Is there no Limit to the Stuff we Collect?

stuff we collect

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Stuff, stuff and more stuff. Why do we collect stuff, or is it really junk? The longer we stay in one place, the more stuff we accumulate. Anyone who has had to deal with a deceased estate, knows how much stuff people can accumulate in a lifetime. Out it all goes in a skip. The treasures of someone’s lifetime. But one man’s treasure is another person’s trash.

The generation who lived through the Great Depression of the 1930s were particularly partial to hanging onto stuff, as money was in short supply. My father often said, ‘You never know when it will come in handy.’ His garage and workshop were stuffed full of stuff that just might come in handy one day. Most of it never did. He left it behind when he died and it took me months to sort through. None of it was useful to me.

The problem with putting it aside for a later day, is that you can’t remember where you stashed it. You go off to the shop and buy another, then ‘save it for another day’.

Stuff has emotional attachment

Apart from stuff that maybe useful one day, there is our collection of stuff that carries fond memories. The souvenirs from the trip to Europe, our photographs from childhood, the wedding dress, the children’s first toys, gifts from relatives. The list goes on and on. The pile gets higher and higher.

How can we throw any of this stuff out? Aunty may visit and notice the vase she gave us is missing. Johnny might want his childhood Lego for his own children, that dress might fit again one day. You can see how stuff gets emotional attachments. So, we collect not just physical stuff but emotional stuff, baggage, as well.

Do We Have More Stuff Today?

Our hunter-gatherer ancestors could only collect what they could carry from place to place. But once humans settled and grew crops, this agrarian society of stability allowed the collection of possessions. According to Maslow’s Theory once our primal needs of food, water and shelter are met, we start to turn our attention to crafts, storytelling, philosophy, and inventions. So, with time and stability, we made pottery, jewellery and eventually homes, and invented wheels and engines. Since then, as a human race have made no end of collecting ‘stuff’.

Are we collecting more or less stuff than we used to? Our Victorian ancestors lived in cluttered houses. Their sideboards and mantels were cluttered with china ornaments, porcelain figures, carriage clocks, snuff boxes and photographs. The walls showcased many portraits of ancestors and watercolor landscapes. They employed servants to dust and polish their stuff. Ladies had many trinkets, pearls, rings and hats, not forgetting the clothes. The more stuff the better. It was a symbol of wealth to have things that were not a necessity for survival.

More Stuff to Have

Even though there is a trend towards minimalist white decor offering a blank canvas, we still harbour stuff. We have not moved on from the materialist mind-set and today there is even more stuff to have. The more inventions we make, the more there is to collect. At first people thought inventions like cars, telephones and televisions would not become part of everyday life but they quickly did. If the rich have them, then in time everyone wants them.

Next came the computer. At first it was a massive contraption that filled a room and was only used by scientists or statisticians. Then, as they became smaller and invaded the everyday world, more people had them and this led to more people wanting them. Before we had considered whether we needed it or not, by 2010, most of us had one in the home.

The same with mobile phones and all the other gadgets with blue screens. Now our lives are full of screens. Babies fixate on them before they can talk or walk. Blue light is very stimulating and can lead to health and sleep issues. Watching screens before bed can cause insomnia. Reading a physical book drifts into obscurity, as does reading for pleasure.

All this digital stuff. All these man-made screens. We have come along way, or have we actually gone backwards in quality of life? Most of our stuff is consumable. We throw it out because we want the latest version or fashion. Our computers are programmed so advertisers can watch what we search for, so they can tempt us with the ‘must have’.

Clothes and Still More Clothes

Clothes go along with digital hardware-fill in our landfill. Op shops are stuffed with discarded clothes. Gone are the days when a woman had a few good dresses for the season. I raise my hand here as one with too many clothes. Not that I keep buying them, but it is because I don’t throw them out. They still fit; I like them, they have memories. My reversible denim jacket, forty years old, is now very soft and comfortable though it has no buttons anymore.

And books? Can a girl ever have enough books? It is so hard to be brutal and declutter, but I know I should. When I go, my kids will only toss it all out. ‘Whoever thought the old woman had so many dresses?’ they will marvel.

Is there no end to stuff?

And this is just the physical stuff. What about mental stuff, that other baggage that weighs us down? Is that accumulating too?

Probably. It is hard to know how much mental baggage our antecedents had onboard as the only insight into their minds are the written word. Songs, poems and books record their pain. Back then, the mind was unchartered territory. Sigmund Freud tried to understand it and put forward various theories to understand human behaviour. But mostly if you behaved a bit too strangely, you were put into an asylum, often never to be seen in public again.

Now, we know more. Now, we are mostly more understanding of each other’s idiosyncrasies. We are encouraged to not judge, and to show compassion. Those with baggage and mental pain live amongst us, are even us.

Lots of Baggage Weighs Us Down

All of us carry baggage from past experiences and relationships. Marriages and relationships are less lasting, and we have more baggage mentally than ever before. A vast number of children are raised in a one-parent home.

Plus, we are almost hard wired to screens telling and downloading stuff at us. No wonder we feel stuffed at the end of the day. We lead busy, rushed, over-stimulated lives. Our minds, as well as our homes are full of stuff that should be discarded like the clutter in our homes. Is there a limit to this overload?

Take a little time out to assess the physical and mental baggage in your life. Are you overloaded with stuff? I feel I am and need a long walk in the forest or a swim in the sea. I’ll leave my mobile at home. So, if I don’t answer, you know where I am. It’s good sometimes to be out of touch, to be free of stuff.

Photo by Şahin Sezer Dinçer on Unsplash

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Joni Scott is an Australian author with three published novels: Whispers through Time and The Last Hotel and Colour Comes to Tangles. Joni also co-hosts a women’s blog; and has her own website;


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