Five Ways to Stop Having So Much Stuff
After five weeks essentially away at the National Voice Intensive, then seven weeks with Viva Musica in Kelowna, then three weeks in Victoria, when I finally returned home, I was struck by just how much stuff I have. After living out of my bike panniers for so long, when I returned to the single room office I live in, it seemed palatial. Opulent. Over the top. Even a little overwhelming. So many clothes! Books! Utensils! Supplies! Toys! So much… everything!
Time spent away from home offers a great new perspective on what you actually find valuable, and on what you are attached to because it once held value, or on what has just accumulated over time. This makes the time when you return home, the best time to clean house and better enjoy what you have.
As any screenwriter or playwright will tell you, whitespace on the page is important. A page packed from margin to margin with text is imposing for a reader; they are more likely to just put the page down without reading it.
It’s the same with us and our homes. The more the clutter, the less likely we are to actually pick up one of those old projects and complete it. It’s in the whitespace that we can breathe, consider, and take action. Every grocery bag’s worth of stuff removed is like a breath of fresh air.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m not advocating us all Buddhist monks or permanently living out of our backpacks (as an old friend of mine has done for several years now). I truly do appreciate having and using my stuff: my array of clothes, games, books, music and DVDs. But when half of these possessions remain buried in boxes for 364 days of the year, that’s a clear sign that what I own and don’t need is getting in the way of what I own and could be enjoying.
So, all that preamble out of the way, here are five (perhaps unusual) ways to reduce:
(1) Take out your garbage and recycling!
Seems silly and obvious, but I know I had six bags of soft plastics, a broken breadmaker, and other dead electronics waiting to be recycled. Finally getting around to sending these to pasture really made a difference to the whole mood of my room.
(2) Distinguish between treasured items and memory aids.
There is a difference between your grandfather’s old watch which he gave you a month before he passed away, and a small plastic Eiffel Tower souvenir from that trip you made to France. Ask yourself: Do you need the souvenir in order to remember your grand adventure? Or would your digital photos do? If so, then lose the bulky mementos. It’s the memory that’s important.
(3) Learn that you don’t need to possess everything you enjoy.
In our North American consumer culture, it is far too easy to take that mental step of ‘I enjoy this, so I should own it.’ This applies to books, music, DVDs, games, artwork, clothes, you name it, as though the experience of enjoying it is lessened somewhat if you can’t put a physical (or digital) copy of it up on your shelf afterwards. Nonsense!
When I sort through my books, CDs, and DVDs (or when I finish one for the first time), I ask myself, “Do I honestly believe I will read, listen to, or watch this again, rather than go for something new?”, and if I have any hesitation, off it goes to the charitable donation bin.
To further incentivize myself, I have decided to consider donations of items to charity to be an act of tithing (as I have previously written about here), assigning an arbitrary value to each item (~50₵ for a shirt, ~1$ for a book for example). I then take that value off my monthly tithing figure.
And then I finally get through all the books I have accumulated but not read, and DVDs I own but have not watched, I intend on going through my treasured classics and on becoming a library person, searching their website with a wishlist and coming home with a bag full of goodies, a miniature Christmas, every month, all without cluttering up my home. John August has written up his own reasons for giving away most of his books here.
(4) Develop a Feeling of Abundance.
Much of this dragon-hoard-of-gold mentality comes from a feeling of scarcity – that we need to hold onto all these things because we may, perhaps, want them later and not be able to find them! But in most cases, especially with the advent of bittorrents and the internet, that’s just not true. Even books currently out of print may see the light of day again if Google has their way. From libraries, to ebooks, to wikipedia, to Netflix, the more we have access to, the less we need to own. And to be honest, it’s just a much healthier and happier mindset to live by – to trust that what you might want will be out there for you if you want it.
Along with old books, CDs, costume items and DVDs, I recently gave to a nearby charity bin a number of kitchen utensils I haven’t used for over a year, knowing that, if I need one of them again, I can always go to a dollar store to pick one up.
(5) Foster a Joy for Discovery.
When sorting through old items begins to feel like a chore, stop and enjoy some of the items you have unearthed. That is the best reason to be doing this, after all – to enjoy what you have.
Stay classy and live eagerly,