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?

2 comments:

  1. Foy, it's been fun going through all of your minimalist posts and seeing a new direction in your blog. It's truly inspiring! I'm going to tackle my basement and seriously start getting rid of stuff.

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  2. I have loved watching your journey, and hope that I can gain the courage to do this myself. I am still thinking of how I can apply this to my need to keep an overflowing pantry, but that will be the toughest challenge.

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