1 EAGLETON NOTES: One Hundred Things? You're Kidding.

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Saturday, 25 January 2020

One Hundred Things? You're Kidding.

I think I was in hospital when I came across an article in a paper (in hospital and on ferry journeys are just about the only times I tend to read newspapers these days) which said that decluttering guru Mary Lambert says we only need 100 items and once we cull we will be happier, calmer and more successful. The journalist writing the article said that she had spent a strange weekend counting her possessions and had over 100,000 in her one-bedroom flat. Apparently the 'average' US home has over 300,000 possessions. 

There are, of course, 'rules' to this. Clothes count as possessions (well that my 100 used up easily) but all similar essential clothes like socks, handkerchiefs, underwear etc just count as one item for each type. Crockery doesn’t count, nor does food and drink (so my collection of wines and spirits is allowed, phew) or cleaning materials, tools or bed linen. 

Lambert cheerily quips that the lighter life is addictive and you might find yourself wanting to downsize in these areas too. Lambert acknowledges that whittling everything down to 100 items is no mean feat and suggests tackling it over a period of seven months. Seven months! Seven years perhaps. After all it's taken me 7 decades to acquire this much.

I have no intention of counting my possessions but having done a quick tally of things viewable just in my living room I can say that having 1200 CDs and coming up to 1000 books doesn't augur well for my total being under 100,000 in the whole house. I have several hundred thousand photographs. Do they count?

I'm sure that decluttering is a worthy objective and I suspect most of us have been or are aiming somewhere along those lines. 

In reality I wonder how many things we can live with. At my age one could try moving into one-bedroom sheltered accommodation to find out. 

Without that sort of incentive, though the real question is how many things we are willing to get rid of.

51 comments:

  1. I can tell you it is neither easy nor is it without regret to begin de-cluttering. I had over 1000 loved books before my last move and I've regretted losing every single one of the 300+ I donated. I'm not sure it is good for a person to clear oneself of possessions although keeping old things one never uses, or looks at, is probably not healthy.

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    1. Jill, I empathise with you over books. I got rid of 100s a few years ago together with my entire collection of vinyl LPs and a lot of other things. Several years on and I've actually forgotten about the books (part of my 'loft' collection) and it is only on the odd occasion when I go into the loft and look along the shelves for a book that is no longer there that I even think about it. One day the rest will have to go. Then, if I move when I get older, the 'downstairs' books will succumb. Hopefully that's a long way off.

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  2. I have very few possessions and cannot see the need for me personally to have many. I see everything I buy or own as just being something for someone else to have to deal with one day and dispose of. I do not find it difficult to dispose of things and the more you see of life, as you will know Graham, the less important material possessions become.

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    1. Rachel, I am aware that I have far too many possessions: more than I need and more than I want. I have already disposed of lots and lots of things to the charity shops (goodwill/op shop). I'm gradually going through the boxes of cards and letters I've kept over the last 50 or more years. They get one last read (or not) and get thrown away (or occasionally digitised). That's the theory. But I have 60 years of correspondence with a childhood friend who died a year ago, letters from my dead son, 40 years of letters to and from my mother when I came up here to live. I know I don't need them. I will probably never read them again. But I can't throw them away.

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    2. It is one of those things where we can only make the decision ourselves. I dislike this new fad called decluttering and people writing books about it, or at least they are not for me. I reached a point one day where I knew it was right for me, nobody could tell me and I would never tell anybody to do it. It is a point you may reach or may not, but it is a very individual thing and for me it was the right thing to do. I do not live a minimalist life at all as anybody knows from seeing pictures on my blog, but there are certain things that I no longer wished to have so I disposed of them. I enjoyed the post very much and what you said. Thank you.

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  3. Removing old unwanted unused unloved items from your home is great, but I feel I would be living in a very sterile environment if I followed some of the minimalist recommendations that are currently promoted. Having "things" around me give me comfort and, I feel, contribute to my home being a reflection of myself.

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    1. Margaret, I agree that our possessions are a reflection of ourselves. I look at the pottery and pictures in my house and they are very much a reflection of me and my taste. None are there because they are valuable or to 'show off'. They are there because I get pleasure from looking at them.

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  4. Most humans cluster possessions or things around them. Just as I feel sorry for hoarders I am very suspicious of minimalists who occupy bare spaces and own very little. It's unnatural.

