12.31.2010

Final Thoughts on Stuff

This is a good chunk of the items that are no longer in my possession.
Did I do it? Did I meet my goal? Yes! Over the last 46 days I have confronted the belief that stuff makes me happy by:
  1. Identifying the purpose of the things I own.
  2. Sorting through all possessions and reducing what I have by one third.
  3. Only buying five non-essentials.
Yes, I have reduced what I own by one third. I bought fewer than five non-essential things. In fact, I bought just one and it was a gift. Throughout this exercise of reducing what I own, I did confront the belief that things can make me happy.

Perhaps the most striking part of this whole journey has been the reactions of friends, family and the people who read this blog. There were folks who seemed confused or unsure about the validity of reducing what I own. A gut reaction that usually involved the phrase, “I could never do that.” Oddly not unlike the reaction I get when I tell people I did Peace Corpse. However, the vast majority of folks were supportive and offered stories of times they discovered they could trim down their belongings:
We had pipe break on the second floor of our house in late May while we were away. - LeAnn
 
After just a couple of weeks of living in a small room with only a bed and a few clothes while on an international volunteer trip, I realized I could probably get rid of most everything I own. - Judy

If you're ever not sure what shoes to get rid of, just have my puppy come over and he'll pick for you! I recently got rid of three pairs of my shoes this way (including my all-time favorite Chacos) as well as a pair of my friend's shoes... You're welcome Josh! - Clarissa
I’ve had many conversations with my husband and friends about how they decide what they need, what to part with and why it is hard to let go. It is extraordinary how we relate to our stuff.

Personally, I had bought into the idea that I deserved stuff. If my articles on Demand Media did well, I got an extra thousand back on my taxes or I got to the end of the month with a cushion, I thought I should buy more clothes, go out to eat, get a four dollar coffee.

I also justified with coupons and sales. I would scour the newspaper, junk mail and the telephone book for coupons or upcoming sales so I could rationalize spending the money. I loved getting an eighty dollar sweater for twenty dollars. I felt like I had won. I now realize that I didn’t win, I spent twenty dollars on something I didn’t need.

As I went about sorting what I own and parting with one third of it, I found myself defending my stuff. The most common defenses were: sentimental value, possible future usefulness, and might be/become valuable. While all three of these are valid concerns, I had to step back, ask myself to evaluate the usefulness and weigh the cost of having those things verses their perceived value.

It has sentimental importance

This is a hard one because it isn’t a rational argument, purely emotional. I’m not immune. There are some things I did keep like my wedding dress, personal journals, grandma’s recipe books and photo albums that are wholly memorabilia and also completely irreplaceable. However, I was able to part with prom dresses, books, jewelry, glass wear and cloth napkins. The hardest were things I had at one time made plans to use. I had to admit to myself that I was never going to make a quilt out of the cloth napkins from our wedding reception or use all those button earrings from the 50’s.  Honestly it was a releif to let go.  One less thing on my mental to do list. 
It might be useful in the future

This is the excuse my husband finds the most convincing: I might want that thing again in the future and if I don’t have it I’ll just have to go buy a new one. In very specific situations that is true. My favorite nail color is I-Scream Cream. It took me a long time to find the perfect neutral polish. I put it on once a week. When it was discontinued I bought three bottles of it. I’m okay keeping those three bottles. Then there are things like the wok. Yes, I might want a wok again in the future, but I can make a mean stir fry in the big skillet too. When deciding if a potentially useful item should be kept, it is important to decide if you have another item that will serve and how hard it will be to get that item again in the future. Most of the time I found I could do without.

It could be worth a lot

This is the hope that one day the guy from the Antique Road Show will appraise your great aunt’s ugly vase and declare that it is from the Ming Dynasty and worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. Horray! And then you will sell it and be rich. In the mean time, that item can sit around and clutter up your life. My thought is to sell it now. Why wait on the *chance* it could gain value? If it isn’t monetarily but historically significant, donate it to a local museum. There’s no need to keep it cluttering up your space being another thing you have to clean and keep safe.

What is Worth Keeping?

This is something you have to decide for yourself. Keep what you use often. I found it useful to ask myself if I would use this item in the next six weeks. If the answer was no, then I asked myself why I was keeping it.

In the end the things that made the cut seem like no brainers:
  • Enough dishes for four people
  • Easy to take care of, versatile clothes and shoes
  • Make-up that suits my complexion
  • Only the books I use often or are personal records.  
Now many of the things that were stored in plain site can be fit into our closet, drawers or cabinets in places that just didn’t have space before. Our apartment isn’t quite minimalist, but it is much less crowded.

