It Isn’t Even My Stuff

woman with turned up as if it say, "what the heck?"

[Note: This post contains a table that might be easier to read on a desktop than on a mobile device.]

Recently I was chatting with a group of young moms. We were talking about the “mixed blessing” of handed down/donated clothing and toys. There was a general appreciation for receiving pieces free of charge, and a good feeling about the environmentally friendly aspect of reusing items. At the same time, there was also discussion about having to figure out what to do with belongings they hadn’t selected. They were often not quite right, didn’t fit, were not particularly needed, or were not desired by their children.

This conversation got me reflecting on how much of the pileup in our homes consists of items we did not buy or intentionally acquire. One way or another, stuff just shows up in our space. I would estimate that items like these represent somewhere between 20-30% of household clutter.

Figuring out how to proceed with “free” belongings can be tricky. One the one hand, we can (and should!) apply the same criteria that we would use when evaluating any possessions:

  • Do I (or does my family) like it?
  • Will we use it?
  • Does it work?
  • Does it fit?
  • Do we have space to store it?

Unfortunately, items that have been given to us can come with a layer of conflicting feelings and/or guilt that can make them especially hard to process. In addition, unlike planned purchases, these items arrive unexpectedly, frequently at moments when we lack the bandwidth and mindset to sort, review, and organize them.

Below are common sources of “free stuff,” as well as thoughts they can trigger and some tips for how to move forward when we are feeling stuck.

Source of “Free” StuffImmobilizing
Thoughts
Suggested Strategy
.

Previous Homeowners

• Tile & Building Materials
• Paint
• Furniture
• Carpet Remnants
.


“I should probably keep all of this
in case I need to
replace something.”
.

Ask yourself:

“Can I identify what each of these is for in this home? If this broke or got stained, would I use these supplies or would I replace with a new item?”

Don’t hold onto anything you wouldn’t use.

.
.

Friends

(Donations & Gifts)

• Clothing
• Toys
• Hostess gifts
.


“My kids won’t wear or play with this,
but I don’t want
to offend my friend
by not keeping it.”
.

Remind yourself that along with a gift comes the right for YOU get to decide what to do with it next.

If you don’t have time to review a bag of items, or if no one in your family wants them, feel free to donate them.

Also, you have the right to let someone know that, although you appreciate their thoughtfulness, you would rather they pass their items on to someone else.

.
.

Friends & Family

(Items for “temporary” storage)

• Furniture, household goods for people in transition
• Belongings for adult children who are not yet settled
.


I need my space back,
but I don’t want to be unkind
or create tension by asking
them to take their
things when I know
it is hard for them
right now.”
.

Ideally, set a deadline in advance for how long you will store another person’s items.

If this wasn’t done, call to discuss this topic and find a mutually agreeable “end date.”

.
.

Relatives (living)

• Gifts
• Family “heirlooms”
• Photographs
• “Family” memorabilia
.


“The family will be
angry with me
if I don’t hold on
to these items.”
.

No one should be tasked with being the family historian against his/her will (even if you do have the largest home!).

Keep what you want, offer the rest to other family members.

If no one wants to take what is left, it can go.

.
.

Relatives (deceased)

• China, Crystal, Silver
• Decorative items
• Artwork
• Furnishings
• Vehicles
• Jewelry
• Paperwork
• Clothing
• Memorabilia
.


“I will be dishonoring
my relative if
I don’t keep this.”
.

Inherited items are basically gifts, so the same rules apply as for any gift (see above).

If you like it and want to keep it, then by all means do so. If you don’t, pass it along.

Keep in mind that simply keeping items packed away in boxes isn’t honoring anyone anyway.

.
.

Spouse

• Furniture
• Decorative items
• Duplicate household supplies
.


“I don’t want to rock the boat
with my new spouse
by telling him/her
that I don’t like
and don’t want to keep
these things.”
.

Married life is a negotiation. Talk about any belongings which are causing distress or friction.

Negotiate what stays and what goes, letting each spouse have some “wins.”

.
.

Guests

(Items left behind)

• Platters, serving utensils
• Coats, mittens, hats, scarves
• Toys
• Clothing
• Toiletries
.


“I’m afraid to give these away
in case someone
comes looking for
them someday.”
.

Timing is everything. If an item suddenly appears after guests have been in your space, reach out to ask if they want them back.

If more than a month has passed with no response, or if you have no idea who may have left an item behind, do what you wish.

.
.

Commercial Establishments

• Free samples
• Prizes
• Giveaways, swag
• Hotel toiletries
.


“These were free,
so I should keep them.
I don’t want
to waste them.”
.

Everything in your space is costing you. Physical belongings require money and energy to store, clean, and maintain.

Your home isn’t a storage unit.

Keep what you are using and what you like. Donate the rest.

.

.

***

Odd as it may seem, it can be hard to let go of things you didn’t buy and never wanted. Remember that your space is your own, and you have the right to keep it the way you wish.

Is there anything in your space that you didn’t buy and would like to let go of?

