unit.

      I hope the process is positive.

  21. We totally support the “living with less” mentality. It certainly makes things a lot easier to keep clean, too, doesn’t it? :) Much love, The Scottie Mom.

  22. I don’t get real attached to stuff either, but for a while I was pretty attached to some of my books. I finally let most of those go too now. If I’m not planning to read it again, I figure why not pass it along to someone else who might enjoy it?

    But my dogs are so unlike Honey. Leah has one toy that no-one can touch, and she means business, while Medi and Toby spend hours seeing who can collect and or steal the most toys and lay on them so no one else can chew on them.

  23. Wow. So many comments to wade through. All interesting and thoughtful.

    My mother is moving into assisted living on May 1, and obviously has to get rid of about 90% of her possessions. She has memory issues, and repeatedly asks me (and my siblings) if we want this or that item– usually something old and ugly and high-maintenance, like silver servers that we’d have to polish.

    It distresses her terribly when her kids say no, because as an immigrant who came to Canada in 1935, these objects have meaning to her as having “arrived” in Canadian society, no longer the poor Polish peasant she was born. As a child who grew up in the Depression, she has the “never throw anything away” mentality, because even if cost a dollar, you worked for that dollar, and throwing something away meant throwing that money in the garbage. She would gladly sell the stuff we won’t take, but second-hand stores see no value in it, and she refuses to to give it away to charity, because she still thinks it DOES have value. She’s coming up to a very difficult time in her life, and I see heartbreak ahead.

    • Yes, this will be hard for all of you. But I have no doubt you’ll make it as easy on your mom as possible.

      It will be an interesting process to see what things you (and she) decide are meaningful enough for your mom to take into her assisted living unit. It’s going to be like a master class in understanding stuff and its importance to us.

  24. I liked this post as I am going threw my house asking myself if I really need this stuff. I am doing this as I am cleaning out my dear friends house that passed away and so I got on this cleaning kick as I don’t want to die tomorrow and have my friends clean out my house and wonder why I have this stuff so I am mass cleaning.

    • I think about anyone cleaning up after I pass in connection with years worth of journals. I can’t bear to get rid of my past. Someday I may want to read them. But I can’t imagine what I’m saddling someone with after I die.

      To a stranger, they’re junk. But to my husband, they could be a treasure trove. Or a minefield.

      Good luck with your mass cleaning.

  25. When I moved in with the ex I took a lot of stuff with me, as a sort of security blanket, and as i got settled I started getting ride of stuff that I realised I had no use of. When he asked me to move out, I stopped getting rid of my stuff and again security blanketed it, thinking I don’t know what my new life will entail so i need to keep hold of this stuff just to be case.

    I think you being able to identify that material stuff doesn’t matter shows that you are in a very secure, healthy place in your own life. Lucky person! :0)