Are we shopping yet?



Too. Much. Stuff.

If they were honest, all of my friends would admit that, like me, they spend a good amount of time moving stuff around—putting it away, giving it away, and reorganizing it.

In my mailbox today was a long line of CyberMonday emails urging me to buy more. On Facebook, another long line of posts also says go ahead and buy more stuff but buy it locally. A competing thread says don’t buy anything.

The fact is that, like most lucky people who are able to, I enjoy buying stuff and find it pretty easy to convince myself I can use it, if I don’t necessarily need it. But it’s getting less enjoyable to manage the collection I have.

For example, I’d love to recommend some new gardening books as gifts, and I probably will. But the reality is I have run out of shelf space for my own, and stopped having time to read most of them a couple months ago. I rarely pick up a technical gardening book unless it’s a plant encyclopedia—and most of that can be found reliably online now. Personal gardening titles—essays, memoirs, and letters—are still enjoyable, but they’re piling up too.

As for tools, I would love to get rid of half of what I have. I only actually use one pair of pruners, one spade and a big shovel—and the Cobrahead to get through the tree roots. There’s way more than that clattering around the garage. (Most of it would be useless to anyone—like those silly little weed forks.)

Too much of the mass-produced stuff offered to gardeners as holiday fare has the same sort of planned obsolescence as the contents of my garage. I look forward to reviewing all the crafty offerings Amy elicited in her recent post—but I’m not sure where I’ll put any of it. This is why I've begun to give more forced bulbs as gifts—they fade away on their own. (Though many of my recipients try to keep them as potted plants despite my advice.)

How about you—how do you deal with your stuff stream?

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Elizabeth Licata

Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regularly radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world,and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at


  1. Didn’t deal with it at all, until I decided to move, which prompted giving away 20+ grocery bags full of books (keeping only the gardening books). Also, all my records (remember them?) and almost all my CDs.
    I sold or gave away several large pieces of furniture.
    Then I grabbed about 8 tools I want to keep and invited my neighbors to take everything else from my toolshed (it’s huge; used to be a garage). They picked that sucker clean, even asked if they could take the hooks the tools were hanging from.
    I feel like I’ve lost 30 pounds!

  2. Having made one international move and one local move in the last three years, we cull every time we pull up stakes! In Oxford, we dropped dozens of bags at the local charity shop, sold or gave away all of our furniture. In our recent move, we attended the community yard sale to redistribute some of our stuff. Then, without even unloading the car, we visited the local junior league thrift shop. Now that we have purchased, we are going to have to self-regulate our stuff … going to have to see how that works!

  3. I regularly take bags of my stuff and my kids’ stuff to the donation center. Even with all this, keeping down the clutter is hard.

    I am looking for actual plants for my yard and have found some good deals on Cyber Monday for these things.

  4. I like giving flowers to people who don’t need any more stuff. They are pretty, make your life better for a short time, and then go in the compost. That’s my kind of gift. Or an experience gift, I love those too.

  5. …”stuff stream.” Great phrase! Please note that most of the 20+ grocery bags of books that Susan mentions above ended up in my house. Most stuff I can do without — new paint on walls, new furniture, new computer, new gardening tools. But dangle some books in front of me and I lose all control.

  6. A year ago moved my mother to a smaller apartment. It was quite the OMG momment. It was extremely difficult to get her to let go of anything. I would come home and clean out a closet. I don’t ever want to get like that.

  7. I could say, “I don’t have much stuff.” It’s the truth, but at the same time, I have a lot of stuff. To be fair, most of it is kids’ stuff that clogs up my house.

    I’ve slowly but surely been paring down my “stuff” and giving it away. I don’t need much. I don’t shop – it’s a waste of my money and my time when I could be doing something else.

    I do use the gardening hand tool weeder thingy though, by the way. I only have one. It’s pretty handy. The one that’s a long pole with just a tiny forked end on it. I like that thing.

  8. Tibs, I feel your pain, I moved my mother last year too. This was the 6th “downsizing” move she’s made since moving out of our family suburban ranch house in the mid-70’s, and she still had stuff dating back to the 50’s and 60’s–old vases, tea trays, tablecloths, etc. Yet she is so organized we never noticed–everything was packed away neatly like a Chinese puzzle. It all fits now into her tiny 1-bedroom apartment, but the next move will involve a serious shedding.

    I once met 3 sisters, ages 45-ish and older, who had made a pact with their families to only gift each other with what they called “consumables”–food, candles, trips, etc.–rather than stuff. When my kids get a little older (they are in their 20’s now and just establishing households), I will have that talk with them.

