Consumption overload


TIPS FROM THE PROS

Are you trying to help a family member purge belongings? Here are some tips from organizers Janice Russell and Mary Carlomagno:

If someone has a collection of items, ask if they could pick the top few items from the collection to represent the whole collection. But phrase your question carefully. Talk about choosing the top five items rather than choosing 25 that will go.

Never say “toss” or “trash” unless the other person uses it first.

Just start. Waiting for perfect conditions will only delay the work.

One thorough cleaning is often not the solution. It’s an evolution.

Americans are re- evaluating their relationship with their stuff

McClatchy Newspapers

RALEIGH, N.C.

Maybe it’s the economy, or maybe it’s the need to feel neat and cleansed. Maybe it’s TV shows such as “Hoarders,” where the accumulation of household goods gets trashy and downright embarrassing.

Whatever the reason, Americans are re-evaluating their relationship with their stuff.

There’s too much of it. It clutters our lives. And many of us are saying we’ve had enough.

Tammy Borman lives in Zebulon, N.C., with her husband, Duane, and three children ages 8, 9 and 15. She works for Home Depot. He works for a roofing supply company.

About a year ago, the family had a house fire. Working with the insurance company, Borman was required to list the entire contents of her home on paper.

“It kind of made you look back and say, ‘You know, this is incredible,’” she said. “We have a thick book of just page after page of stuff, and when you have three kids, stuff tends to pile up quick.”

The family didn’t lose everything in the fire and was eventually able to move back into the home, but the Bormans’ attitude had changed.

“We’re trying to look at each purchase and ask, ‘Do we need it?’” Tammy Borman said.

Families such as the Bormans are moving toward decluttering for various reasons.

They’re feeling the continued pinch of the economy.

They’re prioritizing long-term financial goals above instant gratification.

And even while consumers begin to loosen their purse strings just a little, they’re just sick of having so much stuff cluttering their already-busy lives.

Decluttering isn’t new, of course.

This yearning to simplify life rears its head at least once every decade — often in reaction to periods of excess.

Americans in the past few decades have become defined by big homes, luxury cars and the other things they own.

“We have gone so big for so long. It gets to a point where you start to evaluate if the things you are adding to your life are bringing meaning,” said Mary Carlomagno, a professional organizer and author of “Live More, Want Less: 52 Ways to Find Order in Your Life.”

One small sign that consumers are shifting away from accumulation: Last year was Carlomagno’s best year in business.

Other, larger indicators include that conspicuous consumption is declining.

The average size of new homes fell to 2,377 square feet last year, down from a peak of 2,520 square feet in 2007, according to census data.

We’re saving more. More than 5 percent of income last quarter from less than 2 percent in the fall of 2007, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Economic Analysis.

We’re paying off our debts. Consumer debt has fallen by $922 billion, or 7.4 percent, since its peak in the fall of 2008, according to a Federal Reserve report.

We’re spending less. Consumer spending decreased 2.8 percent in 2009, the most current figures available from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

And there are now more than 4,900 Freecycle groups across the country. These online forums allow people to give away used clothes, housewares and electronics to avoid sending them to the landfill.

One of those Freecycle members is Tonya Willett, a mother of three boys who uses Freecycle to regularly purge and organize her 850-square-foot Raleigh home. When she first found the website three years ago, she said, “I thought, ‘What a neat idea. Who doesn’t have stuff that they end up throwing away because they don’t have someone to give it to?’”

Recently, she decided to better organize a spare bedroom. The top of the bunk beds — a set she originally got using Freecycle — was becoming a repository for everybody’s stuff. So Willett used Freecycle to get rid of the bunk beds and find a twin-size bed frame.

People such as Willett are changing their definition of happiness, said David Wann, author of “Simple Prosperity: Finding Real Wealth in a Sustainable Lifestyle.”

He said, “Happiness is really about health, enjoyment of activities and connection with people.”

Purging your belongings often requires an emotional detachment, said Janice Russell, professional organizer and owner of Minding Your Matters Organizing in Cary, N.C.

With older items, people often have to be taught to let go, she said.

“We have this feeling like if we give the item up, we give up the memory,” Russell said. “We’re keeping the stuff because we want to keep the memories.”

Copyright 2011 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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