A Simple Approach to Living With Less

The Psychological Security of Stuff

I can always count on my kids to teach me important lessons. Tonight I learned a lesson from my two-year-old daughter on how holding on to stuff makes us feel secure.

When I started my journey to minimalism, one of the first areas I decluttered was my daughter’s room. She had so many toys that she hardly ever played with. I successfully cut down her stuffed animal collection to less than half of what she started with. I discovered tonight, that it’s probably time to declutter her room even more.

After we rock together and then sing her favorite song “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” she then starts asking for each stuffed animal one by one. If I indulge her, at the end of it all, she will have every single one of her stuffed animals in bed with her for the night. Eventually half of the mess ends up on the floor and she ends up lying on top of the rest of it. It looks incredibly uncomfortable, but she keeps asking for it all night after night.

So, here’s the life lesson my daughter taught me tonight: You may think that having lots of “stuff” around you will keep you secure, but in the end it just makes life incredibly uncomfortable.

The things that make you feel secure may not be stuffed animals, books, or dolls. But have you ever truly looked around at what you’re keeping close to you and asked, “Why, am I keeping that?”

  • Perhaps you feel more secure with an overstocked pantry of food that hardly ever gets touched but you like feeling prepared.
  • Maybe you’re holding on to lots of extra clothes that you might be able to fit into one day.
  • You might be holding on to lots of knick-knacks and photographs because you’re afraid of losing the memories.
  • Maybe there were things you always wanted as a kid but never had; so now you collect them and just can’t stand to part with them.
  • Perhaps you’re like me and hang on to books…ones you’ve read and loved and those you intend to read “someday.”

The objects that we find security in will be different for everyone. These are the things in our life that are hardest to get rid of because of the psychological sense of security that they carry with them. It’s not really that they do anything for us, but we just get accustomed to having them around and it feels strange to imagine life without them.

When you go looking for a sense of security in physical things, you simply won’t find what you’re looking for. Instead, look for a true sense of security in people, in relationships, and in time well spent. When you can learn to let go of the physical things you’ve attached your sense of security to, you’ll realize a freedom waiting for you. In time you’ll realize you don’t miss them…just like my daughter won’t really miss that giant wiener dog shaped like a pillow.

So…What stuff have you been hanging on to?

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Article originally published on 10/18/2010

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Comments

  1. Fantastic post! I love the way you look at what is going on with your children and are able to relate it to the adult world!

    I thought I was pretty good at decluttering but since starting my journey towards minimalism, I realised that I am holding onto a lot of keepsakes not really understanding that the memory is my heart, not in a box in the garage.

    Why on earth would I keep a teddy bear with signatures all over it from my 18th birthday? Most of those people are no longer in my life and for good reason 🙂

    Keep up the great work, look forward to supporting one another on the minimalist mothering journey!

  2. I am so glad to have discovered you! You blog is talking to me exactly where I am at right now. I had an epiphany a few months ago that I have spent my entire adult life trying to acquire stuff (the perfect dining room table to make Thanksgiving perfect!), and now I feel like my stuff is STRANGLING me. I can’t get rid of it quick enough.

    I will be adding you to my reader and looking forward to reading more!

    • Faith Janes says:

      It’s the same for me…I am such an impatient declutter. I just want it gone. Best of luck on your journey to “less” and thanks so much for reading.

  3. You are very insightful. I have adopted children with very difficult backgrounds. One keeps a pair of her mother’s underwear in a baggie. It’s all she has to remember her by. Others have to be able to see a full pantry to sleep well at night. They are the ones that had to forage in the garbage cans at age 3 to find a meal. I realize how unfortunate it is that they need stuff for security. I hadn’t realized how unfortunate it is that I think I need stuff for security as well. I am an adult from a mildly dsyfunctional family. I don’t “need” one more craft project, magazine, piece of furniture, etc. What I need is a new perspective and freedom from the stuff. Thanks, K

    • Faith Janes says:

      My husband went through years of foster care and being adopted into a very negative situation and he has told me that owning “stuff” makes him feel more secure too. The mental side of decluttering your life is often more challenging than just clearing out the physical stuff.

