Sometimes the clutter in my life gets the best of me.

At least that’s what Peter Walsh says.  He was the main guest on Oprah Thursday, promoting his new book, Does This Clutter Make My Butt Look Fat?  If you’ve never heard of Peter Walsh, he is the star of the show Clean Sweep, which airs on The Learning Channel.  He’s an expert at decluttering, and apparently now an expert on weight loss.

I don’t generally watch Oprah very often, but I do like to watch when Peter Walsh is on.  I have this dream of cutting back the stuff I own to only the necessities.  So far I’ve not gotten very close to my goal, but I’m planning on being there by the end of the year.

What does all of this have to do with finance and frugality you may ask?  A LOT.  As the show opened, Oprah displayed a quote from Peter’s book on the huge screen behind her.

Eating more and buying more is an attempt to fill the need for something more.

Isn’t that the truth?  We eat to comfort ourselves.  It starts when we’re young.  We get an owie, and mom gives us a cookie.  When we’re adults, we get an emotional owie, buy a bag of cookies, and eat the whole thing in one sitting.

When we don’t feel we measure up to our friends and neighbors, we buy a new outfit, to convince ourselves that we’re worth it.  The problem is, the feeling wears off quickly, leaving us just as depressed, and $50 poorer.  If we’re lucky, we paid cash.  Unfortunately, sometimes we go into debt to try to satisfy an emotional need.  And the debt only makes things worse.

Throughout the show, Peter talked a lot about clutter weighing us down.  He stressed that the clutter in our homes weigh us down, and because of that, we gain weight.  And debt weighs us down too.  When you’re in debt, you have to deal with the pressure of living on a smaller budget to afford your debt payments.  You have to deal with the question of how you’ll pay it off.  If you’ve fallen far behind in your payments, you have to deal with creditors calling you, demanding payment.

So how do you stop the cycle?  Well, Peter Walsh has the answer to that too.  He says it works for house clutter and weight, and I say it works for debt.  First, he says, you need to stop the cycle of consumption.  Stop buying meaningless stuff.  Stop eating stuff that’s not good for you.  Stop charging stuff on your credit card.

Then, he says, ask yourself what you want from each room.  How do you want to define each space?  I ask how do you want to define your life?  When it’s all said and done, how do you want to be remembered?  For all the nice, shiny toys that you have?  You can’t take them with you.  Or would you like to be remembered by your kindness?  Your generosity?  Your faith?  That’s the kind of legacy that can be passed down from generation to generation.

“Stuff” goes out of style.  It gets old.  It breaks.  But if you teach your children kindness, compassion, generosity, and love, it’s a trait that can be passed down from generation to generation indefinitely.  That’s how I want to be defined.  When I die, I want people to say that I was a woman of great faith.  A woman who loved others and did my best to be kind.  I don’t care if they remember what kind of car I drove or what I wore to the PTA meeting.

How do you want to be defined?  Spend some time thinking about it.  Then structure your life to define yourself accordingly.

Peter’s last suggestion was this.  Choose good, not easy.  Let me repeat that, because I have a hard time with this one.

Choose good, not easy.

I need to start asking myself if I’m making choices that are best for me and my family, or if I’m taking the easy way out.  Too often I take the easy way out.  I find that kind of ironic.  I’ve never been afraid of conflict, and my parents would tell you I’m a pretty stubborn determined person.  When faced with difficult situations in life, I rarely give up.  I tend to walk straight through the conflict.

Yet, when it comes to making dinner, something relatively simple, I choose easy.  Almost every time.  When it comes to tossing out something sentimental, I choose easy.  Rather than part with things I’ll never use, I just hang onto them, cluttering up my life.  Maybe for you it’s something different.  Maybe you charge something on a credit card, rather than admit you can’t afford it (I’ve been there).  Maybe you retreat, rather than face a conflict with a loved one (I’ve been there too).  But is that good?  No, it’s easy.

That was a very convicting statement for me.  Choose good, not easy.  That’s my challenge to myself this week, and that’s my challenge to you, too.  This week… today…choose good, not easy.  Will you join me?

Do you define yourself by your things?  Do you clutter up your life to fill a need?  Do you have a story to share?  I’d love to hear it in the comments!