How Childhood Affects our Relationship with Stuff

At some point in my 20 years of working as a Professional Organizer I began to notice just how much your childhood experiences with ‘stuff’ can affect your success or lack thereof with managing stuff in adulthood.  It’s not an unusual phenomenon but it may be difficult to change your behavior and relationship with stuff no matter how much you might want to do so.

One of the foundational principles of being organized, as many of you already know, is managing the amount of stuff that comes into your home.  The accumulation of stuff seems to be related to childhood experiences and could affect your decision on whether to purchase something.  For example, if you grew up with very little because your family couldn’t afford to buy things, now that you have disposable income you start to buy, and buy, and buy, not really knowing when to stop because you didn’t learn what was enough as a child.  Or, if you grew up with a lot of stuff, you continue to surround yourself with stuff because that feels natural and comfortable to you.

Here I am with one of a few prized childhood possessions.  My need for very little stuff is probably a result of learning as a child that I didn’t need a lot. Perhaps because we didn’t have a lot I feel comfortable with very little. So fascinating.

Have you adopted a hobby that involves collecting things that were meaningful to you in your childhood?  After all, collecting isn’t the same as buying random stuff with no immediate use, right?  No matter how old you are, if you see your friends starting collections you want to be part of the action.

Maybe they are avid gamers and are amassing a large collection. Add to that a comic book collection and maybe a lego collection and you start to get the picture.  You can sign up to receive a box of games or a stack of comic books every month. You don’t even have to find the time to go to the store to buy the stuff, it very kindly shows up on your doorstep.  Imagine that you receive one of these boxes every month year after year and it soon becomes too much.

Perhaps when you were growing up the adult in charge of your household was constantly nagging you to clean up your room.  And if you didn’t do it, it was done for you.  Maybe the house was neat and tidy and totally under control and you had little, if any, say as to what got kept and what didn’t.

In some cases, that can lead you to show that you are in control in your own home by collecting and keeping a lot of stuff.  You may even pile paperwork, clothes, and other belongings on the floor and on other surfaces as a way of rebelling against your upbringing.  No one is going to tell you to ‘clean up’ anymore!  The problem is that other people in your home may not be in favor of boxes piled in the basement and piles of fallen over paper under your desk covered in dust.

Changing your childhood relationship with ‘stuff’ in adulthood is possible.  Here are a few things to consider.

  1. Take a good look at your space and be realistic about what is being compromised by the clutter.
  2. Take a picture of the space and then go elsewhere to really look at that picture. Ask yourself, what does the space look like now? What could be gained by letting go of some of the stuff? How could the space look and function?
  3. Consider that improved family harmony might be at the top of the list of benefits of understanding and managing your relationship with stuff.

Spend some time thinking about how you were raised. That in itself will help you change your relationship with ‘stuff’ and lead you down the path of living with less.


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