So what shall I tackle next?

12.29.2010

One Third Less Clothing

The limiting factor in my closet was how many hangers I had. I knew I had too many clothes when after doing laundry I had a hanger deficit. Then I would force myself to reduce what I owned to fit the number of hangers (I have a lot of hangers). Then I started to double things up.  I thought to myself, "These two sun dresses can be on the same hanger."  My side of the closet was crammed full. But no longer!

I set out a little reluctantly to reduce my clothing by one third.  It was surprisingly easy. I went through each category: clothing, pants, short sleeves, long sleeves, socks, coats etc and took out one third. In about three hours I went through the closet and dresser drawers.

How to Choose What to Keep 

My goal was to reduce the clothing I own by one third by:
  1. Keeping only clothes that fit well.  I tried every thing on. If it was too tight, too long, too anything that was grounds for dismissal.
  2. Getting rid of high maintenance clothes that require ironing or dry cleaning.  Why have clothes that need special attention when there are clothes that can simply be washed and dried?  I did keep my wedding dress and a second fancy dress along with two pairs of dry clean only pants.  I am considering getting rid of those as well. 
  3. Giving preference to clothes that have a wide range of use.  The Kelly green top with appliqued strawberries that only works with the white skirt, those were both easy items to discard.  However the black top with the boat neck which can look dressy or casual was one of the first things that went back into my closet.  
Here's the things that "might be worth something" and the cat
 who thought rearranging the closet was great fun. 
The items that didn’t make the cut were divided into the “too far gone” and the "might be worth something” category.  Those items that had stains, starting to fall apart or were showing signs of wear went into "too far gone pile" and were taken to Goodwill.   I asked what would happen if an item was not good enough to sell.  The lady there told me that items that are considered too damaged to sell are recycled when possible and that almost all fabrics can be recycled. 

The items from my closet which might be worth something are going to go to a consignment store where perhaps I will earn a little without investing much of my own time.

Now that all is said and done I love that my closet has more space.  I even freed up a whole drawer in the dresser for cat stuff.  Now all the miscellaneous cat things that used to live in a bucket in plain sight are tucked away.   

What the Future Holds

One third was easy.  I am sure I could even reduce my clothing by two thirds and I just might. I’m seriously considering Project 333 for the New Year. The premise of this project is to reduce your wardrobe to just 33 items for three months. Check it out - Be More with Less: Project 333.

Do you think you could limit your clothing and accessories to just 33 items?

12.24.2010

Collective Consumption: How to make more of less

Yes!  How to consume less by collaborating through social networks.  What do you have laying around that could get you what you want?

12.19.2010

Linens and Things


In the corner of our bedroom there is an old steamer trunk.  It's where we keep all our linens; sheets, towels, air mattress, quilts, rag rugs and more stuff I can't remember.   It's big and it is won't shut.  It's been on my hit list for a while now.  I don't think I've ever evaluated what's in there.  I just kept cramming more stuff in. 

Before I even opened the lid I made list of what we need for linens. 

Queen Bed:
- 2 sets of sheets
- 1 quilt
- 1 fuzzy blanket

Guest Beds:
- 2 set of single sheets
- 1 air mattress and pump
- 2 quilts
- 1 comforter (Jeff insisted on keeping this.  He does have veto power.)

Towels:
- 1 Foy towel
- 1 Jeff towel
- 2 Guest towels
- 2 Beach towels
- 1 big blanket towel

Then I took everything out of the trunk and put it in stacks around the room.  I went through my list and pulled out what was on my list.  I put those things back in the trunk. 


This is what was left over: extra towels, throw blankets, throw pillows and a bunch of cloth napkins.  The napkins were from our wedding.  I collected vintage napkins for the reception.  My grand idea was to make them into a quilt.  However, I don't have the sewing skills and upon closer examination many of the napkins aren't too thin and flimsy.  I did save ten of the large dinner napkins for entertaining.  All the rest of the napkins were gifted to a local artist who uses fabric as her medium.  Everything else was boxed up and sent to Goodwill. 

Now the linen trunk closes!


If I can just clear enough space out of the closet so we can store the window air conditioner, red box and bike rack out of sight that corner of the room will be much less crowded. 

I'm close to going through everything.  I'll tell you about cleaning out the bathroom and dresser drawers next.  Then all that is left is the closet and under the bed. 

I'm excited to be living in an apartment with less clutter.