28 thoughts on “It Isn’t Even My Stuff”

    1. It isn’t always our fault, right? People just usher things into our space, and it can be hard to get them out. Being aware is definitely the first step for so many struggles!

  1. I couldn’t agree with you more and I try really hard when I can to only keep what I know we are going to use or need in our home. Don’t get me wrong sometimes this still isn’t so clear-cut and easy. But do appreciate your handy chart above to further help with this now, too. Thanks, Seana 🙂

  2. Seana, this is a terrific way to present this information! These categories are so important to be aware of, and decide about. I personally have lots of “family historian” items yet to deal with. And here’s a new category (for me) that I have encountered just this week: I adopted two new adult kitties and along with them came a TON of cat-related paraphernalia. Way more than I need. My garage is full of it. Ack! Food, containers, bowls, beds, blankets, carrying cases, litter boxes, toys, cat tree, etc. etc. I mean, cats need a certain amount of stuff, and some of it I might prefer to what I already have, but ….SO MANY THINGS!

  3. This is superb information and it’s timeless. It hit a nerve as I’ve offered so many of our family heirlooms to my kids. They are setting up their own homes, but they just don’t want them. I’m disappointed but I have to respect their lifestyle and what they want.
    Before I give away anything, clothes toys kitchenware, etc. I always ask the other person if it’s something they can use. Otherwise, as you said, we’re just passing clutter on to someone else.

    I’d love a copy of the table, to store on my phone. I’ll then promote it on Instagram stories and FB as it will be so useful. With full credit.

    1. Feel free to screenshot the table. It’s hard to read tables on small screens… they just end up with tiny columns! I have had the same experience with the items for my children. One child lives too far away for me to reasonably get it to her – even her own stuff. Then there is the challenge of all of their memorabilia that they simply don’t have space for in their apartments. Plus, they are at a “mobile” stage of life, and don’t need to be lugging it around from place to place. So at least for the time being, it sits in my attic:)

  4. That photo makes me laugh because it reminds me of my kids getting upset when they are asked to clear the counter.
    Anyway, it is strange that it’s hard to let go of things – even things we didn’t want or need, and don’t use. I think I have told you that sometimes I can live with it/ignore it for ages and other times I get in this huge purge mode. And that stuff is the first to go.

    1. I think the periodic purge mode is common, actually. The good thing about that approach is that the results are SO SATISFYING, right? You can really see the rewards of your efforts:)

    1. We just need to remember that we have the right to let it go. If someone who gave us an objects either explicitly demands we keep it, or guilts us if we try to shed it, then it isn’t a gift. In that case, they are storing something in your space — which is NOT ok!

  5. My ex and I bought an old house that had been in the same family since it was built, and it went on the market when the last owner moved into a nursing home. The realtor sold off the most valuable items but a lot of stuff was left behind, and we were able to make use of quite a lot of it. When we split up, one of the items I kept which we’d acquired at that time was a night table, which is still here. It’s not being used as a night stand but my husband uses it to store his tools, so it stays, even though it really doesn’t belong here.
    Janet Barclay recently posted…Tie your website together with an FAQ pageMy Profile

    1. What a great example of discerning what you LIKE and what is USEFUL. Those are the things to keep. Regardless of how they came to reside in your space, those are worth holding onto. The rest can go:)

    1. Those freebies… some people have a VERY hard time letting them go. I think of all the hotel toiletries, and with COVID limiting travel, that makes people all the more reluctant to let them go. As I’m sure you also try to point out, they are small, don’t stay fresh long, and are probably sitting unused in a drawer. Maybe keep a few for guests or a travel bag, but if you have a stockpile, it should go!

  6. I can’t think of anything right now, because I have pretty much gotten rid of things I don’t want. I am sure however that many things I treasure will not be treasured by my family and I try to assure them that they don’t need to feel pressure to keep things they inherit from me. It took me a long time to let go of some things I inherited but I finally realized it was time. Sorting through possessions is an ongoing responsibility however and so I’m sure as i clean out closets etc. I will find things I no longer need and can let go. This has been hard for me in the pat but I am getting much better at it.

    1. I think you are giving your family a big gift by freeing them to dispose of anything of yours that they don’t want. This is the kindest way to pass items on to relatives, with permission to let go if that is the best decision for them!

  7. My husband and I have family members that do this (sometimes tossing things in our closet without asking first.) It’s totally out of love but we’ve had to be honest and set boundaries about the amount and types of things coming into our home. Since then, everyone has learned to be more intentional about gift giving or passing items down with permission.

  8. I love this! What a great way to break down a common problem. You’ve provided some excellent alternative ways of thinking about things that will certainly help people to part with unwanted stuff. It’s funny, but it’s so true that we often have a hard time letting go of stuff we never wanted to begin with!

  9. Great post. We currently have photos, slides and movies from my husband’s family. We need to go through everything, purge and then digitize what we want to keep. It truly is a overwhelming task.

    1. That is an overwhelming task. Photos takes a “long term” view for sure. Fortunately, I know an organizer in your family who will handle it with ease and grace!

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