Why do we give our belongings so much meaning? If we truly get value from the collection, then great—I say collect away. But often these things we collect add no value to our lives, and instead become part of us, malevolent anchors.

Joshua Fields Millburn, Everything That Remains


I’ve been slowly abandoning many of my belongings over the past few years. Most of the time, I let go of items I’ve outgrown in interest and maturity. More recently, I’ve been donating or selling belongings that feel like burdensome clutter—items that add no true value to my life. These changes have occurred slowly, so my family has been able to adjust to my want for less slowly as well. Now, I drive home for the holidays eager to tell my mom about the charity I donated to in her name. I’m eager to let her try the new lip balm, lotion, or shampoo I made in my kitchen. I’m eager to share conversations over dinner and update each other on the last six months of our lives (the unfortunate number of months I spend between visits home).

This Christmas, I drove home with Everything That Remains by Joshua Fields Millburn loaded on my Kindle. As I began reading it during my stay, I suddenly became aware of the amount of stuff everywhere. To be honest, the level of clutter and materialism caused mild anxiety the more I read.

One evening, my mom showed me her collection of Hallmark Keepsake ornaments. I never knew this, but my mom had been acquiring certain collectible ornaments from Hallmark over the years. They’re currently releasing the 12 Days of Christmas ornaments, and they had sold out of the “five golden rings” at the store. She was visibly distraught over this and began looking for the ornament on eBay. Of course, there were plenty of individuals selling this ornament for more than double the store price. She convinced herself it was worth it, and she bought her missing ornament. I tried to keep my jaw from dropping after witnessing this, but I spoke frankly:

“I’m not sure I really understand why people collect things.”
“Do you think I’m overreacting?”
“What do you do with your collection of ornaments?” I asked.
“Well, right now they’re just sitting in the closet,” Mom responded. I chuckled lightly, and she said, “I just think it would be pretty to have all of these ornaments on a tree one day.”

As she said this, I couldn’t help but glance at the current Christmas tree, covered with dozens of ornaments acquired over the years…

I assured her that I was not passing judgment, and she is more than welcome to collect things that make her happy. I then explained my new desire for less. In fact, prior to visiting family, my mom had asked me for the obligatory “Christmas list.” I told her I didn’t want any thing. Instead, I convinced her to donate whatever money she had set aside for my Christmas presents to homeless families at the school where I teach. She still gave me a semi-traditional Christmas morning with a few gifts under the tree, but it was surprisingly toned down. I felt like she heard me when I asked for support and simplicity.

I still don’t quite understand her ornament obsession, and perhaps as I continue to realign my life, I will find a way to have meaningful conversations with my mom in hopes that she can transition into valuing simpler principles. Or maybe she’ll continue collecting ornaments that make her smile and be able to express how she’s found a way to make them add value to her life.

When I got home after visiting my mom, I unloaded my car and got busy purging more items, constantly asking myself, “Does this add value to my life?” (Thanks, Minimalists) Luckily, my donation trip consisted of a lighter load, which tells me that minimalism suits me better and better each day. I am keeping my acquisition of stuff to a minimum and surrounding myself only with items that add value to my life.

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