Keeping stuff can be riskier than getting rid of it

Short version: Yesterday I made the weighty decision to break it off with a long time friend. I was pulling all the weight in the relationship, the only one who was growing. Reece was inert and passive, the most active thing he did was collect dust. Truth be told, I wanted to reclaim the space in my life to make a place for a new friend. Conveniently enough, via MR this morning, I find the confessions of a life-long slob who decides to get organized to legitimize my decision after the fact -the best kind. The take away:

Saving allows the hoarder to avoid making what they view as risky decisions.

That hurt. I’m nothing if not risk averse. I sometimes prefer to make no decision than a potentially bad decision. Truth be told, sometimes the risky decision is to keep it.

reece_s2Long version: I took my little Reece S2 buttonholer to the dump on Sunday. It was an old fishtail button holer, so old it had a counter from the days when you couldn’t buy the machine, you had to lease it from Reece (now AMF) and pay a royalty for every button hole sewn.

Letting Reece go made me feel a little sad but not guilty. I was going to take a picture of it, forlornly strewn on the concrete floor where I’d heaved it (no small feat) in the metals recycling section at the city dump. I think I was sad I’d been so stupid; that machine cost me a lot of money over the years.

I bought the machine circa 1997 for $250. It went into storage with some other machines @$50 a month for a year. Then it was loaded into a Uhaul, driven 200 miles and put into another storage unit (free). In 2000, it was loaded into another Uhaul and moved to El Paso TX where it collected dust for five years. Then it was loaded into another truck when I moved to Las Cruces and where it didn’t improve with age for another 4.5 years. And finally, loaded into another Uhaul and brought back to Albuquerque where I bought it 13 years ago. Each move and each mile cost. And how many button holes did I get out of it? None, not one. I don’t like fish tail button holes. I bought it when button holers were still rather pricey; I should have resold it and cut my losses way back when.

Putting things away in the shop, I’m annoyed by boxes. Sorted by categories, I look at each pile of boxes and ask myself this morning, what’s risky about this? What can I lose if I get rid of it? What is the replacement cost? Randy Frost, author of Buried in Treasures: Help for Compulsive Acquiring, Saving, and Hoarding says some people are disorganized due to

…problems with information processing, like attention deficit problems and difficulties in categorizing things. In addition, there are overly powerful attachments that form to possessions.

which hits home. He also says

…people who hoard have a remarkable appreciation of the physical world. They are, I think, more creative than the rest of us. They pay attention to the unusual details of objects. They are also much more sensitive about waste and not disposing of things that still have value.

which describes nearly everyone I know who sews. He also says hoarding intensifies with age but I’m collecting appreciably less so I don’t think I’m a hoarder. Or maybe I hit a tipping point several years ago; the comfort of keeping stuff is outweighed by the cost of having to store it, find it when I need it or even to remember I have it.

My next project is a laundry cart I’ve been moving for years. It’s filled with old machine parts but better described as residents on death row. If they’re not transferred to another facility soon, their execution date is rapidly approaching…

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  1. dosfashionistas says:

    Kathleen, I have an idea for the machine parts. A sewing machine mechanic who works on industrial machines would likely appreciate them, if you know of one in your area.

    I am going to have to read that book. I learn so very much from you!

  2. Jasmin says:

    Oh Kathleen – I have been for many years a stockpiler (much nicer word!)

    I discovered my solution – everything must have a place, and only one place, and must also have a routine around use and maintenance. The use/maintenance routine is defined prior to placement.

    If I can’t find (or don’t want to make) a suitable place, and identify a suitable routine (even if it is store, review annually), the item is excess to requirements. There is not need to sort out everything at once, but once an area is resolved, it must be maintained.

    It’s wonderful!

    It has helped me enormously with eliminating the dross (fear of loss of value replaced by fear of misuse of space and time) and making sure the useful items are present, easily found, and looked after. It also ensures I don’t play dominos (move A to location x, then B to A’s old location etc) without a good plan.

    Things I know others will like or use that are excess go into the exit location – to be posted / offered as required (and disposed of if no suitable recipient is identified)

    An ongoing, but sustainable process – I have eliminated a lot already, and more will be going as I work my way (slowly) through every corner.

    Good on you for booting Reece to the kerb! Good luck with the ongoing sort out …

  3. Zoh says:

    Congrats on upgrading your machinery! Something to consider for next time: instead of sending your old machines to the dump, you could also post them on Craigslist as “free” items — plenty of appreciative folks will be happy to come by to take them off your hands! This is how I got some of my early sewing machines… quite useful when you’re a poor student.

