“Needy” Belongings

Not all physical belongings are the same. Some, such as plastic boxes, require little to no maintenance, remaining largely unchanged for months or years. In contrast, others are a bit more “needy.”  In fact, there are many items that require time, money, energy, special storage, enhanced maintenance, and other forms of extra attention. Typically, we either fail to consider or largely underestimate the amount of care that a possession might actually require. We can easily envision the benefits of ownership, but rarely accurately assess the costs. In the long run, “needy” belongings have the potential to leave us feeling overwhelmed.

What kinds of things fit this definition? Quite a few! There are at least six categories of items that demand greater than average time and attention.

Needy belongings to think twice about owning.

LIVING THINGS

Plants, pets and other living things require ongoing attention—everything from feeding to pruning to trips to the veterinarian.

BROKEN OBJECTS

Pieces that need to be repaired are unfinished projects that weigh on our minds. They will require funds, expertise, energy and/or time to be restored and enjoyed.

OVERSIZED PIECES    
Pieces that are large, such as a giant teddy bear, a surfboard, a car carrier, a drum set, and hand-me-down furniture can be a challenge to accommodate. Often, we don’t realize the measure of the storage challenge until we see them in our space. If you’ve ever cut down your own Christmas tree, you know that most things loom larger in a home than they do in the “grand scale” environment like a mountainside, showroom, or warehouse.

VALUABLES

Items of high value, such as jewelry and electronics, should be securely stored and properly insured. Options include lockboxes, offsite safety deposit boxes, and out-of-sight storage. Additionally, valuable items should be separately insured, as many of these pieces are not sufficiently covered by traditional homeowner’s policies.

INVESTMENT PIECES

Pieces we hope will increase in value over time, like artwork, collections, antiques, furs, wine, books, designer clothing, and classic cars warrant specific and protected storage. Always consider the ideal temperature and light conditions recommended by experts and be careful to use storage containers that are made of suggested materials. Like valuables, they should be properly insured.

HIGH CARE ITEMS

Some belongings require frequent care and maintenance. Pools need to be cleaned, copper and silver need to be polished, delicate garments need to be dry cleaned, etc. When it comes to these pieces, the question is a simple one of cost vs. benefit. Be sure the payoff warrants the upkeep.

Of course, the mere fact that an object requires enhanced care doesn’t mean we shouldn’t own it, only that we should only do so mindfully.

BEFORE acquiring an object, carefully think through the ramifications to ensure that you are willing to do whatever might be needed.

Once an object is ALREADY IN YOUR POSSESSION, give yourself permission to assess whether or not you honestly want to keep the object and all it requires.

Admittedly, there may be some objects we cannot simply toss, as much as we might want to. For example, if we have inherited boxes of paperwork from a deceased relative, we can’t just throw them unopened into the recycle bin. The boxes must be reviewed, one page at a time, because there may be something important inside.

However, for many “needy” items, it is perfectly appropriate to ask ourselves (and honestly answer!) a series of questions to help us decide if it is time to go, such as:

-> Do I have the time needed to care for this?

-> Do I have the desire to care for this?

-> Do I have the funds needed to properly store this?

-> Do I have the knowledge I need to repair this item and keep it in working order?

-> Does having this item feel like a burden I no longer wish to carry?

We should never feel guilty about letting go.

  • We own possessions, not the other way around.
  • We are not responsible for maintaining an archive of our lives.
  • We should not feel pressure to hold onto family pieces that we do not like or use.
  • We are entitled to have changing interests and adjust our belongings accordingly.
  • We have a right to set priorities and keep what matters most.

*     *     *     *     *

Do you have any “needy” objects in your space? Are there any you would rather not own?

30 thoughts on ““Needy” Belongings”

  1. Such great advice and will agree if you are thinking of adding a needy object in your life you need to weigh the consequences before making that final decision if you get that object or decide not to. So I couldn’t agree more. Thanks!! 🙂

  2. This is an important concept when it comes to decluttering. I appreciate that if we give these items a category, we can gain a new perspective on them. Thank you!

    1. I think a “category” that deserves special forethought is a great way to think about these. A couple of needy belongings may bring complete joy, but too many may drag us down. Sometimes, we even resent having to care for needy possessions, and that is a shame.

  3. So true, Seana. Something that requires tending, but you enjoy, like tending plants, can give a return beyond measure.

    1. Totally agree, Cat. I am a plant person, so it brings me joy. However, I’ve definitely been in some spaces where it is clear that tending the plants is not a pleasurable activity for the person who owns them. It all comes down to aligning our priorities and joys with what we choose to own.

  4. I like the way you developed these categories, Seana. I had never thought about things that we own in this way before. It’s interesting to contemplate. I also like your series of statements at the end of this piece. Two really struck me as important to remember: we own the possession – not the other way around and we have a right to change our interests. Great information!

    1. Thanks for the affirmation, Diane! I think the idea of allowing ourselves to change and stretch in new directions, and to align our possessions in accordance with these shifting priorities, is very important. I often find clients whose spaces are filled with items that they no longer use, need, or like. Life is a journey, and carrying too much can get heavy!