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    1. YP, I remember someone once saying to me that if I were put in a prison cell with nothing I would survive. They may or may not be correct. However the point about life, to me, is not surviving but living. Possibly the majority of people in this world do only survive. But I would rather they were given the opportunity to live than join them in surviving.

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  5. Oh! God! People do come up with some crazy ideas. Ideas are easy to come up with...but they should be viable - workable.

    I did some de-cluttering early last year...it didn't made much of a difference, though! There are things that have sentimental value...we all have them...they mean very little or nothing to anyone else...but to me...to the individual person...they do. They hold cherished memories.

    My humble abode is small - very small...I don't live in a house, small, medium or large. I probably do have too much "stuff"...I know I do, and some of it is way past its "use by date" (probably a bit like me). There is still some "stuff" I should get rid of...and I will...when I'm ready. I sure am not ready to expend extra energy in doing so while this hot, humid weather is around, regardless of what Ms Lambert suggests I should do!

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    1. Lee, firstly I suspect some people come up with ideas because they think that idea will enable they to make a living: they may or may not believe it in their heart or even in their head. Like you, I have decluttered over the years because I had stuff I no longer needed nor wanted. I will continue on that path. You've made a good point about cherished possessions which mean nothing to anyone else.

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  6. In our discussion of downsizing I got mad one day and counted everything on the walls. 223 things on the walls! That's nuts!

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    1. Red, I'm assuming that you are meaning things like pictures, pottery and the like and not wall-cupboards or kitchen utensils. I counted 74 pictures, 'works of art', clocks, mirrors and so on. More than I expected but I do have a lot of walls.

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  7. In November I packed to evacuate my home of 30 years due to catastrophic bushfire rating... the first time ever I have felt the need to do this. But doing so made me really question what was important to me & us as a family. Ultimately it was photos and not much else that I felt inclined to pack, which tells me that all my material possessions are lovely but don't actually mean a lot to me in the big scheme of things. Yes I love my wall hangings, my kids artwork, the needlework that my grandmother made, the side dresser that my grandfather bought as a gift for his new wife and I would be devastated if they were lost in a fire, but people & the memories tied up in photos are more important to me. So I may come unstuck on the 100,000 if photos are counted individually... maybe they need to be scanned and put on a hard-drive, then they would only count as one thing!

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    1. Sorry... I may come unstuck with the 100 things not the 100,000 things... I don't have that many photos :)

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    2. I followed you, Lynda. I do feel for all of you who had to consider fleeing and possibly losing your homes (as well as those who lost their homes). I've never had to take such decisions and I've only moved house once since 1975. Over 100,000 of my photos are on hard drives and in clouds. I've still got most of the photos I took between the age of 6 and the digital age still to digitise. It was supposed to be a job for last winter and then this winter. Together with so many other jobs.

      In terms of artworks I would rescue one of my least valuable - a small pot I bought in Western Australia.

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  8. I have spent my life acquiring pleasant antiques and other objects. My only worry about being a hoarder, is that when I'm no longer here those who clear-up all the mess will have no idea of the value of certain things. An important first edition book, signed by its author, looks like any other book on the shelf, and would probably either go on a bonfire or to a charity shop unless I begin to itemise things, and I'm not sure if I have either the time or the inclination.

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    1. Cro, I've only ever acquired things for the enjoyment they give me and few of my pictures or pots are particularly valuable except to me. Oddly I do have a first edition Ruskin but it's ex-libris so, I believe, of little value.

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    2. Oh, Cro - I so agree with you! I have found wonderful antiques literally thrown on the side of the road (I'm guessing by someone who inherited it and has no idea of its value or beauty)... and it makes me quake for the things I've collected!

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    3. I suppose, Marcheline, may I suggest that it's whether they are valuable to you that matters. After all, is a Picasso really worth all those millions? At the moment it is. Tomorrow it might not be.

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    4. We keep saying that we must sell stuff, but somehow we never do. In fact we acquire even more!

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  9. My brain needs color and design around me. Blank walls are soul-sucking.
    When we moved after 27 yrs in one house, we purged. We could do some more. My beloved has committed to this project, if I make him.

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    1. Susan, I would hate to have blank walls: even my kitchen has artworks on the walls.