  4. Kids are wonderful teachers. The honest words that come out of their mouths can stop you in your tracks.

  5. Hello again! One of the most important things that I recently realized is that I will not be SAVING things for my children. I do love my mother sooo much…but all the things she has been SAVING for me my whole life–things that she deems important and special–well, I am kind of ashamed to admit that I don’t WANT some of them. I am using the crystal to drink from-because EVERYDAY should be special, and I should not just save it for a special occasion that would be a long way off. I want my children to PICK their crystal and china–if they even WANT it.

    I vow not to burden my children with my STUFF unless they WANT it and ASK for it.

    • Faith Janes says:

      That’s a great gift to give you children…to not give them stuff. So many times parents pass things on to their children with so much guilt attached to it that the children feel like they can’t get rid of it. Good for you for making a change!

    • greendragonfly says:

      OMG. I’m so there. When we became pregnant, we got several boxes of stuff from my in laws. An outfit my husbands father wore and had a picture in that my hubby then wore and had a picture in and… just last week, has R had her picture in it? NOOOO!!! Then, the blanket knit by the base commanders wife for my husbands GRANDMOTHER when she was pregnant with his mom. They’re in boxes under my bed. Most of the stories I don’t remember (I was pregnant when they gave this to me, my brain wasn’t working) and they didn’t write it down and attach it… My mother gave me the nightgown that she wore at the hospital when I was born. Really? That is gone at least. I just don’t know what to do with the rest… It’s not a lot but … I think that I will keep it for a while longer and then maybe ask my in laws about it. Maybe when we move. I don’t want to hurt their feelings though. PLEASE don’t do this to your kids. It’s bad enough that I got my mom’s wedding dress (which I donated to a fundraiser that turns them into quilts to be sold for breast cancer funds)…

      • Faith Janes says:

        Wow…those are pretty amazing! Nothing like a Back to the Future photo shoot and the clothes you mom wore during birth to give the urge to purge. 🙂 It can be hard to get rid of things like that. I just try to remember that the LOVE is the real gift when someone gives you something that was sentimental to them and it’s less about the object itself.

  6. We let our children pick what they want saved. They have a bin, and get to choose what is important enough to them, what evokes the positive memories. It is rarely the stuff I would save for them. I’ve finally restricted my own self to a bin as well. K

    • Faith Janes says:

      You hit on a GREAT point about letting kids save what’s important to them. My oldest son is SO sentimental. He has even saved a post it note that I wrote him one day and there was nothing sentimental about it other than the heart at the bottom next to “Love, Mom.”

      I gave both my boys shoe boxes to keep a collection of their goodies (my daughter is still too young) because limiting the space to what really matters is important. But I think one of the things I’m going to give them for Christmas presents is a small wooden chest about the same size so that their keepsakes have more of a treasured place to be. I’m hoping that having a special place for them will have them decide if a keepsake is special enough to save.

  7. Your blog is being added to my favorites list! I am so inspired by many of the minimalist sites, but never felt they were practical for a family. Thank you for the inspiration!!

  8. Your blog proves to me, once more, that once we’re ready for certain steps in our lives, the right path and the right kind of wisdom presents itself at the right time.

    Thank you from me and from my family for you simple, clear and wise words. I have embarked on the minimalist journey a few months ago, which would never be obvious from the state of my home at the moment – one would make quite the opposite conclusion seeing that almost every room looks like either sorting room or junk room or just undefined space with piles of stuff everywhere. I have come to realise that minimalism is primarily state of mind and find great comfort in that, as well as deep belief that a day will come when I’ll be surrounded mainly by the carefully selected items that do serve the purpose here and now. Minimalism in the living space takes time to achieve, which is something I do struggle with, as I wish there’s a magic wand to make everything that suffocates me disappear. I clearly remember the time when stuff became synonym for security for me, for almost exact reasons you listed in your post. The awareness of such false security, highlighted by seeing it so clearly written, makes me even more determined to get where I want to be.

    I would also like to say how much I enjoy reading the comments of the other blog followers. Knowing what experiences and thought process others are going through is so inspirational and motivating.

  9. This post totally spoke to my heart. Thank you!

  10. I knew a lady who collected whole rooms full of stuff for her children when they got out of school and went to make their own homes. By the time they graduated they already had most of that stuff and did not want it. Think of all the money she spent on all that stuff!

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