Stuff it

If you want your home to have that much-sought-after "lived-in look," then I suggest you get some more stuff.

That's right. Stuff. Junk. Possessions. Run right out and buy some. Position it carefully on shelves or in boxes or behind furniture. Dust it regularly. Take it out once a year and wonder what the heck you were thinking when you bought it. Then put it back. Dust some more.

You want your house to feel like a home? Then you need lots of dusty stuff sitting around. Toys and books and breadmakers and souvenirs and old posters and photo albums and that vinyl record collection you never listen to. Gizmos and gimcracks and geegaws galore.

Stuff, glorious stuff, accumulates as you age. When I was a bachelor, I could fit all my worldly possessions into a small foreign car. The last time my family moved, we filled an entire moving van with our stuff. When the moving guy got a look at the number of heavy boxes of books we'd packed, I thought he'd weep.

Our last house was half the size of this one. We had so much stuff, we'd reached capacity. Every time we bought something, we had to get rid of something else. There simply wasn't room for one more thing. At our new, bigger house, I felt like I could breathe again, like I had some elbow room. Two years later, we're full up.

It's not that we're such acquisitive people. We don't make an effort to buy things we don't need. But needs change. Something that seemed essential at the mall becomes so much unused stuff when you get it home. Catalogs come unbidden in the mail. Kids demand new toys. Friends and relatives give gifts we can never throw out. The stuff piles up.

Frugality results in stuff being kept forever. You might, one day, find a use for that stuff. You might need it, and wouldn't you feel stupid if you had to go out and buy another one? Sure, it's broken, but you might fix it someday. Sure, those jeans don't fit anymore, but if you ever drop that extra 10 pounds (ha, ha!), you'll be glad you hung onto them.

And the stuff mounts up until teetering stacks cover every horizontal surface. You hide it in corners and in closets, but you always know it's there, threatening to topple over and crush innocent bystanders.

Somewhere along the way, your stuff becomes a burden. It moves into a new category -- "clutter" -- and it slowly drives you crazy.

You can give it away. Charities want your stuff. (Well, some of it anyway. You can probably just discard those salt-and-pepper shakers shaped like kittens.) Friends and relatives sometimes want your stuff. If you can persuade them to take your stuff off your hands, they might even give it back once you finally find a use for it. Or, at least, you can go visit it.

You can sell it. This is why every neighborhood has someone throwing a garage sale every weekend. They want to get rid of their stuff and recoup some of its original cost in the process. I wonder about the people who frequent garage sales. They arise early on weekends to be the first to arrive at other's houses and swoop down on all their valuable stuff. I'm sure there are bargains to be had there. But aren't you just moving stuff that somebody no longer wants into your house, where it will eventually become your own unwanted stuff? And then you're forced to have a garage sale to unload it on some other poor suckers. And the cycle continues, stuff moving from house to house, accumulating dust and nicks and scratches until even the most ardent devotee of used stuff recognizes it for the trash it is and throws it out.

Perhaps that is the ultimate solution. If, as a red-blooded American consumer, you feel you simply must buy more stuff, go ahead and purchase it. Then stop by the dump on the way home and throw it out. You'll save all those storage steps. And a lot of dusting.

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