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  10. Who is this Mary Lambert? Is she having a laugh. 100 items!
    Ah well, I could certainly do a cull on books, CDs & photos at my place.
    I'll think about it. No point in rushing into these things....
    Alphie

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    1. Who is Mary Lambert? I didn't know Alphie. So I looked her up. She wrote "Living With Less: How to downsize to 100 personal possessions" (10 Jan 2013). It's just been re-issued which is probably what gave rise to the article I read. I shall not be buying it! "No point in rushing into these things....". I like that and I agree

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  11. Many years ago, I read a piece of crime fiction where the main character was living in a way that she never owned more than 250 things. She counted her precious and much used pair of hiking boots as one item, had one good coat and business suit and so on.
    In my flat, I try to keep the amount of things to a reasonable minimum without being a minimalist. I like to entertain and throw parties, which in itself means a certain number of glasses, cocktail shaker etc. is neceesary in my place whereas other people would not need that.
    If pressed, I suppose we can all survive with a lot less than what we have right now - refugees and immigrants have no choice and would probably just shake their head at the suggestion.

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    1. Meike, your flat always looks very tidy. I love tidiness but always seem to be doing so many things at once that there is usually 'stuff' lying around. You mentioned refugees and immigrants and they are just a few of the population of the world with very little to their name.

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  12. I wouldn't consider myself a minimalist but I have never felt comfortable if I'm surrounded by too many things, especially if they are not important or in regular use.

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    1. Jules, the word you used that resonates with me is 'important'. Regular use is a problematic for books and CDs and art. The artwork I have around me is very important to me. Could I live without it? Of course but I'd prefer not to.

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  13. I know that I have too many *things* around me but all of them have some meaning or other, to me anyway. My husband has been decluttering quietly over the past months and several times I have noticed the odd item is missing. I just wish he would ask me first!

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    1. JayCee, one of the advantages of living alone is that I have no one to please nor ask about anything. I can declutter or clutter to my hearts content.

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  14. After retirement two years ago, I expected to spend some time de-cluttering. But no. Other than giving away some clothing and shoes, as well as some entertaining dishware to my children, not much else has left the premises. As I scan my home office, it is easy to see I've already broken Ms Lambert's 100 rule. So be it. Not one pang of remorse.

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  15. GB, this is a topic that is so multi-faceted it needs bullet points!

    * People who write books telling other people what they "need" to do are feeding some need of their own to control people. Or to make loads of money by selling an idea that makes people panic to "fit in". I don't subscribe to that nonsense.

    * People who hoard things until their floors can't be seen and they have to crawl in small spaces from room to room are obviously suffering from a mental or emotional issue, and they need help. Their issues don't relate to the rest of society or create a need for people to throw all their belongings in the tip.

    * Personally speaking, our small cottage is chock-full of eccentric oddities, antique furniture and accoutrements, the walls are full of framed photos, posters, and artwork, and I wouldn't have it any other way.

    Do I declutter? Sure, all the time! It's an ongoing process. Boxes and bags that arrive with the mail, etc. I am not going through and throwing out my antiques, though! Every thing has a history to it, a story that is part of my life. I love the wonderful wackiness of our home.

    As for books (Bear and I are both avid readers) - we are going through our collections and weeding out ones we really don't cherish. I drop them in the return box at the library, where they can either sell them for money to help the library, or put library cards on them and use them to lend. Books I keep are ones I know I will read over and over (Hamlet, Dangerous Liaisons, Sense & Sensibility, cookbooks, my travel journals and my school yearbooks, etc.)

    My particular challenges are my vintage kitchenware, and clothing. There is literally no storage space in our house. No spare rooms to use as storage. The attic is a tiny triangle that you can't stand up in. Of course it's full of "stuff", but it's hardly a place we use regularly, due to the fact that accessing it means pulling down a wooden ladder. Not a great place for moving heavy items to/from... we mostly access it for our Yule decorations, our mead brewing gear, and our cat carriers, for trips to the vet.

    In my experience, people tend to fill up whatever space they have. My mom is a tiny lady who lives in a huge house with an attic that could double as a bowling alley (literally). She also has a barn out back. She's filled both the house and the barn with stuff. I have no doubt that I would do the same, just as I have done with our cottage. You take up the space you have. It just sort of happens that way. And as long as you enjoy your stuff, there's nothing wrong with that.

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    1. Marcheline, I agree with your first two bullet points. As for your own situation it makes you happy so it is the correct solution for you. Simple!

