The Infinite Nature of Stuff

I am married to an eternal optimist. Most of the time, this is an endearing quality, and his voice is absolutely one that I need in my life. There are also times when he needs a dose of my realism (as I call it), though most of the time we’re able to agree that the reality is probably somewhere in the middle.

Now that it’s April and our apartment will be empty in less than 4 weeks, we’ve really taken our great “stuff purge” to the next level. In the last few days we’ve sold a few large pieces of furniture – 3 large bookshelves and 2 bureaus – and without these key staples of each room, the apartment feels a lot emptier. It’s good progress. But there’s still a long way to go. So there we were in the kitchen, Staffan clearly enjoying the significant progress and me grumbling a little about the long way to go, when this conversation happened:

S: We’ve gotten rid of a ton of stuff lately.

C: We have, and it’s good, but there’s still a ton of stuff left.

S: But we started with a ton of stuff. And we’ve gotten rid of a ton of stuff. So your math doesn’t really add up.

C: (not pointing out that his doesn’t either, since clearly the apartment is not yet empty) With stuff, you’re not dealing with basic math really. It’s more like working with infinite numbers. You can subtract infinity from infinity and still have infinity left.

S: Interesting theory.

C: Yes, off the top of my head, I believe stuff to be infinite in nature.

S: You should write about that.

And then he took the kids outside to give me space to write about it. He’s a good guy.

Getting a grasp on our stuff sometimes feels like doing mathematical equations using infinity. I am an expert at neither, by the way, but the last couple of months have felt like some kind of applied calculus intensive and I have learned a few things. Numerous people smarter than me have written well on both topics, but I offer up my meager thoughts anyway.

Stuff Expands to Fill its Space

Really, it’s like a fourth state of matter. Solid, liquid, gas, and stuff. I think science should study this further.

We just moved here about four years ago. We got rid of a lot of stuff before that move, and we moved ourselves with a station wagon and a trailer. It didn’t take that many trips, really, to get everything here. It was three years ago that we decided to start reducing our possessions in preparation for this next big step. And we have honestly been working on it. We have taken carload after carload to the second-hand store month after month for three years. We sold and gave away all our baby stuff and watched other people drive away with full cars. We have been careful about buying new things and our friends and family have been respectful of our choices when it comes to gifts. It defies logic that we still have anything at all, let alone as much as we have left.

I can’t explain it, except that stuff appears to be infinite in nature, and has strange expansive qualities.

“We’ll get there,” says my optimist. And we will. But sometimes it feels like a treadmill. We’re working hard but the finish line doesn’t get any closer.

Acceptance is the First Step

Storage is deceptive. Cabinets, shelves, and drawers seem to work together with the mysterious qualities of stuff to hide these qualities from both our view and our understanding.

For example, we cleaned out the shelves and cabinets in our living room to prepare to sell them. Once again, boxes upon boxes that were sold, donated, trashed or recycled. The shelves weren’t completely emptied, but we listed them for sale this week and this morning someone arrived with a trailer to take them home. Before she came, of course, we had to empty them of those last “few” items. Let’s just say it was a lot more than it looked like.

The books and photo albums continue down the window sill the entire length of the room. 

But somehow, now that it’s out of hiding, it seems robbed of some of its power. Having our books lined up on the window sill and other things stacked in a cardboard box, I have a much more accurate feeling of what’s left.

This is why we buy storage furniture in the first place – it contains all of our stuff in neat and organized ways (at least in theory). But as we’ve eliminated most of this furniture, even before it was fully emptied, we’ve noticed that the infinite, expansive nature of stuff is diminished or even reversed.

It is only when we understand and accept these qualities of stuff that we can counteract them. It may seem counter-intuitive, but you cannot cure a clutter problem with more storage, and eliminating storage will eliminate clutter almost automatically.

So in conclusion, in terms of physics and chemistry, stuff appears to have unusual expansive qualities that are yet to be scientifically explored. Mathematically, stuff seems to be infinite in nature. The net effect, in limited study, seems only to be counteracted by applying an inverse. I might be on to something here. Maybe when we’ve finished moving, I should pursue my ph.d.

