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Stuff Shapes your Living Space, Sanity, and Life: Part One

In 2009 I got married.

When you get married you register for stuff – mainly kitchen stuff, but still lots of stuff. Ben and I had been living together before that, so we had already done the combining of the stuff. 2006 was when we initially joined our stuff together and honestly I didn’t have that much. I had just graduated and I had minimal kitchen gadgets, furniture, and worldly possessions. I did however, have tons of books and clothes.

Our first house was tiny so filling it with stuff, even combining our two respective stuffs wasn’t too horrible. We didn’t have that much. Ben came from England, so he had the furniture he had bought once moving to Texas and clothes. Plus, the tiny-ness of that first house kept the stuff at bay. I loved filling that tiny pink house with our stuff. Right before we got married, in 2009, we moved to a much bigger house, two streets north.

It is funny how having more space you feel an obligation to fill it up. And fill it up we did.

This house was beautiful. It was (and still is) the nicest house I have ever lived in. It had two bedrooms, two bathrooms, two offices, a huge living room, a giant kitchen, and a beautiful back yard with a detached garage and a shed. I also loved filling that giant green house with stuff. We got a lot of lovely wedding gifts and we also keep adding stuff to the house – art, kitchen gadgets, clothes, etc.

In 2010 we moved to Austin, Texas. I had been accepted into a PhD program at the University of Texas at Austin in Educational Psychology. So not only was I quitting my full time teaching job (good bye money), but I was also becoming a full time student. In addition, we moved into a tiny house – like 932 square feet tiny. We had to find a place to put all that stuff, so we rented a room at a storage facility and keep a lot of our overflow stuff there .

We managed to live in that small space for 3 plus years. We didn’t manage it well. The house was oddly designed – it was old, built in the 40’s –  with strange storage, tiny bedrooms, smaller bathrooms, and the floor had an odd slope to it. We didn’t maximize storage and we forced our too large furniture to fit in the tiny house. With us and two large dogs I often felt like our house was crowded. Nothing really had a place to belong. Things piled up, clothes, dog toys, dust. I remember at one point I was stacking the copious amount of pages of paper – all the journal readings for class –  in a laundry basket.

It was not a pleasant place to be. The clutter of stuff made me feel anxious and unsettled.

In the spring of 2013 we bought our first house, adding an additional 1,000 square feet to our living space. Owning a home was never really a dream for me, but it was very important to Ben. The house was lovely (for a starter home) with an open floor plan, remodeled by someone else, lots of natural light, and in a “neighborhood in transition” – according to our realtor. I love that phrase, but it is kind of funny in Austin – all of the neighborhoods are in transition. Housing prices are soaring, gentrification is rampant, and it is a sellers market. Our little neighborhood was close to the light rail, near some nice restaurants, but also had a scrap metal yard at the west end of the street and was dangerously close to I-35 and shady motels on the east end. We unpacked our storage room and filled the home with the stuff that had been put away for 3 plus year.

Also in 2013 our marriage officially fell apart.

I vividly remember telling my therapist in the fall of 2013, “But we have so much stuff, how do you even begin to untangle the stuff? Who gets what?”

She replied, “You just do.”

And she was right.

The slow unraveling of the marriage was a painful process. But the actual separation and logistics surround the divorce were, for the most part, handled with kindness and grace.

While we separated the day after Thanksgiving in 2013 we continued to live together, in our newly bought house, until June 2014. It was big enough that we had more than enough space. I got the master bedroom, he got the the other two. We shared the common spaces. The divorce was finalized in May of 2014.

Stuff Shapes your Living Space, Sanity, and Life: Part Two – coming soon