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How to Have Less Stuff: A Guide to Purging
In 2009 I moved to another state, and over the next several years would sleep in spare rooms of families from church, share apartments, or rent my own place. I moved a lot! Since then I've moved back to my home state, and then moved again within the state to a room in a crowded house.
Each time I moved to a place where I would have more space, I spread out to fill that space. When I rented my own apartment in another state, I managed to fill it with furniture that would only get used if I hosted massive parties. I don't host massive parties. I would nap on different couches just to make it feel like I used them.
And then I moved, and I had to figure out how to move all that stuff. And then I moved again. The biggest motivation to have less stuff was always moving, and I've moved alot. What I've discovered is that I always wanted to fill up whatever space I had after moving. Purging in order to move addressed a superficial problem (how do I move all this stuff?) but it doesn't address the root problem (why do I want all this stuff?)
The urge to have more always came back
No matter how many times I moved
What I did then vs. what I do now
What I did then
For my years of room renting and apartment sharing, I could always count on physical space limiting my accumulation of things. I didn't have a reason to consider whether I needed something, I only considered if I had room for it. Each time I moved I had to pack all my things. This was a great opportunity to go through things and purge what I didn't need or want anymore. It felt like a great system.
Until I got to a new place or had more space. Then I found myself refilling that space with things again. More furniture. More appliances. More wall art. More decoration. More gaming systems. More equipment.
I realized I hadn't clarified my values when it came to "stuff." I had let my circumstances determine my relationship with my stuff. It was time to be more intentional about it.
What I started doing
I started with the big stuff. It was time to filter my stuff through a functionality/values lens. If I didn't use it I had better feel strongly about it in order to keep it, or else it was time to let it go.
I had a DVD collection that I couldn't remember actually watching. I liked having the collection. It spoke to my taste in films. It was a nice thing to have on a shelf in my living room. But I literally couldn't remember the last time I picked a DVD off the shelf and put it in my DVD player and watched it. (If you've read my other article on my TV viewing habits, you might know why, I had plenty of TV to watch).
Even worse, I had a PS4 that I hadn't used in 6 months. There were games I bought on Black Friday a year prior that were still in the plastic wrap. It was time to face facts. I had always fancied myself as a former gamer, but if I was going to go 6 months or more without gaming, its time to recognize it and move on. (The XBOX One from a fundraising auction was in the same category).
I had two TVs in the apartment I lived in by myself.
These were easy to purge, as they quickly sold on Craigslist (except the DVDs, I donated them to Goodwill). Please note, I had an easy time selling on Craigslist because I considered the money I made to be found money. If you're more concerned about getting top dollar for your stuff, you'll have to work a little harder than I did.
The next steps would be more difficult. Rather than take it all on at once, I made it a goal each week to do something significant to reduce my stuff. This would either be a goodwill donation, a craigslist sale, or simply throwing things away.
An old PS2 console and accessories sat on Craigslist for a while before I found a buyer. A Playstation Portable went a bit faster.
Clothes that I hadn't worn in a year or more went to goodwill in several different trips. An old set of golf clubs that I couldn't rationalize anyone paying for did the same. Lots of things that sat on shelves in the kitchen or bathroom for months just went into the trash.
What I'm doing now
My line of work had collected quite a book library. I donated a bunch to an organization that spreads those books out. Others I just donated to Better World Books. Others that are worth the effort are listed on Amazon.com if they look like they'll sell for enough money to cover the cost and be worth the time.
Its time to purge the smaller appliances (the Keurig coffee machine I stopped using, the second Light Therapy machine I bought because I didn't know which one I wanted). Now that I've gone through my books, its time to go through my old papers from school to see if anything needs saving.
Since I've moved back to my hometown, I'm also looking to see if anything can be given away. I don't want to add to my parents amount of stuff, but if I can upgrade something in their home I'd love to do it.
I've trained myself to buy stuff more slowly. If its not a consumable or a piece of clothing I'll wear often, I need to wait a few days before I pull the trigger on it. Still, it needs to be a value based decision, and not simply an amount of space I have to put stuff.
Instead of buying things, I am more okay with buying experiences. Tickets to sporting and other entertainment events. Going to the movies. Short trips into other cities.
My relationship with stuff reveals what I value
I wanted to value living, not just having
I'm a 34 year-old who is thinking more and more about how the decisions I make each day lead to a destination. I can't control everything in my life, but I can go to sleep tonight happy with the choices I made today.
For some of you, the topic of my writing may sound like "Life 101" and I applaud you for figuring it out before I did. Please feel free to share what you've learned along the way in the comments below.
The "Tiny House" Movement
One of the shows I'll still watch with my parents is called "Tiny House Nation." Its one of several shows about the Tiny House Movement. I like this one best because of the hosts John Weisbarth and Zach Giffin. They are charismatic and fun to watch. They also keep the show grounded, talking about the obstacles to living a tiny lifestyle. I personally think they also keep out some of the smugness that characterize some of the other shows I've seen.
Other than the loft bed, I can see myself pursuing this in the near future. As a kid, I liked figuring out ways to have everything I needed in arms reach, while also having a place for everything. I liked keeping things neat, clean, and readily accessible. Some of the tiny houses seem like the grown up version of what I was doing as a kid. You can't have your stuff out, because there is no room to leave it out. Things have to get put away when you're done with them. And you have to seriously feel strongly about keeping something that isn't of regular use.
And the lifestyle lends itself towards living instead of having. As I started looking into the homes, one of the benefits I didn't even think about was the way lower cost of utilities, not to mention the lower cost of everything else.