  4. Theresa in Tucson says:

    Boy did you hit a nerve. I just started sorting and moving the sewing room (I’m moving it into the back bedroom). The trash barrel went out this morning plumb full for the first time in months. I need to do that with my Dad’s shop, and the garage and the bookshelves and really clean and dump. We are just back from visiting DMIL in Houston. We helped her purge her fabric stash but some of it did come home with me. The battle against the stash is forever.

    That was a brave thing you did with the Reece. I don’t think I could do that with one of my old Singers, I’m still too attached. But I agree, if it is not useful, why keep it.

    Good post.

  5. Molly says:

    This really hits home. I have a tendency to keep things too.
    When I read that you brought this machine to the dump, I thought -oh no! But then once I read the miles and places you’ve moved it to…
    I don’t want to encourage your fear of getting rid of things but please, next time post it on craigslist? Or sell it in your local paper? (Just make sure a male friend comes over to chill if you have someone come look at it- or sell it to an antiques dealer! Some money recouped is better than none.

    Having said this, I think I will look for this book and try to make the effort to part ways with some of my ‘collections’ of junk.
    I do have a difficult time making decisions and I joke sometimes that I’ve inherited my Grandmothers ‘depression era’ mentality of keep and recycle everything!
    “They are also much more sensitive about waste and not disposing of things that still have value.”

    At times I can be very organized… but then, something happens.

    There is 1-800 got junk…supposedly they sort & recycle stuff they take away.

    Anyone else like that English tv show, I think it was called, “Making Space”? I looked for a link, as it dealt exactly with this type of thing, over stuffed houses. It’s similar to Clean House, (StyleNetwork).
    The English program had a service similar to 1-800 g-j that recycled and crushed un-useable stuff.

    Good luck with paring down ladies. :)

  6. Molly says:

    I think dosfashionistas offered a really good solution, in her friend the sewing machine repair person.
    Sometimes people sell things in a ‘lot’ ie, box of stuff that may or may not have some good stuff, but buyer takes all! I bought a hat box recently with odds ‘n ends of sewing notions. There was a fine link gold necklace and a sterling silver cross in it as well!

    Also to dosfashionistas,
    There is a theory also, that people that keep on some extra weight use it as mental ‘padding’. People are very sensitive, emotionally usually, so to cope, the person gains weight as sort of a physical/mental barrier. I’ll ask my Mom where she read that & try to post a link. :)
    I know when I’m going through a rough spot in life, my hair co-incidentally grows very long.

  7. Gigi says:

    That Siruba is a honey of a machine! I have always wanted a buttonholer…

    I force myself to reorganize and purge at least once a year. It’s not hard to purge fabric and patterns but I do have a tough time with machines. I seem to form a weird emotional attachment to them.

  8. Marie-Christine says:

    Here, another fun link:,1030,1066

    Seriously, I’ve been all over the place with sewing hoarding (and I prefer not to use euphemisms..). When I live in SF or Paris, where lovely fabric practically begs to be taken home for cheap at every street corner, and where every notion can be had on a practically round the clock basis, it seems silly to have more than say one box of fabric, in basics like black knit. But when I move someplace where the nearest store is 2hrs away, and I’d only consider it if I was down to an old pair of sweats, then my perspective changes. Likewise, my brain has drastic swings about books depending on the quality and proximity of the nearest library. It’s really a matter of perceived shortages, I’m all too quick to drop into ‘wartime’ mode. Sigh.

    That said, a machine is big and heavy, that Reece looks like cast iron. If you haven’t used it in more than 2 years or one move, it’s time to reconsider. If it all comes to that, you can always do a few buttonholes by hand :-). Or contract out?

    When I start feeling like moving is more trouble than it’s worth, even when there are good reasons to do it, it’s time to drop some stuff on a serious scale. As we say in French ‘they won’t bury you with it’. Unfortunately, I’ve seen that principle in action all too often in the past decade. Think that it’s much rather be regretted by a few unfortunates, rather than have them distracted from their grief by years of clearing out the debris..

  9. LizPf says:

    Don’t forget Freecycle. [plug — I’m our town’s local Freecycle group owner.]

    Send out an e-mail, stating the honest condition of the item, and see if anyone is interested in coming to you to take it away. If they do, fantastic! If not, then take it to the dump.

    Of course, you run the risk of contributing to the delinquency of another hoarder.

  10. Vesta says:

    I am an unusual anti-packrat. I resent most possessions, and am more than happy to pass them along. I am probably one of the few people who would consider a house fire to be liberating (especially now that I have almost all of my photographs in “the cloud”). It makes for some friction with the family. They are in constant fear that I will slip some of their possessions out the door while they are at work or school. Mostly because I do it sometimes. (sigh) But I’m rarely caught, because I’m very careful about the selection process.

