Too Much Stuff – Good for the Dog; Good for You

Honey the Golden Retriever as a cute puppy with her toy.

This is my first toy and I’ll keep it forever and ever.

My first house had three floors, six bedrooms, and two fireplaces. I used to put signs on the doors to remind me of a room’s post-renovation purpose.

It took me two days to clean it.

My second house has two floors, three bedrooms, and no fireplaces. We spend most of our time in three rooms.

It takes me half a day to clean it.

If all goes well, my next house will be less than 40 feet long, one bedroom, and will float. We’ll spend most of our time outside in the cockpit.

I’ll hose it down. Oh, and scrape the barnacles from the hull a few times a year.

Does anyone notice a trend?

Overwhelmed by Stuff

When I moved to Ithaca, I left a lot behind

  • a gigantic, mahogany, four-poster bed
  • boxes of books
  • two large sofas
  • silver  servingware and art glass dishes
  • and the desire to surround myself with lots of things, no matter how pretty.

But I still feel overwhelmed by stuff. Do I really need to keep that photographic paper that came with my last computer printer if I decide to print a pretty picture? Would I miss the books I haven’t cracked open in more than a year? And how do I get rid of clothes too damaged to give away without adding more stuff to the landfill?

Stuff—cleaning it, storing it, disposing of it, and now, writing about it—consumes me.

What can I do? Maybe my dog has an answer.

Rotate Your Toys

I’ve heard from different trainers that I should rotate Honey’s toys—only keep four or five out and swap them with others each week or so. She’ll enjoy them longer and like the surprise of rediscovery.

Honey with Kong Squeaker.

My new favorite. I wonder whatever happened to that worm I had as a puppy?

Honey does show a lot of excitement when an old favorite suddenly reappears. But if I leave everything in a basket she can get to, she plays less. Apparently, some dogs like their toys to be fresh.

One reason people buy lots of stuff is because our brains are wired to appreciate novelty. So maybe we should swap out our toys too?

I have some minor hoarding tendencies. In my past life, I’m sure I was 79-year-old grandmother with thousands of plastic deli containers in her cupboards who always saved the rubber bands that came with broccoli.

But I’m trying not to hoard my toys.

Instead of having thousands of books, I only keep reference books and fiction I’ll read many times. If I buy a new used book, I donate an old one to the library book sale. Instead of buying CDs, I borrow them from the library. Or listen to Pandora.

I used to get bored with my clothing. But now I give myself permission to change my wardrobe many times a year. Because I buy all my clothing used, I can justify the cost—our entire household clothing budget is around $100 for a year. Plus we get the tax deduction for donating clothes back I’ve gotten sick of.

Stuff is a Distraction

For all the time I spend dealing with stuff, I could be writing blog posts, helping others, or formulating a plan to bring peace to the Middle East.

I’m certainly not helping anyone by dusting tchotchkes or moving extra stuff in and out of the attic. Or by obsessing on mental clutter.

Luckily, I live with a Golden Retriever zen master who is always present in the moment and never distracted by stuff.

When Honey is playing with a toy, she’s just playing with a toy. She’s not wondering if another toy in her basket would be more fun.

When Honey is eating, she’s eating. She’s not wondering what she’ll eat later in the day.

And she’s not thinking about stuff.

Maybe I’ll find it easier to pare down to only the items I truly need and appreciate if I think about how happy Honey is with just a few special items. She’d be a great role model.

After all, have you ever seen anyone happier than a Golden Retriever?

Do you enjoy your stuff? Or do you have as tortured relationship with it as I do? And how about your dog? Is he a materialist? Or a zen master?



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  1. I’ve been slowly sifting through our stuff, not that our house is cluttered, but I really do find myself wondering why do we have what we have? Although, gifts from my Dad before he passed away are hard to part with, especially since I’m afraid I won’t remember him so well without the help of these physical items.

