Wellness and prevention information from the experts at the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing

Accumulating stuff and letting go – reorganizing to relieve stress


By Chandler Yorkhall, BA, NCTMB, AOBTA, massage therapist, Penny George Institute for Health and Healing

My wife and I consider ourselves to be thrifty folks who place a higher value on relationships and time spent together than on stuff.  Even so, it’s astonishing how many things accumulate in our home.

Perhaps you can relate. With three children under seven, our house was one busy place last summer. Like many families in Minnesota, we spend the summer months getting out as much as we can ― day camps, bike rides, camping trips, swimming, boating and climbing. These activities all require equipment that takes up space.

During the summer months, this stuff can live on the porch, in the garage, or even in the backyard.  But come autumn, we need to find places inside our home for it.  Enter my basement  … dah dah dah Daaah.

Because we had been so busy, our basement maintenance and storage system became overwhelmed to the point that you could barely walk down there. I found myself avoiding it so I didn’t have to look at it.

It wasn’t until a cold, rainy, Friday evening in October that I finally found time to sort, organize, and discard my way through that pile. The emotional weight lifted in putting my things in their place was startling. I remembered how valuable it is to feel this way.

In the Chinese calendar, autumn is about letting go. Leaves fall, summer fades. The harvest is in, and we look back on the year with appreciation for its fullness, and in some cases for its messiness.

Fall is a time to consider what is meaningful in our lives. Ideas, objects, relationships and habits may be reconsidered, revised or replaced with things that are more relevant and life-giving. When we take time to organize, sort, and care for our space and our possessions, we have an opportunity to consider what is meaningful.

For example, while sorting through my basement, I came across several crates of books that I’ve stored for almost 20 years in hopes that I would someday read, reread, or pass them on to my children. I overlooked them many times during these sorting episodes, but this year I found I was ready to begin letting go. I took nine grocery bags to Magers and Quinn, added $140 to my kids’ college fund, and freed up some space in my basement and my subconscious mind.

Now the holidays have just passed with the typical infusion of more stuff. It’s clear that my space and the things in it affect my stress level. When my home is organized, I feel more relaxed, creative, and able to plan, sort, and breathe. Still, I know that stuff is an essential part of living and raising kids.

I wonder, though, what it would be like if letting go of stuff became as enjoyable and habitual as acquiring it?

I would love to hear your thoughts on these questions:

  • What are your experiences with accumulation of and clearing out of stuff?
  • How do you balance acquiring and letting go?
  • How do you handle accumulation over the holidays? Are you happy with that approach?

Here’s to our stuff! Happy New Year from all of us at the Penny George Institute.

Chandler Yorkhall, BA, NCTMB, AOBTA, is a massage therapist with the Penny George Institute. He works with hospitalized patients.

4 thoughts on “Accumulating stuff and letting go – reorganizing to relieve stress

  1. I had this problem when I had to move recently. My new motto “If I bring any new purchases into the house, I have to get rid of 2 things” and I now longer use my credit card/or buy on line…thus being mindful when I do purchase an item.

    • By the time my oldest daughter was 5, she had produced a body of artwork the took up approximately 30 cubic feet of our basement. That was some seriously precious clutter. Sometimes the clutter doesn’t come from new purchases, but rather from our own unwillingness (or lack of priority…) to sort and sift the things that are of real value. Eventually, we did sort through that impressive portfolio and pass a good bit of it on to the garbage collector. The pieces we kept, though, were the ones we held up to look at there in the dusty basement and felt, knew, they mustn’t be discarded. If you bring in a new purchase, how do you decide which 2 things are to be displaced?

  2. My life is filled with decluttering areas. I actually enjoy the sorting and deciding between what’s garbage, re-sale or donate. It feels great to drive away from an ARC drop off. Why then is there so much of it to need to “get to it someday?” What happens when I have nothing left to “Get to”. Would I enjoy all of the other things I do instead of decluttering more or less? Knowing there’s always more to do is also comforting in a way. Not sure what the other way feels like. I have never really been caught up. Maybe I will feel that in 2014 and my creativity will explode…………if only I wouldn’t have donated that sketchbook and watercolor set…………..

    • I think getting “caught up” is where you feel you can move/breathe/create again. Clutter becomes a problem when it bothers us, right? Then we work at it until it’s live-able again, and go focus on the fun stuff. Clutter in our space is like clutter in our head. There’s so much joy to be found in a random beautiful idea that just happened to be hanging on from an article I shouldn’t have taken time to read last week… or a random beautiful object I thought was gone forever after last Valentine’s day. Because I didn’t “finish” the decluttering, inspiration surfaced unexpectedly today.

      On the other hand, I can choose not to deal with that pile of stuff in the basement because it isn’t “bothering me”… which is fine until there’s a massive rain storm and half my stuff gets moldy and gross. Some things, it seems, need attention right away (like making sure the basement doesn’t leak!).

      The long-term project for me is to sort out which messes are important for my process, and which could be handled with a quick bye-bye and a trip to Savers (or the dump). I think that many boxes of old stuff in my house don’t get dealt with for fear they may contain memories, inspirations, or materials that will spark an unstoppable barrage of creativity or process or nostalgia for which our busy lives simply do not have space. How’s that for a humdinger?

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