After 14 years of marriage, my husband Kevin and I have noticed something: Our perspectives on many, many parts of life are eerily similar. Wedding planning was a breeze since we wanted the same type of celebration. House hunting took no time at all, as we both fell in love with our quirky 1969 contemporary. We have the same tastes in movies, food and coffee – you know, all the important things. Our faith, our parenting styles, our priorities all align. But there’s one issue we’ve repeatedly butted heads about and it’s this: the amount of “stuff” we have in our house. The long and short of it is that Kevin enjoys having lots of stuff – and I don’t.
We’re both avid thrift store shoppers, so it’s not like we spend a lot, but still. I can’t stand clutter or collections. I like every item to have its place, every room to be tidy. Now, my closets aren’t terribly organized and I shove piles of paperwork into a back room when company is coming. But I feel happiest and most at peace in a simple, sparsely furnished home.
Not so for Kevin. Over the years, he’s collected Matchbox cars and Atari games, cassette tapes and guitars, CDs and watches. Today, if you stopped by and poked around our house, you’d likely notice two dozen kites hanging from the rafters of our garage, a colorful assortment of vintage tin cups in a kitchen cupboard (they’re neat, but need to be hand washed, so . . . no thanks), and then there’s my biggest source of angst: the basement.
Paintings line every wall along with shelves of Star Wars figures, model airplanes and those Matchbox cars from the 70s, plus toys, toys, toys everywhere. I can feel my shoulders tense and blood pressure skyrocket the second I start to descend the stairs. Okay, so maybe I’m being a wee bit dramatic. But you get the point.
Kevin and I have figured out a compromise when it comes to our too-much-stuff dilemma. And, wouldn’t you know, the moment we had children, I started a few “collections” of my own. Some are big money savers, some encourage family traditions, others are just plain fun. All contribute in one way or another to creating a happy, peaceful environment in our home – and for me, that’s what’s most important.
1. Kids’ Books As an avid reader, if I’m not in the middle of a good book, I feel a little dead inside. Reading has always has been my #1 hobby – but I have a rule when it comes to buying myself books: If I’m not going to re-read it or lend it to a friend, I don’t need to own it. On the flip side, we have hundreds and hundreds of children’s books packed onto shelves throughout the house. I’ve picked up a few at thrift stores, but most have come our way as gifts or hand-me-downs or plucked from Little Free Libraries. Many nights after dinner, my 9-year-old daughter and I will walk to the many Little Free Libraries in our neighborhood, arriving home an hour later with a stack of treasures.
Sure, books wind up on the floor and can look messy on shelves. But I love raising children who love to read, and I’m not going to let my rigidity about clutter get in the way of that.
2. Holiday Decorations Some of my favorite childhood memories involve walking home from school to discover my mom had put up Halloween/Christmas/Easter decorations. I vividly remember the cardboard witch with hinges at her knees and elbows beckoning from our front door every October. Or, come December, the ceramic Little Drummer Boy, perched on the piano, pa rum pa pum pumming in a circle to his classic song.
These familiar items added a sense of comfort and joy to my life – which is why I have no bones about the many crates of decorations stored in our basement (Don’t worry – Kevin carries them up and down the stairs so I can actively avoid going down there). My children cheer and scream and run around like wild animals when we haul out the Christmas bins. They oooh and ahhh when they arrive home from school to see our fireplace mantle decked out for an upcoming holiday. They love hearing stories about how each and every decoration found its way into our home. These are building blocks for memories that’ll last a lifetime, and for that, I’ll take the clutter.
3. Board Games There are two kinds of people in the world: Those who love board games and those who don’t. I fall into the latter category – so does Kevin – but the last few years we’ve seen our children’s absolute delight when we play games together . . . so game night it is! Our dining room cupboards are jam-packed with Uno, Monopoly, Candy Land, Checkers, Mancala, and a silly Jumpin’ Monkeys game that all prompt so much family fun. If you’re not a thrift store shopper, board games may make you think twice. There are literally hundreds available at $1.99 or $2.99 a pop.
Of course, it’s also worth mentioning that board games offer countless health benefits, from decreasing stress to improving critical thinking skills to boosting the immune system. These alone make buying, storing and playing games – whether you feel like it or not! – well worth it.
4. Kids’ Clothes/Shoes to Grow Into Kevin and I met in Colorado Springs, and one November day, not long after we got married, he arrived at our apartment door with an enormous, intricately decorated wooden trunk he found on the side of road. In that moment, I had two thoughts:
1. Is someone wandering the neighborhood looking for this trunk? 2. Why did my husband feel compelled to pick up garbage and bring it home with him?
If only I had known this scene would replay itself many times over in years to come! Fast-forward to today and that trunk rests in our upstairs hallway, packed to the brim with clothes and shoes for our kids to grow into. A few are hand-me-downs, but most are thrift store finds that I know will come in handy one day. I’m especially willing to store nice tennis shoes and high-quality winter gear – all of it purchased at about 90% off retail. I have no qualms about hoarding with savings like that!
5. Kids’ Movies My friend Melanie introduced me to the concept of “Intentional Anchors,” which are routines, events and traditions that anchor our day or week. These connect us as a family, give us something to look forward to, and they’re fun! Here are a few examples: Our daily anchors include Kevin praying with the kids when he drops them off at school in the morning, family dinners, and evening walks with my daughter. Weekly anchors are taco Tuesday (not necessarily tacos every week, but some kind of Mexican food), pizza and movie night on Friday, and church on Sunday. The kids know these simple traditions happen every week and get excited about them (to be transparent, my 5-year-old son does not get excited about church – no offense to Kevin, who is our pastor).
By far, our most anticipated weekly anchor is pizza and movie night. Who doesn’t love pizza and taking a night off from meal planning? As for the movies – here’s where my hoarding comes into play. In our sun room, we have an armoire that holds one of those humongous, old TVs, along with a VCR and 50+ movies – mostly Disney classics – on tape. We amassed this collection for under $10 by purchasing it at, you guessed it, thrift stores. On occasion, I’ll check out a newer movie from the library, but we rely mostly on old favorites: Beauty and the Beast, 101 Dalmatians, Monsters Inc., Tarzan, Mary Poppins.
If we unloaded all of these movies and spread them around the room, I’d probably pass out. But when Friday night rolls around, and I’m relaxing on the couch, laughing with my family at the antics of Woody and Buzz and Sully and Dory, that $10 investment pays off in spades.
What items do you happily hoard…. without regrets?
Carol lives in Oshkosh, WI, with her husband and two children. You can visit her website and infrequently updated blog here: http://cpheffernan.wix.com/carol-heffernan- Oh, and, personally, I think Carol is one of the kindest and most relateable women I ever met.