    I definitely want a smaller house, with a giant mudroom and an indoor doggy washing station….


    • Family items are a tough sticking point for me too. I have a hand made quilt from my great, great grandmother that dates to the early 19th century. I don’t need it any more than any of the other stuff I’ve accumulated. But it doesn’t feel right to simply sell it.

  2. chichimum says:

    I couldn’t have said it better…I too feel overwhelmed with ‘stuff’..and am trying to use the advise of, if I haven’t used in a year, I don’t ‘need’ it. It then goes to the dump (no other choice) or to goodwill, or othe similar donation. I’ve stopped buying toys for my dogs…they have so many…I have discovered that Tiffany our Pom is just as happy playing with an old sock! I’ve stopped buying cute clothes for my dogs (all small breed), they only need 1 sweater each for the cold weather…they aren’t out showing off latest fashions nor do they care…so donated lots to Chihuahua rescue. I’ve stopped buying books and instead download (altough I do miss the feel of a book). I’ve started getting rid of junk mail right away…not letting it pile up. I’ve stopped hanging onto that ‘basket’ or that ‘bowl’ because I might need it one day for a reason I can’t ever think of! Getting rid of stuff feels good and I’m going to do more of it!

    • Wow, sounds like you’ve been doing a great job in clearing things out. I’m inspired.

      Plus, the things you’ve donated have probably made other people (and Chihuahua’s) very happy.

  3. I am SO with you Pam…I’ve downsized my house space a few times and each time I’ve gotten rid of so much stuff…yet there’s still a ton here it seems…It’s my current goal to get rid of half of everything that’s here, one way or another…I try to donate what I can; some larger items I just put out on the curb and they’re usually gone within a couple of hours ; problem now is I seem to be at that “keepsake” stage…do I really need old t-shirts from events i attended 25 years ago? do I really need the knickknacks from trips taken last decade or three? I’m hoping the answer is no and that over the next couple months I’ll successfully divest myself of what’s beginning to feel like an anchor

    • I’ve known runners who made quilts out of their race t-shirts. That takes a dozen items and makes them one. :)

      • Ah but then I’d have to learn how to quilt, get quilting supplies and end up with …another blanket and i already have at least 3 to give away, including two down quilts from when I lived in Wisconsin…My problem is I just have too much darn stuff…although I have seen those t-shirt quilts on Pinterest and they pretty sweet 😉

  4. Too much stuff is a distraction we agree. I have one crate of doggy toys and my peeps should learn to do the same. Have a magnificent Monday.
    Best wishes Molly

  5. I looooove throwing stuff out…I give to a small thrift store in town that has a lot of hard-up people as its customers, and the thought of someone scoring a 200 dollar bag I bought on ebay for 40.00 makes me smile. Meanwhile, I don’t mind entertaining myself with novel or new items because I’m not adding to a mass that never gets smaller. I’m helping my Mom, newr-joarder, do it now. A child of the depression and a less than stable childhood, she can’t seem to decide what to let go of.

    Meanwhile, my 6 wieners stay in the moment with their chewies until they feel threatened by another wiener wanting it…then they steal from each other and hoard. So it’s not just humans, and it is about territoriality as the mechanism for perceived safety and therefore, comfort.

    • So wise. It isn’t just stuff. It’s all the meaning we add to it, like, as you said, safety and comfort.

      No wonder it’s so hard to simplify.

  6. I’m definitely tortured by too much stuff. I would just like to park a dumpster in front of my house and FILL IT UP. It wouldn’t take long.

    Your post resonates with me. I’ve had the huge house that was a burden to fill and keep up, downsized to a smaller one (and find that we should have downsized more), and I’m looking forward to the day when I can downsize further and get rid of the dining room set that is used, at most, once a year, as well as tchotckes (spelling?) from long dead relatives that my husband swears we can’t part with. I’ve never met anyone who actually left the **treasures** behind. Nice to see it can be done!