12.13.2010

Saving Sentimenal Things

I have been getting many comments from people who are concerned about getting rid of things.  The two arguements being sentimental value and possible future use.  In this post I'm going to examine the sentimal value arguement.  Lilycatherine wrote:
I appreciate your point of view and see merit and value to it. BUT, I am much older than you and have a different perspective. Most of my life is spent and most of my family gone. My treasure is an old egg bucket that my grandmother used when I was a child as we walked hand and hand into her hen house to gather eggs. There is the orange carnival glass dish from my other grandma, and the beautiful marble topped sideboard from my late in-laws.....wonderful crocks and spatter ware from my Mother, every piece is a memory of someone dear to me. It is a beautiful and comforting trove of treasure. So give it a little thought if you are looking at tossing something from someone that was given with love, and good luck to you.
I agree, lilycatherine, some items do have sentimental value. I have quite a few of them too. 

I am 29 and I value my past. The carefully chosen things I keep show my commitment to continuing family traditions and keeping memories alive. What I am learning is:

I value what I have more when there is less of it.

I also understand that not everyone is ready or willing to sort through everything in their house.  The purpose of sharing my story has been to stir the pot. And to show by example that living with less isn't a sacrifice.  Choosing to live with less is a mindful evaluation of stuff and the social norms surrounding the accumulation of stuff. 

I'm glad you have the egg bucket and the crocks in your home.  I hope you use them and enjoy them. 

If you were to walk into our apartment today you would find quite a few items that are from my grandparents or my husband's grandparents.  Most of our furniture was inherited or made for me by family. We have a whole set of carnival glass casseroles and custard cups from Jeff's grandma. I used one of the custard cups for cereal this morning.  The round casserole is in the fridge holding leftover scalloped corn.

My quest to reduce what I own by one third isn't about sending heirlooms to Goodwill.  I'm more interested in removing the cheap plastic items from my life; the half melted spatulas, the plates from Target, clothes that don't fit.

If I have family items I'm not using, I am offering them back to my family before donating them. It gives our family a chance to discus each item and think about why we have kept it and make a decision rather than passively letting clutter build up.

I hope the things we donate go to a families that needs them and will put these objects to good use; much better than sitting forgotten in my cabinets.

12.12.2010

The Tender Subject of Books

These are my books before I went through them.
Do you really need your books?

I realize this blog post is going to hit close to home for a lot of people, my own mother included. I’m going to examine books. Why do we keep them? Do you really need all your books? Look at a shelf of your books.   When was the last time you used each book? See, I told you, this is going to be an uncomfortable post.

There is a safety and security in books. They represent knowledge, information and inspiration. They are characters and stories. There is a lot of potential in a book. However, books are only these things *if* they are being read. They only have value when they are read. All the time they have been sitting on a shelf they might as well have been rocks.

In my journey to reduce what I own by one third I have done a lot of reading about others who have chosen to reduce what they own. The post: Breaking the Sentimental Attachment to Books from Becoming Minimalist gave me a good step by step method for thinning down my book collection to just the “Desert Island” books.

My bookshelf after the first pass.
I did have to go through the shelves twice.  The first time I just took out the books I didn’t really want, but had been given or acquired somewhere along the way. The second time I was able to accept that I don’t need all my books. It was this post from Mnmlist: Minimalist Books in which a former bibliophile creates the simple rule: If I don’t plan on reading it in the next six months, it’s out.  I used this rule when I went through my books. It was hard to be honest with myself and not make excuses for keeping some of them. 

Then I was faced with what to do with these books. I could donate them to Goodwill, but are there better options.

I could also:

1. Donate to libraries
2. Give them to a friend who will enjoy them
3. Sell to a second hand book store or on a website like Amazon.
 All of these options set the books free, back out into the world where they can be useful and enjoyed by others. 
These are the books that are left.  Less than half of what I started with.
What will happen to the rest of my books? I plan on donating the plant books to the arboretum’s library; the randoms are going to Goodwill; and a small selection I plan to send to Peace Corps Panama’s Lending Library.

I was a Peace Corps volunteer in (2007-2009). Like many others, I lived without electricity (i.e. no computers, no video games, and no television) and often read several books a week. Books are expensive and when you live on $10 a day, there isn’t any money left over; even then there are very few books to be had. Plus the Peace Corps office's lending library is pretty picked over. It’s mostly best selling paper backs people picked up at airports. The books I donate will have more value in Panama than in my living room.

I can't tell you what to do with your books, but I hope you closely examine why you have them. Ask yourself, "How often do I read this book?  Is this book useful?"