"The meaning of life is . finding a place for all of our stuff." "A house is a pile of stuff with a lid on it; a place where we keep our stuff while we're out looking for more stuff." - George Carlin

Funny, but a keen observation of humankind. Most of us are overwhelmed with stuff: the practical and treasured, but also the impractical and superfluous. So why do we cling to it?

When my elderly grandfather died, his basement was still cluttered with metal and wood scraps, pipes, nuts and bolts because he thought he might need them some day. I have held onto things because they once belonged to people I loved.

However, I clearly remember the first time I realized the futility of hanging onto stuff. My kids were nearly preteens, we did not plan on having a larger family and yet I still had boxes of all their baby clothes, baby furniture and toys.

One day I began sorting through the clothes to determine what was worthy of donating when I noticed the bell-bottom rompers that dominated the collection. The disco age had long since passed, the furniture no longer met safety standards and who wanted slightly chewed toys? It was a revelation! It was time to let go. But for me, practicality wasn't a satisfactory reason to dispose of these precious things because of the emotional attachment to them. I was challenged.

After that first "cleansing," it was easier to let go. Then, after a few garage sales, I began obsessing over decluttering. My goal became creating a minimalist environment. Every year as winter's end approached, my feverish rampage would begin. I would go through every room, closet, cupboard, drawer and box throughout the house looking for things to purge and then pile it all in the basement for an eventual sale or donation.

Some things were still difficult to part with, though. Knickknacks from my grandmothers' houses, gifts I no longer used, collectibles I had tired of. Sometimes when people were purchasing the items, I felt compelled to give them the back story: "That ceramic box was on my grandmother's coffee table for years," or "that dish is a souvenir from Italy," or "the puppets belonged to my children."

The most crushing time was after each of my parents passed away. Donating my dad's clothes, selling my mom's pasta maker - it was like losing a part of my parents each time something left my house. However, I soon realized that their possessions offered no consolation for my heartache.

It was a difficult process, but I knew my children could not use all of these things, and I have seen what happens at estate sales where strangers traipse through someone's home pawing at her treasured possessions. I'll do my own liquidating, thank you.

Now, I've successfully pared down to essentials and a limited number of cherished possessions. Last week, I still had a pile in the basement waiting to be dispatched. Not having enough merchandise for a garage sale, I placed an ad for "free stuff" and the most appreciative people came to rid me of my clutter: the little girl who was delighted with the Barbie doll; the teacher who took the large collection of stuffed animals for her young students; the lady who took my mother's straw hat for her granddaughter; and the teenager who was going to use my Bee Gees record for a craft project. It was gratifying to have given my possessions to good homes and to have freed myself from so much stuff.