  9. After dealing with downsizing my parents (and accumulating a lot of their stuff), I discovered Freecycle. I just post whatever I want to get rid of, and someone comes and takes it away. It’s a win for both of us. I get rid of stuff and it goes to someone who can really use it. I’ve gotten rid of plants and tools to grateful new homeowners. I’ve given away books,smoker wood when pruning my apple trees, old appliances, clothes, you name it.

  10. I love my little fishtail weeder, too! I use it all the time. The only problem is that I lose them all the time — I set them down on the ground and then can never find them again. I’m pretty sure there are at least 10 of them buried around my yard in various places.

  11. Funny that you should post this today – I spent the loooong weekend cleaning out stuff. I accumulate give-aways in one area of the house & when it starts to overflow, I make a trip to Goodwill. Did that on Friday, then on saturday I tackled my 10-y.o. son’s room. Eight hours later (and having cleaned also my daughter’s room & the playroom) we had another load of merchandise for Goodwill. Sunday, I cleaned the bookshelves and came up with two boxes of books we’ll never read again. A very cathartic, but very exhausting weekend.

    Naturally, I’d prefer to get rid of stuff as soon as a bit accumulates, but that seems to take so much effort to do on a weekly/monthly basis.

  12. I like the consumable gifts only rule. I began using that one on my mother the hoarder years ago.

    Last winter, I decided I had too many houseplants. I got rid of 2/3s of my orchids, only keeping the ones that look good with the care I’m prepared to give, and bloom reliably. Of course, I then decided to start cuttings of my favorite epiphytes, so my numbers are creeping up again, but they don’t require much in the winter, and go outside in the summer. I am my mother’s daughter.

  13. My parents were borderline hoarders and cleaning out their property after they passed away taught me a valuable lesson – now I let the grocery store be my pantry and the big box store be my lumber storage. No clutter for me.

    When I moved to my new but older house, I moved from a suburb to the city but out on the edge of that city. I thought I might have problems with the lack of city services at the new place but instead things have been great. Someone far smarter than I designed these ‘convenience stations’ where you can dump and recycle just about everything. When I say everything I mean that they have bins for books, clothing, appliances, electronics, metal, glass, paper, plastic bags, cardboard, yard waste and oyster shells. They are open 7 days a week from 7am til 7pm and they are only 5 minutes from my house. I go there so often they know my dogs name.

  14. What is it about this time year? Instead of shopping, I too cleaned. But hear this story (off topic) about how I was spared bringing home more plants to “clutter ” my garden

    Had about 150 bucks of plants on the wagon (25 percent off), guy pulling the tags to ring them up. See a person with a 10 buck off coupon on purchases off $50. Ask nursery employee if I can get the 10 bucks off but i am so sorry I don’t have my coupon.

    She refused!…I pointed out the financial implications of losing 150 $ sale for a $10 dollar coupon. I said I was a regular customer, but stopped short of saying I’d been shopping there for 20 years and bought thousands …yes thousands…. of dollars in plant material and hardgoods.

    So I walked away, leaving my garden some room to breathe and the plants for the employees to put away.

    I did write to the nursery manager, but that really didn’t give much satisfaction.

  15. That is just unimaginable Marie, especially with all the reports I hear of sales having been down in nurseries for the last few years. they need faithful customers like us more than ever!

  16. I want to write “Yeah, me too”, but I don’t buy much stuff. Are we talking books, knick knacks, clothing, & gadgets?

    Most of my stuff came from my mother and has either sentimental or real value or is useful. I also keep my stuff forever until it breaks or wears out. Same cool old second-hand desk. Same garden spades since 1994. Same bed and mattress since age 6. (I know what you are thinking–The mattress was made in the 1950’s and is probably a collectible by now. The bed is an unusual size so I’d have to have a mattress specially made to replace it.)

    I am getting rid of one obselete 1990’s scanner, one broken computer, one 1920’s Tappan stove, one 1950’s red dinette set, and some old shelf paper.–Hope that counts.

  17. I’ve worked very hard to convince friends and family to skip the gift-giving and just spend time together. Christmas and birthdays.

    It’s amazing that people who have everything still have a hard time giving up this ritual.

    I now only give gifts to my nieces – they’re young enough that receiving a useful gift is a huge help.

  18. Last year when we moved I got rid of boxes and boxes of stuff. Now I don’t miss any of it, but I do regret giving away the books. I thought I could live without them, but I realize now I made a mistake! I like having a library and having all of those words nearby. Same with the garden…the more the merrier!

  19. Every time I clear out a space somebody moves in more stuff. Just had the garage cleaned out, then the son’s girlfriend got kicked out of her house by her crazy mom and we moved her in with us.

    Doesn’t do any good to clear stuff out, more simply arrives. And it’s not even my stuff!