  7. I love reducing clutter. But my husband is a packrat. So it’s a bit of a battle of wills sometimes. The fewer things, the easier the choices. Of course, there are exceptions. I have trouble getting rid of books. And I keep a lot of clothes in all sizes, since I tend to lose weight and then put some back on.
    Kelly loves new toys but her idea is to destroy toys as fast as possible, so they’re usually around for 5 minutes. Brooks enjoys the same tennis ball every day.

    • My husband and I are about equal in our attachment to our messes. But unfortunately we each value different messes. So we’re doubling the clutter.

      Looks like the dogs have come to a good solution. Kelly uses it up and throws it out. Brooks is content with one simple thing. Neither is a prescription for clutter.

  8. My problem with stuff? What can/cannot be recycled – and recycle it! Hoarding? Half my kitchen floor space is filled with cardboard and recyclables I’m not getting out the door – DO IT. I’m afraid I’ll put in landfill something I could recycle/upcycle so don’t do anything – sigh.

    The dogs play with socks, donated toys, and cardboard boxes. Honey is right – I have enough in this moment. I rotate my uniforms so ones I haven’t worn a while seem fresh to both me and my co-workers. My never-ending goal is to buy way less, first at the Thrift Store which sales benefit our non-profit sanctuary, then to get rid of most of my stuff. Without children or grandchildren to pass anything onto, it needs to go to someone who will benefit or just be pitched.

    What’s the BEST “thing” I recycle? Dogs – ones no one else wants or who need a place to hang out till their real home comes along. Today, a 14 y/o female dog is coming to me from St. Louis. The senior dog rescue there wouldn’t take her – I said, send her to me; she’s my last one till more adoptions; she is extremely stressed in AC (animal control).

    I needed this post – I need action on my part. Thanks, Pamela!

    • I can relate to reuse/recycle paralysis. I’m lucky to live in a town where nearly everything is recyclable and picked up curbside. But there are plenty of things I still don’t know what to do with.

      Should I save the twine used to wrap my Christmas tree? How about the rubber bands that come with broccoli? And those plastic ties that come on bread bags? And why aren’t I baking my own bread so I don’t have bags and ties at all?

      Yuck. It’s just scary when Pam starts over thinking things.

      I like the way you put things into perspective. “Recycling” dogs makes all those other questions seem petty.

      Good luck with your new pup.

  9. When hubby and I decided to marry 20 years ago, I knew that moving from the big house I grew up in on Long Island (NY) to Sam’s small — make that tiny by comparison — house in SC was going to require parting with a lot of JUNK that I had developed a fondness for, even though I never used it. “Stuff” like the guitar I never played, clothes I never wore any more, toys & stuffed animals I had outgrown decades before, etc. So, I packed up all the clothes, the guitar, and the toys, and gave them to my cousin for her church’s used stuff drive. Don’t know how much stuff was actually bought and/or discarded, nor do I care. So, now that that stuff is gone, I find it easier to discard old stuff every now and then. In between, I don’t even think about it. My toys these days are my iPod, my KindleFire HD, and my laptops (well, one is now hooked up to a big monitor downstairs and serving as a “desktop”). The dogs’ toys are all over the house, and I don’t mind. I’m more afraid of falling over one of the dogs than one of their toys.

    • Sometimes, when we give up things, it feels like we’re letting go of our past or our aspirations. I bet musical instruments are something lots of people hang onto without using.

      But it sounds like having that experience 20 years ago has helped you have a healthy relationship with stuff today. Good for you.

  10. I’m not a stuff person at all. I donate my books after I read them. I should probably get them from the library, I feel like I’m supporting other writers by buying them. I don’t buy CD’s either (Pandora’s great) and I literally wear my clothes until they are falling apart. I did however have a bad habit of buying too much dog stuff, (training tools, gadgets, books, videos), but I have really stopped doing that nowadays to save a few bucks and have given most of it away.

