Now that spring is here, we’ll be scrubbing floors, throwing open windows and getting rid of stuff.

Ah, yes — all that stuff.

Two or three times a year, I go through the house and look around each room, scrutinizing and pondering what can and can not be tossed out.

We all have too much of it.

I find myself these past few months looking through magazines and online at freshly painted rooms, sparsely decorated — a sofa or chair here, a plant there, and nothing in between.

When we were kids, our houses were packed with stuff — shelves lined from front to back with everything from empty canning jars to pickled beets, closets full of clothes we never wore, shoes we barely used and bags of yarn, pieces of cloth, magazines we kept for recipes or tips that we planned one day to refer to but never did, notebooks half-used, coats our late grandparents wore and we couldn’t bear to part with.


There were boxes of envelopes, years-old receipts, broken picture frames we vowed one day to fix but never did, worn blankets we stopped using but put away in case we could use them for something else, Christmas and birthday cards we thought we might want to re-read one day.

My mother and I would laugh, because when we cleaned, she was always instructing me to take this chair or that table up to the attic, and then the next year, she’d ask me to bring it back down. We were always shuffling things from one place to another, back and forth, here and there.

“That might come in handy one day,” Mom would say in response to my recommendation we throw something away.

Our mothers and fathers lived through the Great Depression, when to throw something out was criminal. Leaving food on a dinner plate was not only unheard of, it was foolish.

Everything was recyclable and kids wore hand-me-downs — and were thrilled to get them.

Throw away a pair of shoes because the sole was worn thin? Not a chance.


My mother, in high school, put cardboard cutouts in her shoes when she wore holes in the soles.

When we were kids and our grandparents and great aunts died, we were delighted to get their furniture, dishes and other possessions. Not only did that represent something new in the house, but the items were precious, things we were told not to touch when we visited their homes.

What a different world we live in now. Many young people don’t want hand-me-down furniture and other household items.

A friend of mine whose mother is a hoarder hates stuff and is a minimalist when it comes to furnishing her own house. Another friend who as a child was endlessly dusting her mother’s knick-knacks begs her kids not to buy her any for Christmas.

Our Goodwill stores and thrift shops and antiques barns are brim full of all the stuff sold, donated or dumped by those of us who seek to possess less. We don’t want to vacuum around, dust off, fold, shuffle or pack away any of it anymore.

One can use up a lot of valuable energy cleaning, boxing, moving, organizing and re-arranging stuff — energy we could be using to read a book, take a walk, visit, travel or otherwise enjoy ourselves.


Spring cleaning in the old days was a mammoth undertaking — mixing vinegar and water to scrub windows until they were, literally, squeaky clean, taking down and washing curtains and hanging them in the sun, laundering blankets, scrubbing floors, replacing liners on shelves and in drawers.

I can close my eyes now and remember the scent of vinegar, Mr. Clean and Electrolux floor polish from my childhood.

As we get older, the idea of ridding ourselves of belongings becomes not only a practical consideration, but also smart.

We don’t want to wait around and attempt it when we’re no longer physically able.

Those of us who have lost our parents and know what it is like to clean out their houses have an even greater understanding of why chipping away at the things we think we can not live without is not just a good idea, it’s merciful.

I’m reminded of something my late father-in-law would say about the struggle over whether to toss something out or keep it:


“We spend the first 40 years of our lives gathering stuff and the last 40 getting rid of it,” he said.

He’d also remind us: “You can’t take it with you.”

It’s true. We come into this world with nothing and leave it with nothing, and what’s all this about acquiring, amassing and hoarding things in the interim years?

Some people rid themselves of most everything they’ve worked for and opt to live in a tiny or mobile house, decreasing not only their possessions, but also their bills, worries and workload.

Though the idea of shuffling off everything that’s familiar is a little scary, there’s something appealing about the freedom inherent in the idea.

Maybe it ain’t as crazy as one might think.

Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter for 30 years. Her column appears here Mondays. She may be reached at [email protected]. For previous Reporting Aside columns, go to

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