The Hoarder and The Minimalist: A Modern Love Story

HoarderMy grandma was a hoarder of the best kind. She printed and saved every photograph she ever took, her dressers were covered with seashells she gathered, and she had a hallway closet dedicated to pasta she bought at the dollar store. The second generation hoarder—also known as my dad—uses piles of CDs as end tables, still wears shoes he bought in 1980, and has over 1,000 mini bottles of shampoo and conditioner he’s saved from his favorite hotels.

Then there’s me.

My husband once found a whole drawer of church bulletins dating back to my first semester of college, notes folded into little origami shapes from my high school besties, and don’t even try to touch the hundred of books I’ve kept in boxes over the years—I am saving them to put together my very own library!

When Mike and I got engaged, he had a twin bed, a tv, a garbage bag full of clothes, and a three-drawer plastic container. My bedroom at the time had twelve pieces of furniture in it. He flew to North Carolina to help me move to the Midwest and found that I had rented a giant U-Haul to move all my stuff (little did we know 8 years later we would use the same sized U-Haul to move our then family of five!)

Needless to say, our first few years of marriage were…. interesting.

When we bought a house, I didn’t understand why he didn’t want to spend money to fill it with furniture, so I turned to garage sales. When that got on his nerves, I took up the mission of rescuing broken dressers or legless nightstands from curbs as I drove through our neighborhood on trash day. At one point we had four dining table sets in our home (one in the sunroom, kitchen, dining room, and living room). I could have opened a restaurant! Anytime someone in my family had a hand-me-down, they knew where to turn.

The best situation for a pack-rat like myself is having to move. We have now moved five times in seven years. That is five different times in my life I’ve stood next to a trash can crying as I fished out things my husband didn’t think were important enough to save as I yelled at him and justified keeping my junior high mix tapes or graduate school notes. A million times I have heard him exclaim: “Why do we have so much stuff?!”

Because I love my husband and dislike fighting with him, I have had to change over the years. Also I began to feel overwhelmed with the amount of things that we accumulated and the time it takes to take care of them (hello, laundry). 

Mike has taught me some wonderful “lessons” as we have stood yelling at each other in our basement storage room. Here are a few that have brought more peace to our home.

When in Doubt, Throw it Out. 

Mike has taught me that I can enjoy things without having to keep them forever. For instance, when the kids come home with backpacks full of projects, I quickly skim for special items or a note from the teacher and the rest goes in the trash. I love my kids and I consider the time they spent creating their art projects the most valuable thing. My oldest is in kindergarten so it is literally something elaborate every day. I keep some of the notes they write me and love to save holiday themed crafts and pack them away with our decor to bring out the next year. It is fun to decorate with their old handmade wreaths and handprinted trees. 

Our kids don’t want your crap! 

Sentimental is not one of Mike’s attributes. I love saving mementos to pass down to my kids, but he’s right, they probably won’t want much more than a few special items. My mom recently found one of my baby teeth she kept and we had a good laugh over it, there is no way I’m wanting that! Sometimes I save things for a short season until it is easier to let go. When my grandma passed away, I kept as many of her things as I could. But over the years, I’ve dwindled the boxes down to a small stack of dishes and her favorite t-shirt. I keep this in mind when I set aside things to keep for my children. Recently my favorite decorating guru Joanna Gaines shared a picture of four small suitcases, one for each of her children, that she was filling with memorable baby clothes and keepsakes. This is a great idea I’ll be trying myself in the future!

You can always buy another.

Growing up, my dad was very poor and this shaped how he relates to stuff and money as an adult. As his daughter, I am proud I learned how to take care of things and stretch our dollars. But my husband has taught me that there is sometimes more freedom in giving things away rather than saving everything “just in case” I need it in the future. During one year of our marriage, Mike and I rented a tiny duplex when he got transferred for work. We knew we wouldn’t have room for all the things we previously had in our house, so we gave 75% of our furniture away and packed most of our dishes and pots and pans into storage. It was very, very hard for me to sell or donate some of the special pieces I had acquired. But as I got rid of things, Mike cheered me on, saying, “It’s okay, we can always buy another!” Our year in that little house was one of the happiest of our marriage. Often I don’t end up buying another when I give something away, but knowing I can in the future gives me the peace I need to let go of certain items! 

Mike still considers buying one flannel shirt a year “shopping” while I hide my Nordstrom boxes under the guest room bed. But overall, I have grown a lot and am beyond thankful I married the man I did. Sometimes I feel like he has brainwashed me and we joke that the old Ally is dead! Don’t worry, Mike has had to change too. He doesn’t question my throw pillow collection and has dedicated an entire row of cabinets to me in the kitchen, lovingly calling them “The Place Where Ally Puts Things.” He understands that when he asks me where the scissors are, I’ll kindly reply, “I have no idea!” And some habits never die—Mike recently found a huge box full of sheets, curtains, and comforters; when he asked me what they were for, I told him I’m saving them in case we ever open a bed and breakfast. You never know! 


  1. I love reading about how people so opposite in their need for (or want of) things can live happily together. I like to give things away but am often amused at the crazy things I hang on to. I have a plastic shoe box for each of my grown sons. Inside are special school and sport awards, the clothes my older boys were wearing when they arrived from Korea, a few pictures. And each one has a set of baby teeth. I’m sure the teeth will be the first things they get rid of!

    • Yes! Mostly just about how much stuff we have. And then sometimes when I forget to check his work pant pockets before I do laundry… and wash one of his paint-pens… and it explodes all over his clothes when it runs through the dryer. But whose fault is that… really? You really need to be more of a positive influence in his life Scott!

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