12 thoughts on “The Infinite Nature of Stuff

  1. :~) Put a smile on my face. :~) Stuff multiplies all by itself. I’m convinced this is a fact. :~)

  2. :~) Put a smile on my face. :~) Stuff multiplies all by itself. I’m convinced this is a fact. :~)

    1. Glad we could make you smile 🙂 It was fun to write, a very tongue-in-cheek way to process this phase of our transition. It definitely seems to multiply by itself, until it fills the available space. One more advantage of choosing a small living space!

  3. Great article, Christy. Moving as often as I have, I always vow to reduce the load the next time but that never happens. At least this time I am content to leave some furniture behind, thinking of it as only a temporary comfort and means of hospitality for visitors. I’ve seen lots of different vehicles on the way to the cemetery. Most recently a Rolls Royce. Never saw a moving van!

    Getting that camel through the eye of that needle is exhausting.

    Good luck to the four of you.

    1. Moving definitely gives awareness of how much stuff you have! This process is definitely forcing us to confront what we value and why… it’s amazing how things start out filling a basic function but we end up emotionally attached to things. It’s overwhelming and exhausting at times, yes, but so important and valuable. There’s nothing wrong with having things for comfort and convenience, but when we start to find our security and identity in them it becomes something else entirely. That line is so easily crossed. And like you mentioned with the cemetery – it’s all temporary to begin with. Good luck with your move too!

  4. You’re right, this was an amusing article on the bizarre physics of stuff. I showed it to my husband, who laughed too.

    We just moved (I still can’t find all my plates!) and are looking to move again in 6 months (and yet again in about a year after that! It’s because we’re building a house, planning to sell it in a year after move-in, and that’s going to pay for our RV. We made the decision to invest in property and pay the price of multiple moves in order to be debt free while we travel.) Anyway, all this moving really shows us both how much stuff we own, how much we don’t regularly use, and makes me get in the mood for a garage sale. Let someone else manage all the stuff, right?

  5. Oh, and I almost forgot – I loved your first paragraph! I turned to my husband, read it aloud, and said, “They just described our marriage!”. While I love my optimist, he does sometimes need to be reminded of the practical aspects of life 🙂

    1. It sounds like we have a lot in common! It would be fun to meet up some time!

      Moving is probably the clearest you ever see how much stuff you really have. Sounds like multiple moves will be good for you, but I certainly don’t envy you needing to do it that often! Debt-free is definitely a huge advantage in this life, though, if you can manage it. We made some sacrifices before launching to be in the that place too. Sacrificing the immediate to gain what is wanted more in the long run is a dying art. Just keep reminding yourself of the bigger goal! 🙂

      1. Well, according to your latest posts, you are in the Rockies heading to California? If you plan to be in the Northwest, specifically south-Eastern Washington State, we would enjoy meeting up with you. Are you a family who likes board or card games? Feel free to e-mail me directly if you think you might end up in the area and we could talk details. This isn’t exactly a high tourist area though, so if you don’t plan to be nearby, I won’t blame you! (I could, also give a few ideas for places to see in the Oregon/Washington region, if you’d like too).

        We’d also like to go for a long weekend in our camper sometime this Spring (no specific plans yet), so if you aren’t going to be quite as close here, we might be able to meet you somewhere a bit further out. It’d be fun if it worked out! What’s your itinerary like?

        1. So here’s where I acknowledge that the blog is a bit behind. I generally like to keep it a little bit behind for safety reasons, but for a variety of reasons I’ve gotten more behind than usual. I still keep it chronological because it’s kind of like a travel log for us (and I take notes all along the way so I won’t forget the important things that I want to write about) but we were on our way to California, yes. And we spent time in California, and now we’re working our way east again. I have an important family event on the East Coast in June so we’re slowly working our way back. We want to get to the Pacific Northwest sometime but we need to time the seasons better to do it well.
          I have some friends headed up that way this spring though (some from our Bible study group). I should try to connect you guys!

          1. Sounds like fun – feel free to pass along my info. We can’t host an RV (our rental doesn’t allow RVs in the driveway), but we’d still be happy to connect with a family that was in the area (especially if they have young kids) and meeting up for a weekend somewhere with our camper would be exciting, but there’s no pressure if nothing comes of it. If you ever are in the NW, let us know! In the meantime, have fun on your way back East and enjoy your family when you see them!

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