This contains a few bites of wisdom I wish I could have shared with my 20 year old self.

At 20 stuff is important, but I’m nearly 40, hard as I try to deny it. Now I know that stuff doesn’t matter, at least not half as much as I used to think it did. When I was first married we desired stuff. It might be because we lived in an apartment next to a drug dealer and my husband worked many nights.

One night it was pouring down rain and there was an incessant pounding on the door. This big burly dude kept yelling, “I know you’re in there. Open up.” Eventually I was able to yell loud enough for him to understand that he was at the wrong location. He wanted his “stuff.” Once I was able to tell him where to go to get his fix he left me alone. I cowered in the corner until I felt safe enough to move around under cover of darkness.

We immediately began looking for a safer place to live, and that was okay because we could pursue the American dream of home ownership. The home buying process was all consuming. We drove night and day looking for our dream home, and we found it. The Realtor “knew” it was the right home for us, she even helped us qualify with her friendly banker. The banker “knew” she could get us qualified, but it would take a lot of work on her part. Everyone was overjoyed that we wanted more stuff and we were young, dumb kids that believed they had our best interests in mind. After all, we qualified.

The American dream became the American nightmare when we bought more house then we could afford. The Jones-es were on the left, on the right, and across the street. They all had stuff and we wanted to be like them. We deserved it; right? We filled that house with amenities, had two car payments, a motorcycle payment, and we were stuffocated, but our checkbook needed more stuff–the green stuff. We turned out okay, our careers advanced, and we worked Dave Ramsey’s Total Money Makeover to get out of debt. Our desire for stuff put a stranglehold on us, and we never wanted to be “stuffocated” again.

We got radical. We sold the house, The stuff was enough to pay off both cars and some student loans. We moved into an apartment where we both worked as much overtime as we could. In one year we had become debt free and had less stuff. We also saved a 20% down payment for the home we hoped to purchase. Life was lackadaisical.

Not too much time passed before we had our first child, and all the stuff that comes with having a newborn. We needed the floor mat, the bouncy chair, the swing, the tummy time play mat and on and on. When our youngest became a toddler we needed different stuff. We needed the latest developmental toys that made noise and had flashing lights. My 20 year old self laughed at the person that suggested that a box and crayons were the best toys a kid could have. Life was messy again as we tripped over and rotated toys. It was time to de-clutter.
Then came child number two, and my 30 year old self called bologna on all the gadgets and gizmos. She didn’t need the wipe warmer that we never used with the first one. We wanted the house to be simpler. Not my proudest moment, but the 5 second rule was in effect and the paci got wiped off on jeans before being returned to her mouth. We purged items as they became unusable. We smiled more and accumulated stuff less.

“Stuffocation” comes and goes in waves, like the ocean. It rears its ugly head like cancer. It lies dormant for a while, then it comes back. We spent most of this weekend downsizing. An entire room is clear of furniture that we don’t need. I am typing on a flat surface desk in the room we call the office. It is freeing. I may not be ready to live life out of a backpack to hike the 500 miles from France to Spain known as El Camino de Santiago, but I have learned that life is more live-able when are less “stuffocated.”