Everything I Own – Part 3: Questioning

Material World: A Global Family Portrait

Material World: A Global Family Portrait

My home inventory is in full swing. I’ve had a few revelations. Because I know it will be documented “for posterity,” I am reluctant to keep certain things. I can suddenly see how ridiculous it is to list 3 square, 3 round and 2 heart- shaped layer cake pans, when I haven’t made a layer cake for at least 5 years! To give myself extra motivation, I have a copy of one of my favourite books on hand: Material World: A Global Family Portrait (1995). Do you know it? A photo journalist took pictures of typical families in 30 countries, outside their homes, surrounded by everything they own, laid out around them. This book made a huge impression on me and opened my eyes to my consumer lifestyle. While I can’t say it made me a minimalist, it made me aware of excesses and how very privileged I am.

Three weeks into my home inventory, I am finally thinking about: how much is enough? If I lost everything tomorrow, would I replace all three of my novelty iPod speakers? I think not. Do I need a bin of toys and clothing that belonged to me as a child, to help me remember my childhood? What have I taught my own child about the value of possessions?

There is the “beautiful or useful” rule. And there is the rule that every room should serve its function. I’ve done a lot of reading and viewing about decluttering over the years, and here are some points I’m keeping in mind:

  • What kind of home do I want? Private retreat? Welcoming to guests? What do I do to show this?
  • Are there any areas of the house I avoid because the clutter makes me feel closed in?
  • If every object in the house stayed where it was, and it was perfectly clean, would I want people to see it?
  • When someone walks into a room in my house, do I feel the need to defend what is in there? Would I be able to explain why I have each item, instead of saying, “I need to have a clear-out,”  “I’m so fond of that silly old thing!” or “I’m going to get back to my stained glass work someday”?
  • Would someone describe my house as being cluttered, cozy, functional or minimal?
  • How much work is it to own each item? Is it worth it to clean and maintain it? Would I prefer having more uncluttered space instead?
  • How many unused items do I have?
  • How many duplicates of items do I have? For example, how many sheets and towels do I really need?
  • How many ornamental items do I have? If there isn’t room to display them all, do I put them out in rotation?
  • Why do I have collections that are packed away in boxes instead of displayed?
  • How many things do I own that are “too good to use” or must be kept “new in box”?
  • How many sentimental items do I have, versus functional items?
  • Does it look like I am stuck in the past?
  • If a friend of a friend was looking for items to set up a household, what could I comfortably give them?
  • Am I happy having 3 of something when I know someone else is in need?
  • If I gave an item away, can I envision ever having to re-buy it?
  • Can I get my hands on any single item I own in 5 minutes?
  • And, perhaps most importantly, if I ever lost everything I owned, what would I want to replace? What would I truly wish I had been able to save?

This weekend I inventoried all of our household electronics. Rom helpfully listed the models and serial numbers of all of his. It seems like a lot (cough, cough!) But as Rom put it, he’s an IT professional and an amateur musician – would I tell an artist he had too many pencils? LOL!

Most of my bakeware except cookie sheets, pie plates and cooling racks...

Most of my bakeware except cookie sheets, pie plates and cooling racks…

Most of my glassware, except, you know, glasses…

I had already pared down the kitchen, but I didn’t go nearly far enough. While taking stock of what I had, I cleaned the cupboards, cleaned the horrible shelf/ledge on top of the high cupboards, completely cleaned all of my glassware, and washed my collection of candy tins. And then I thought, oy, do I really want to do this on a regular basis, like, forever? Unlike my mom, who has china and crystal she uses a few times a year, my unmatched stuff is rarely used. Do I think my lifestyle is going to change?

I am actually slowing down my home inventory instead of speeding up, because I want to be more thoughtful about what I keep. Again, I am not a minimalist. I just want to pause and think about how much is enough. How much would make me feel wanting and how much makes me feel greedy?

To recap, I’ve spent three weekends on the inventory so far, and have finished detailed listings of all of my furniture, large and small appliances, collections, electronics, and kitchen items. Some major areas yet to complete are DVDs and CDs (just a count), craft and hobby supplies, hardware and yard/garden tools, home decor and linens.

