In preparation for my travels this fall, I’m in the process of getting rid of most of the items I own. All I’m keeping is what I’m taking with me in my 50-liter backpack and the personal items that are too sentimental or valuable to replace. Everything else goes — furniture, appliances, any clothes I don’t absolutely love, any books I don’t plan on reading again, all of it. And it feels awesome.
Over time, I have come to feel a great sense of relief and satisfaction from paring down my material possessions. And while some may say that I find this process a little too thrilling, the fact is there are good reasons to believe it really does bring benefits. I have more space, it’s easier to organize my stuff and find it when I need it, and most importantly, there is less to worry about and fewer choices to make on a daily basis. As I get comfortable with having less, I end up actually wanting less, and so I spend less money on stuff and have more leftover for the things that really matter. Sounds like a winning proposition, right?
But I wasn’t always such a minimalist. In fact, I was raised with two opposing examples: one parent who loved to clear the clutter and another who wanted to keep everything (and probably didn’t even notice the clutter at all). It wasn’t until college that I paid any serious attention to how much stuff I owned. One year in particular I ended up moving five times in the space of twelve months, once by carrying boxes by hand, one by one, down one block in the freezing cold of the midwest winter. While it sounds like a nightmare, the experience taught me something truly valuable. In that year, all my possessions fit into nine boxes and two suitcases, and I never wanted for anything. There was something incredibly freeing about knowing that at any time, I could pack up a mid-size car and go anywhere.
I subsequently settled down and gathered all the accoutrements that five years in the same apartment will bring. But a few months ago, in anticipation of my upcoming travels and in an effort to distract myself from the stress of grad school, I slowly began the purge. I gave away all the clothes I don’t wear, which somehow always seem to accumulate at an unconscionable rate. I sold a few shelves and storage pieces, rearranging their former inhabitants in my newfound closet space. I attacked the cabinets under the kitchen and bathroom sinks, which are somehow always filled with more products than one could possibly need to maintain a clean home (do we really need different surface cleaners for different rooms?).
I sold and gave away an awful lot of stuff, and the most amazing part is that I never miss any of it. I have never once thought to myself, “Gee, I wish I still had that thing I gave away last spring.” At this point, I have completely emptied out my entire dresser and half my shelves, and I still do not feel as if I am missing anything. That says a good deal about the amount of material goods we tend to collect that we simply don’t need.
In future posts, I’ll talk more about the details of how I go about achieving a state of maximum efficiency in my material possessions without actually depriving myself of anything or making my apartment feel like a sad empty bachelor pad (believe me, I’m all about making my space reflect my personality — more on that later too). For now I’ll just say that we all ought to take a good, hard look at our stuff and ask whether each thing really makes our lives easier and happier or, as is more often the case, just sits around uselessly taking up space, attention, and money that could be put to better use.