    • Not a stuff person? Are you sure you’re an American? :)

      I love how your comment reflects intentional choices. I understand your desire to support writers by buying books. Although I am famously cheap, I will spend money to support my values.

  11. I’m not much of a saver myself. This all came about when we had a basement flood. So much was ruined–99.9% of it junk. Nowadays, I look at it as ‘the good flood’! LOL A friend of mine used to work for a local charity and she said that they take the old, unwearable clothes that are donated and sell them to a rag-making company. Who knew!

    • I’ve never met anyone who saw a flood as a good thing. Glad it was such a helpful lesson for you.

      Years ago old rags used to be collected for paper making. I try not to think too much about it or I’ll be compelled to start making my own. :)

  12. I’m jumping on the declutter bus. I just said to Hubby as we put Christmas tree away, this stuff is staying up here, so we can get down in that garage and get rid of stuff.

    I too hope to downsize in the future and more and more I’m liking less and less. :-)

    We could all be so much better served if we lived life like our dogs.

    And btw, if anyone could broker a peace in the middle east, my money is on you. :-)

    • The clutter bus is too slow. I think I need a ticket for the clutter jet. :)

      I can’t imagine how much stuff I’d have to get rid of to figure out a peace plan for the Middle East. But it’s always nice to know someone has faith in me. Even if I know she’s crazy. :)

  13. I DO have a tortured relationship with stuff! I enjoy getting new cool things and I equally enjoy getting rid of old cool things, or sometimes new cool things that are less exciting once acquired. I sometimes wonder what it would be like to just have 10 outfits, and to only have things I really love.

    Old clothes make great cleaning rags and can be tied up into tug toys for young foster dogs, I have found.

    • I do try to take real pleasure in the things I do have. As I think about paring down to love aboard a boat, I look at my stuff and think about what I like and why. And I ask myself if I love it enough to cram it into a boat.

      As for the old clothes, I have more rags (and tug toys) than I know what to do with. I’ve also made shopping bags from old pairs of jeans. I wish clothes would last longer without wearing out.

      I have some clothing more than 20 years old that’s still wearable. I don’t think clothes today are being made to last as well.

  14. I love my stuff but am less obsessed with stuff than I used to be, that’s for sure. I do have a pet product fetish though. Oh and I like the new Incoco nail polish trips. Okay, and books… 😉

    • A life where we surround ourselves with stuff we love is worth shooting for. It’s all the stuff we don’t just love that gets in the way. :)

  15. Aw man. We’re slaves to our stuff. The more stuff, the deeper in bondage, eh?

  16. I have a pretty unique hobby called moving. I love to move. Every time we do that, we get rid of stuff. We have downsized and upsized and an inbetweensized. That really isn’t the issue. The real issue is dragging all the stuff with us. We are kind of strange, but usually very happy. We do a lot of taking stuff to the thrift store, and usually getting different stuff there on the same trip. Our shopping fixes usually cost very little money. It’s like a monthly treasure hunt. And, we really don’t need anything, so it is all just for fun.

    • Your comment about moving reminded me of something I read years ago. Someone recommended renting a U-Haul once a year and loading all your stuff into it and driving it around the block. It was meant to cure the love of stuff. Sounds expensive to me.

      Your monthly treasure hunt sounds like a good idea. Before new stuff comes in, old stuff goes out.

  17. I totally agree. I regularly give or throw away everything I won’t use anymore or things that I’m not attached too anymore.

  18. TORTURED! As you jolly well know. And what on earth are tchotchkes?

    To say I’m impressed with your total annual clothing budget would be an understatement. Even our fleamarket clothes can cost as much [one piece]. Sydney is obviously overpriced. I wish I was as frugal as you. I’m learning, but it’s taken me years to get to where I am today and as Cushion is fond of saying “Not good enough!”

    • Tchotchke is Yiddish for trinket. Are you telling me Australia doesn’t have any Jewish people? Where ever do you get your deli food? :)

      BTW, you’d probably be less impressed with our clothing budget if you saw what we looked like most days.