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  16. "Bah humbug", I say! (And why should crockery or bed linen or tools not count? As if one could not have happened to collect too many tea mugs or pillow cases or screwdrivers, just as easily as books or clothes!) As for the 7 months... When my dad had to move to a nursing home a year after mum died, we may not actually have packed much more than 100 things to go with him. But everything was still in his house, so had he asked for something special, we could have brought it. After he died (a year later) it took us three more years to go through everything (and in the end we still had to hire help for the final clearance). With that in mind, I am indeed trying hard now to keep on top of my own situation and not end up in a similar situation. But I see no need to go to extremes. If one day I have to move from my present flat to a smaller one, that's one thing. But to throw out 90% of my possessions already, only to sit in empty rooms with only the TV and laptop really does not seem the best thing just yet (even if I could also keep everything in my kitchen cabinets...) My main principle so far is that when I buy something new, something old has to go; and if a shelf or drawer or cupboard or whatever is too full, then it needs going through!

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    1. Monica, "Bah humbug" indeed. I know from recent friends' bereavements that there is no easy solution when faced with a house full of a life time of 'stuff' even if the house looks clean and tidy and most of it is hidden away in cupboards, lofts etc.

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  17. 100 things is unrealistic for many reason. Being organized can make life smoother, and thus happier. All that downsizing babble, I feel, takes advantage of the feeling of accomplishment when the housework is done. People can be fooled into thinking downsizing is more important than it is. Unless a person has way too much, I see no reason to get rid of stuff.

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  18. I recently had this conversation with my sisters. One is a minimalist, the other a collector of various things whose home has a warm, homely feel. It's the minimalist who is sure her way is the right way and tries to convince the other to change. Why? I think it's a control thing although why anyone would want control over such a thing is beyond me. In my perfect world everyone would be free to do what makes them happy.

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    1. Pauline, I think it is a control thing. I've decided that proselytisers in general have a need to control others. The latent lawyer in me would add to your last sentence "so long as it doesn't impinge on anyone else."

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  19. Yep 100 things sounds a bit unrealistic. But decluttering is a good idea. We had to do it when we moved. We through out heaps of stuff, sold stuff on Gumtree/ebay and then we still had boxes unopened after a year so they went out too. Still got lots of stuff though.

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    1. Diane, moving is always a good opportunity to declutter. I last moved 26 years ago.

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  20. I honestly don't know how you could get that many things in a property to be honest, I declutter regularly but there's no way I would have all those items like she does. The biggest things I get rid of are usually clothes and shoes, things I've purchased and have either worn out or things that I've bought and no longer like, amazing how popular the latter choice is.

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    1. Amy, if you live in a property for long enough believe me you can acquire a lot of dross. I shall do another post on the subject because when I lived in New Zealand all my personal possessions fitted into one cupboard. I shall explain.

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  21. As I am not an "accumulator" there is little to declutter. When something dies it's a natural death. Anyway, if you go with Mary Kondo's advice (the latest "life style guru"), we should only have that which brings us joy and get rid of the rest. Which isn't a bad approach. This afternoon I will buy a new iron. It'll bring me joy in as much as my old one has died.

    Anyway, what's with the counting? One hundred is such an arbitrary number. Why not a thousand or something plucked out of the dust particles of neglected corners? Reminds me of people who proudly advertise how many books they intend to read (Jan), and/or know how many they did read (Dec). Including titles. I find that so embarrassing I cringe on their behalf. I hope you aren't one of them. If you are I apologize. I tend to offend, unintentionally.

    Hope you are well,
    U

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    1. Ursula, you are fortunate not to be an "accumulator". I am (of certain things) although I don't hoard. If it gives me joy then, usually, I keep it. If it serves no purpose then I dispose of it. I've never been into life style gurus either! I might recall which books I've read and I might know what is on the bookcase waiting to be read (but I couldn't guarantee either). I am not a steeplechaser. I rarely take a fence.

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  22. I came over to read your post because Dawn Treader has the link... I just counted the living room and we have 10 remotes to different devices. counting furniture I have about 50 items in sight, and I am a minimalist. great post, I will think about this

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    1. Hi Sandra. I apologise for missing your comment. My immediate reaction when reading it just now was '10 remotes ?' Then I decided to look at the remotes in my living room. I only have 4 but they control a total of 11 things.

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  23. NEVER declutter. Your possessions are the physical manifestation of your thoughts. That poor unfortunate woman, Mary Lambert, has no thoughts woth keeping. I have and I suspect you have too.

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    1. MLM247, I apologise for the delay in responding to your comment. I've only just seen it. I don't know Mary Lambert's works (indeed until this post's comments I'd never heard of her). I agree that possessions are to some extent a manifestation of one's thoughts but, on the other hand, I'm not sure that I always want to me reminded of some of my thoughts.

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