    My best tip to hoarders is to pack the item/s away from sight for X amount of time (6 months to a year works well). If you haven’t missed it by then, move it along. And don’t overestimate the value of your stuff. I have a friend who has finally given up and let me come in and de-packrat her stash (completely full dining room and garage – stuff that’s been moved and moved and moved). The biggest struggle I have with her is that she thinks she should be able to derive more cash value from each item. Really, most stuff should just be dropped off at the thrift store and a tax deduction taken. Very few items (like tables, couches, and such) are worth the time and effort to sell. If you can move vast quantities of junk out of your life quickly, you will get much more emotional value in the short term. Piling stuff up to sell is not really much better than just piling stuff up.

  11. Barb Taylorr says:

    I like the size of my shop & have no intention of moving. I also am anal about keeping it organized (OK, sorry, you all hate me now). The rule I have made for myself is that when I bring in a new piece of equiptment or some new material I must have, if there is no room to store it I will decide what my least useful item is and move it out to free up the space needed.
    Materials are easy to give away to senior centers, girl scout troups, theaters etc. Machines are tougher, but I have set things out during garage sales and listed them as “free”. People will take them who don’t even know what they are. Some want parts, others recycle the metal…but it always goes away. Yes, there are times I regret having ditched certain things, but what I gained from having more space to work and the ability to find things quickly has more than made up for those times.

  12. What Eric said. The red-tagging process works. If only I could get rid of half of my stuff, I’d be happy. Then if only I could get my husband to get rid of the 90% of his stuff he never uses. But should I keep my archive of the t-shirts my sister printed using original artwork? The dress and shoes I wore at my wedding? The PJs my son wore home from the hospital as a baby? Yes, and what about the fabric I bought at Liberty in London 5 years ago? I need the book.

  13. ken simmons says:

    I horded a bit after a traumatic life crisis feeling I might need everything I could to sell or use to make some money. When I had a more stable life with regular salary it became easier to let things go but it was a 6-7 year process. I once found myself holding something setimental over the trash can and not being able to decide if I should toss or save and like a voice from God I heard…”Have not, Dust not” From that moment I can toss every supefluous thing that comes my way. I often open gifts over the trash can so things can go directly there without stopping on a table, shelf, floor, chair, sofa or any other flat surface.

  14. Molly says:

    Yes, Freecycle is an excellent resource! So please, recycle your junk! Dropping stuff off at the Salvation Army or City Mission is good too. If it is a large item, you can arrange an appointment and they will pick it up and even write a receipt for your tax deductions. :) I hope this helps.

    It is true, keeping a pile of stuff to sell can add to the problem.
    I don’t hate organized people. I envy them to a degree but I am bothered by people who just toss stuff in the garbage. Only since I think adding to landfills doesn’t help our world at large.

    I see people put stuff at the curb a day early for garbage day in my city and usually it’s gone before the garbage pick up the next morning.

    I think I feel similarly to Ken too. My life is stressful lately and I want to purge my house of unused stuff. I am in a rut and haven’t been able to do it without gaining more stuff in the meantime. His account gives me a positive outlook, that I will be able to do it at some point in my near future. I do need to read this book to try to get in that mind frame sooner than later.

    I have a storage unit with furniture in it and I have thought about the cost of keeping it in storage vs. buying new…it is embarrassing how much I have spent in the last 5 years on it. Most can’t be replaced since it is old furniture from my great grandmother.

    Thank you for this blog. Thank you for bringing up this topic as it is very helpful.

  15. Mack says:

    I say get rid of it all! Tempting as hoarding is, very few things feel as good as purging a bunch of crap you haven’t used in years. Working and living in a clean and organized space will enhance your focus and creativity, and do wonders for your productivity.

  16. vee says:

    Yes, take the picture, place it on craigslist for free or just ten dollars, give it to the Smithsoinian Museum for a tax deduction. I have an old singer sewing machine that I will never use. It is over sixty years old on the cabinet, I just haven’t investigated to find out how antique it is. It has moved three times in my life. From Mrs. Kurtz, who gave it to me when she died, next door to my house, then to a newer house and it’s been with me to my present house of twenty years.
    I am a retired teacher only one year under my belt but I am still cleaning out school items from ten years ago. My friends want me to have a teacher’s sale. Yes , I could use the money. Instead I am giving items away to my brother’s church and my sister. They have teacher friends that are still in the system and can use these items. I am working on my sewing ,and jewelry business. That is my interest now. What’s funny is I have the beads, and memory wire to make some bracelets but it took me two months to find my memory wire cutters because they were buried under some school supplies. I have spend approximately twenty hours this week alone. I had refused to eat and sleep just to pack stuff away. I have a to do bucket list that will help me stay the course and get organized.

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