      I can’t help being frugal. It’s part of my DNA. But I also see it as freedom. Having the ability to live on a very low income enables me to work at an extremely low pay rate doing hard work and being entirely unappreciated. What more could anyone hope for?

  19. This is a great post and so are all the comments! Every January, I take a weekend to go through every drawer and closet and find something in each to get rid of! It still doesn’t eliminate unneeded stuff, but I feel a bit better. I actually feel like I can breather more freely as silly as that might sound. Like a weight is lifted.

    I learned from when my Dad died and we had to clean out his home (my sister did most of it ,I confess!) that we all sure keep the stupidest junk. And now, the in-laws’ home is brimming with crap and they won’t let anyone help them clean it out. It teaches me to keep ahead of the tide, because I sure don’t want to leave behind a mountain of useless stuff. Ugh!

    • It is so true that getting rid of excess can feel like we’re becoming physically lighter.

      I have to admit, every time I walk into my mom’s house I feel a little ill at the thought of going through all her stuff some day.

  20. I feel like we are always getting rid of “stuff” and have little inclination to buy more. I really need to put some of Cali’s toys away . .she has two big baskets of toys and only two or three that she really plays with! Great post!!

    • Isn’t it funny how the stuff keeps creeping in? For me, it’s not because I’m buying stuff. I’m too cheap for that to happen. But people keep giving me stuff.

      My mother bought me 3(?!) calendars this year! Why?

      BTW, I’ll be curious to know if Cali becomes interested in more of her toys if you hide them from her and bring them out later.

  21. I am sure almost everyone can relate to this post. I am a hoarder by nature, which means that I am always surrounded by “stuff” that I am convinced I might need sometime or other. When I finally get rid of some of it, the feeling is just wonderful. Must do that more often.
    Those photos are just too cute for words!!!

    • “But I might need it some day” is the worst phrase for me too. And the problem is that you find a use for something just often enough to reinforce the habit. I think the behaviorists call it random positive reinforcement.

      Ugh, no wonder my house is a mess. :)

  22. Georgia pointed me here :) Great article indeed.
    The only thing i hoard are books. I love them but i can’t seem to finish reading them but keep on acquiring more 😀 but.. i have started to give them away to my family.. and to their shelves.. always leaving a “mark” on a secret page *LOL*

    i don’t spend much on clothes or shoes too. I use only a pair of sneakers everywhere i go. Don’t even try inviting me to a party cos i will not have proper gear to wear. I work from home. My sisters keep buying me fancy clothes.. but where do i wear them to? i live simply and i am always in some short or tee shirts that are too big for me. But that’s how i look like and i don’t really care.

    i am comfortable like my dog. He only has 1 soft toy and it just keeps him company :) The only fancy thing he has is a groom every two months at the shops and he’ll come back smelling like a million bucks 😀

    too much stuff is really bad for us. If i am to move again.. i will move to a tiny one bedroom place 😀 but i will need some space for my books!

  23. Rotating toys is such a must! I love seeing those big wags when an old favorite comes back out. Aside from the husband and Penny, I also share my home with parrots. The same principle goes for them (even though they get hours of out-of-cage time and flight time). It’s probably been mentioned in the comments above, but making sure the toys are clean before bringing them back out is also important.

  24. I think our dogs naturally rotate their toys. With the exception of Felix’s yak and the Big Dog, I don’t think I’ve ever seen them play with the same thing two days in a row.

    We have too. much. stuff. It all started when we moved out of my three bedroom apartment – into a two bedroom house. We actually have less square footage, but I refused to get rid of stuff. Those were my beautiful things! I worked hard for them! Now, I’m embracing a less cluttered life, but old habits are hard to break. I better do it though or eventually, you’ll stop seeing us over at the blog and start seeing us on one of those hoarding shows.