I am feeling quite oppressed by my possessions right now, but I will continue taking stock, decluttering and “right-sizing”!

Postscript: The home inventory was eventually completed and the results are here.


  1. I think slowing down to give each item careful consideration is a good idea. For me a quick decision would end up having me put it back to decide later, not a good thing.

    When I found myself lost in my last apartment I too found I had so many bake ware items that I hadn’t used after the boys moved out on their own. It was the first thing in the kitchen I packed up to donate. It’s way too easy to just ignore things and believe that now that we have them we might as well keep them, just in case. I never would have been able to move to where I am if I had held on to everything that was only there just in case.

    • I am trying to think of what I would want if I had to start from scratch. Otherwise, there’s too much temptation for that “just in case” scenario.

      • I wish you all the luck. When I went through my house I found I had to do each area more than once as I tried to keep some things just in case, but the more I purged the better I got at it.

  2. Forgot to mention I love Material World. I originally found it when I was home schooling my boys. It was definitely eye opening to how fortunate our family was even though we didn’t have as much as other families did.

    • That book really influenced me a lot. The same author now has two books about what and how much people around the world eat.

      • I will have to check those out as well. Material World was very influential to my children who constantly pulled it out and even shared it with friends. What I found most interesting was the genuine happiness on the faces of some of the families who had so little.

  3. I did a lot of my household inventory here at work – and I should really take it home and work on it some more there. What it did make me reaslise is where I was ‘fuzzy’ as to what was in a location – and then that prompted me to look at what was their and how important things were to me. I’m certainly not at serial number level yet, more at a count of items. And costs – both what it cost me, and a cost to replace (to help with my contents insurance policy).

    With baking items (and I bake a lot), I try to keep minimal, but sometimes I wonder if I’m impacting the recipe too much by having something too shallow etc – but it’s not enough of a reason to buy more stuff, as my space is so limited!

    Keep up the good work – slow and steady!

    • I think you’re on the right track by making do with the baking pans you have! I may decide on one kind of cake that will become my specialty and just keep that pan.

      It will be a good exercise to do some of my inventory by memory. After all, as you say, if I can’t remember what I have, either I have too much stuff or it’s not important!

  4. Amazing! I’m so impressed by this undertaking. And, thanks for mentioning that book. It sounds like something I’d enjoy so I’m going to see if I can find it at my library.

    • Hmm, your comment has me thinking, if it is such a huge undertaking to list what I own, what does that say about me? 🙂 I hope you can find the book!

      • Ha, ha! I think I was just reflecting on what it would mean for me! 🙂 Even though I live in a relatively small apartment, it still can amaze me at how much ‘stuff’ can be amassed over time. Where does it all come from?!

  5. Fiona

    You are doing so well. It does take a long time to thoroughly go through things – I can so relate to the cleaning and questions along the way.

    Thanks for the details on the book – have read many reviews (also the food one) but had lost the details.

  6. EcoCatLady

    Well… I had a beautiful souffle dish that I hauled around for about 15 years… I picked it up at a thrift store because it was just so pretty. Here’s the thing, not only have I never made souffle… I’ve never even eaten souffle! I don’t even know exactly what a souffle is!

    When I had that revelation, I finally took the thing back to the thrift store so it can clutter up someone else’s kitchen!

    • That is the perfect story for me…I can totally relate to it! I only have one regret related to “stuff.” About 5 years ago, I threw out my vinyl records because I had hauled them around, move after move, for 20 years. Finally I realized I’d never know anyone who would reminisce about that music with me, and out they went. Well, of course, 6 months later I met Rom, and when he moved in, he brought his vinyl records which would have complimented mine perfectly. I still find myself saying, “I used to have that record!” when we talk about music. I don’t dwell on it, though – I don’t want an excuse to keep everything I own forever!

  7. Those are some useful questions to ask yourself. Most of my hoarding is books and, funnily enough, food. I love buying weird and wonderful ingredients from Asian and Indian supermarkets, and also stocking the freezer, but I really struggle to actually eat the food! I’m doing better at paring it all down now that I’m not going to the supermarket every week, so have to eat what’s on hand 🙂

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