  5. As I’m reading this I’m reminded how the younger generation isn’t as interested in so many of the objects that we may have filled our homes with. They don’t want to polish silver, take care of antique wood or bother with crystal. They just don’t want the upkeep. Of course that means that none of my children are interested in inheriting “early mother” belongings.
    To be quite honest, this really does make sense. Do we really need to take the time for this kind of upkeep?

    1. I think the younger generation is onto something with not wanting to spend so much time on upkeep. The silver one is interesting. I never received much silver, but I am very aware how much time the small bit I have requires of me. I have a friend who has quite a bit, and it does end up being a burden… especially if you rarely ever use it. Formal entertaining used to be a common and shared pleasure, but many have moved away from this, so why keep around all the high maintenance accoutrement if you don’t need them?

  6. I love, love, love this post. It beautifully lays out the ROI of objects. Would I rather make a photo book (my hobby) or polish all my silver. Duh. Does it honor my beloved grandmother to haul around this china cabinet with me every where I go? No. She would want me to live in a home that reflects my taste.Objects can be so NEEDY! But, maybe I don’t NEED them so much. Thanks.
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    1. I’m with you on polishing the silver, Melissa! A little is nice, but a whole set full, that requires regular upkeep… I think I’ll just happily stick with my stainless steel:)

  7. Nice infographic, Seana. Can I add collections to this list? My son collects Lego and my husband collects baseball cards. Yes, both of their collections bring them some sense of joy, BUT my husband spends hours scouring websites getting frustrated because he can’t find the card he’s looking for and my son wants to build a particular structure and then gives up because he can’t find all the pieces in his massive collection. Without putting in place rules and structure collections can cross the line into neediness too.

    1. Absolutely! As an objective observer, you can see the stress that these collections are actually causing. I’m totally agreeing about the structure and boundaries. When any object starts causing more sorrow than joy, it is time to reevaluate!

    1. It all comes down to priorities. I love plants as well, Sabrina, so I care for them as a hobby. At the same time, I bet both of us have been in homes where the plants are sitting dead in their pots, or have taken over a space from neglect. Just keep what you love, eliminate any hassles you don’t really want!

  8. These are also good things to consider before acquiring something! We once had a pool – not because we wanted one, but because we loved the house enough to buy it and the pool was already there. But over the years that we lived there, we spent thousands of dollars on chemicals and pool maintenance, not to mention the hours of work caring for it. If we divided the cost of pool ownership by the number of times it was used, it would have been horrific.
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    1. I’ve had enough friends with pools to know I never want to own one! Especially here in New England, where something is always falling from the trees. Practically a full time job to keep them clean, not to mention safe.

  9. I love how you talk about “needy” belongings. I don’t like to have that type. So whenever possible, I will choose something that doesn’t require a lot of extra time, care, or problematic storage. And that’s because I’d rather live life than spend all my time caring for the stuff of life. However, as someone that has recently ventured into growing a small garden, I realize that your chart places living things in the “needy” category. For me, there is the pleasure factor that goes along with caregiving. I enjoy tending to the plants, seeing them grow, and eating the “fruits” of my labor. So, in this case, the joy factor outweighs the time I spend maintaining them.

    1. Items where the joy factor outweighs the time to maintain them are exactly the ones we should keep. I love gardening and tending plants, so that would be a joy for me too. However, polishing silver? Not so much!

    1. Smart! If you invest, it is worth protecting your investment. Now the trick is to remember what piece is where, and to get to the bank before it closes when you want to wear the fancy necklace 🙂

  10. Good thoughts here. People often bring things into their life without considering all the ramifications. Adopting a pet is probably the one I hear about the most. People think short term and don’t realize how much time a pet takes, everyday!

    1. I’ve been thinking a lot about the pet adoptions during this time of COVID. I’ve heard that many have been adopting animals, and I’m hoping they will have the time and commitment to care for them when work/school resume. That said, I think the pets have been in 7th heaven with their families home all day:)

  11. Oh that’s interesting. We certainly have living things, so that’s the most important. We don’t own any investment belongings, because anything we have like that is generally something we care a lot about.
    Ah, the broken objects..

    1. I love that your investment pieces are all things you love – that is the goal! I’ve definitely moved away from objects that require maintenance because I just don’t want to spend all my time caring for physical things. The garden is a joy, but it is also seasonal, so I have fun for a couple of months, and then I take time off in the winter and focus on something else.

    1. I’ve had many people tell me that the “needy” items they owned were not intentionally acquired. As you say, they were a gift, or they came with the house, or it came into the marriage with a spouse. It’s simply good to be aware of the drag that some items place on us, to be mindful about bringing them in, and to give ourselves permission to let them go if we don’t want the hassle.

  12. Good things to think about-before the purchase. In the end it’s all “stuff”. One needs to carefully consider if the enjoyment outweighs the requirements that go with it, You made some very good points.

    1. Exactly Dianne! We don’t want to be slaves to our possessions. We should focus our energy on the belongings and hobbies that bring us joy, and release those that do not.

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