  20. Yeah, moving will straighten you out right quick. I had pros move me and they moved EVERYTHING, I still can’t believe I paid that much to move things I don’t care about.

  21. I have been trying to move in the direction of better made things instead of cheaper things for a few years. It gets really hard when you don’t make much money but need something. Sometimes the only option you can afford is mass produced garbage. I wish there was more sharing of high quality goods.

    I do feel really lucky to have this resource in town though

  22. Well, with books, I have a plan that works pretty well – I check them out from the library (we have a *great* library system here) and if there is a reason to actually own the book, only then do I buy it. Basically, this limits me to reference type books. As for the rest of the stuff, some goes to charities, some is recycled, but sometimes I simply have to give myself permission to throw it away. For me, the big clutter bug is paper – what should be filed, what can be discarded, what needs to be shredded, etc.? It drives me crazy!

  23. I cleaned out the toolshed on Black Friday (“Buy Nothing Day” at our house). Several old shovels, rakes, etc. ended up propped against our mailbox with a “Free” sign attached. They were gone by sundown. I’ve gotten rid of everything from a toilet to a mirror to a water heater this way.
    However, the flow of books is definitely INWARD at our house!

  24. I had the amazing good fortune to enter “This is How I Roll with Corona Tools” contest and although my little video was not v professional, it was v sincere and showed me hard a work clearing our tangled woods with a big pair of Corona lopers. So it won (!) and today I get to tell Chris what garden plans I have for the next couple of years in our brand new home/ landscape/ garden that needs everything, and then Corona will figure out what tools I need and send me a complete line of tools.
    This is darn lucky b/c all my old tools are wearing out and getting past their 25 year guarantees. Plus, our son is buying his first house and yard and he will be happy to have my old tools!

  25. When we last moved in 2004, there were quite a number of large things, and a few smaller, that I decide we didn’t need anymore. They movers were happy to have those items in good condition–and it didn’t matter to me if they kept them, sold them, or donated them, because they were out of my hair. We did move a few too-useful-to-shed items, which partially furnished a friend’s apartment, including a bunkbed.

    I am continually frustrated in this house because there are not enough bookshelves. My husband was on my case to sell the last house before election day, and I was seduced by hardwood floors, a hot tub, and a pool.

    We have one honking big piece of cabinetry that doesn’t fit anywhere else in the house but where I wanted a lot of bookshelves. I am not parting with my books–too much money, too much time accumulating some of them, and they could fetch reasonably large prices, some of them.

  26. I think a good way to give away stuff is Goodwill, Freecycle, or posting on Facebook (“anyone want my ____?”)If I had a blog, though, I might do a giveaway, especially if I had too many gardening books (hint hint). 🙂

  27. I have definite hoarding tendencies, but come by it honestly as my dad is really out of control. Books are my biggest love also. I rarely buy fiction anymore – my husband and I use the library here constantly – but I am always buying more gardening books. In regard to other stuff, I have an easier time getting rid of things if I know (or imagine) who it’s going to. I could easily give away our excess dining chairs when a friend needed them. I’m thinning out my Christmas stuff by thinking about the Family Services clients that need it. I’ve really been working on clearing things out this month. At the rate I’m going, in 3 or 4 months I should have a much less cluttered house… just in time for the start of yard sale season (my downfall)!

  28. A lot of community gardens or school gardens would LOVE your neglected tools! Some non-profits even have tool “lending libraries” to help those who can’t afford tools or who live in apartments with no place to keep them. They would dearly love a donation of tools.

    I have a problem getting rid of plants. I’m a plant hoarder. I have a ton of non-hardy plants like old forcing tazettas that I baby and bring inside each year and move with me from state to state. I keep waiting to find a friend in the deep South who I can give them to.

    Don’t get me started on the dahlia collection. I’ve still got 50+ to dig and there is 2 inches of snow on the ground.

    But stuff, books, nicknacks, appliances–dear god no. I hate presents of stuff!

  29. Ah, sounds like we’re all on the same page here. Getting junk and clutter out of our lives, and trying to keep it out. It’s hard, since for me (as well as some others out there it sounds like) much of the junk we accumulate seems to be unwanted gifts, or perhaps items we just maybe, might, perhaps one day need, and don’t want to buy. We’ve agreed in our family that there is no buying adults presents – just younger kids in the family. It’s worked for years and we’ve all be really relieved.

    For garden tools, I agree, I only have and use a very small number of tools. There are other tools I’d love to have just for once or twice a year (mulcher/chippers, chainsaw, etc). Don’t need it enough to justify buying, costs too much to rent for a day to justify renting.

    I hear there are some community tool sharing groups now, but do they work? Do people take care of tools that they don’t own?

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