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Letting Go of Stuff

Submitted by Bethany on Mon, 10/15/2018 - 10:00

I have been fascinated by minimalism for years. In 2015 I read Marie Kondo's "The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up:  The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing" and I loved it. Like, bought ten extra copies and gave them away to people, loved it. This book isn't necessarily about minimalism, but it does advocate only owning what you need, and what brings you joy. If you've never read it I highly, highly recommend it. There are some insane things in it you can feel free to ignore (for instance, she advocates emptying your purse every single day, and not keeping any toiletries in the shower), but most of it is really helpful not just because it is practical advice, but because it encourages you to think about your relationship to stuff. 

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My Relationship with Stuff

My relationship to stuff has changed a lot over the years. I used to be fairly minimalistic, but as the spaces I lived got larger and my income grew so did my accumulation of stuff. When we moved from Ames to Fort Dodge in 2015 I purged a lot of stuff, and it felt great. But when we moved into the house we bought later that same year, for some reason a switch flipped in me and I felt the need to accumulate - to fill every room with furniture, and every wall with art, and I bought new decorations for every season and holiday and the stuff just piled up. If I could go back and do things differently there is a lot of stuff I would never buy again. 

Fast forward to this summer when were getting ready to leave, and it was time to go through and get rid of all that stuff. It made me realize just how wasteful I had been with money over the years, how much I spent and bought without even thinking about it. There's a cultural joke in the United States about going to Target for needed items (shampoo, soap, things like that), and coming home with a cart full of random things - holiday decorations, a scarf, a tote bag with a cutesy pun. I was totally that cliche for a while (though the T-Rex salt and pepper shakers are still some of my favorite possessions and survived the great purge of 2018). 

The Great Purge of 2018

As we prepared to leave, we spent time (a lot of time) combing through all of our possessions and deciding what was worth keeping. Some things were obvious keepers - furniture that had been in our families for generations, priceless art, and our movie collection were all no-brainers. But the rest needed to be looked at with a critical eye.

I went through all of my books and only kept ones that were truly special - ones I knew I would read again, ones inscribed with a note from the person who gave it to me, or ones signed by the author. Everything else went, and it felt very freeing. I've always loved libraries (free books!) and now I am obsessed with reading on my Kindle so I don't see my book collection growing very much ever again. Something will have to be very important for me to purchase a physical copy (like a devotional several friends contributed to and I plan to have them sign). 

Some random things made the cut - my junior high through college calendars that were part planner part diary - I couldn't bring myself to part with them. Some holiday decorations survived but many, many more I let go. I had tons of kitchen items I gathered over the years and realized I used about 20% of them, so most of it went. Some basic items we'll have to replace someday (plates, silverware) but most things I doubt I'll ever own again (a collection of martini/margarita glasses, a fondue set). 

If you're wondering what we did with all of this stuff to get rid of it - we had a tag sale! We took everything we wanted to keep to a storage room in my parents basement (thanks, mom and dad!) and left the rest at our house. Then this company came in, staged everything, held a sale, and sent us the money (minus their 35% fee). It was the easiest and best way to get rid of everything. 

So how does it feel?

I have mixed emotions. When I specifically look at all the pictures of what we gave up (I downloaded all the ones the tag sale people put in an ad on Facebook) sometimes I feel a twinge of loss or regret about specific items. Looking at all our ski stuff made me a bit sad as I truly love to ski and hope it becomes a part of our lives again someday. But then I remind myself that all of that stuff is easily replaceable. I felt a bit sad looking at a pile of Halloween decorations until I remembered I kept the ones I truly loved. I don't think there is anything we let go of that I will truly regret. Everything is replaceable because we kept the items that are irreplaceable. 

So for the most part, it feels freeing. I feel 100 pounds lighter. Having a lot of stuff takes up room in your mind and your heart even if you don't realize it. Having a lot of stuff also takes up time in your life - time spent buying those things then time spent caring for them, maintaining them, organizing them, working so you have money to pay for them or pay for a place to keep them. When we don't pay attention it is so easy for stuff to take over our lives, and I think that's where I was for a while. 

What will you do going forward?

I'd like to think that my relationship to stuff has changed permanently. I hope I never slip into mindless consumerism again. When we settle down again someday I want to be very particular about the stuff I let into my life - only what is needed or what truly brings me joy. When it comes to stuff we need I want to be frugal - shopping estate sales, garage sales and thrift stores to find the best deals. I want to be mindful of every last item I own so I don't waste my time or my money on things I don't need. 

Travel makes this easy as we physically can't accumulate stuff. Though there are times that I have seen a souvenir I might have bought in the past, I kind of love that our only souvenirs from this trip will be our memories and photos well captured in blog posts. We don't need stuff to tell the story of our lives. 

I'm not advocating any one way of living for anyone else - you should do what makes you happy. But I would encourage you to spend some time on reflecting what does make you happy - what sparks joy in your life - and to be mindful about what your purchase and what you allow into your life. 

So what is your relationship with stuff like? Have you ever really thought about it? Do your possessions bring you joy or weigh you down? Do you think there are things you have that you need to get rid of? I'd love to chat about anything and everything with you!

XOXO, Bethany