A little over a year ago I decided it was time to start getting rid of some of my and my sisters extra possessions. We had been limiting the amount of new items for a while but there were several rooms full of things that I hadn’t even looked at since we moved 11 years ago. Just, hadn’t looked at. Actually, it was more like — hadn’t wanted to deal with. A lot of this stuff had belonged to my mother before she passed away, or were ‘useful’ things from her herb shop like books and essential oils. We also had stuff from our childhood, from our grandmother, and tons of old books the family had collected.
I started going through every room and soon my cry was, ‘Why didn’t I do this years ago?’ Now, there are tons of good articles on ways to reduce clutter, but I just want to share with you a few of the things I did and why they changed my life forever. I can’t imagine going back to the way I lived before — and I’m so excited about where I’m headed next.
8 Things I Learned While Halving What I Own
- We don’t KNOW what we own. Weird but true. If you have ‘mystery boxes’ you aren’t really owning and using those things — they’re just taking up space. I had two boxes full of my grandmother’s photos but I’d never looked at them. I didn’t know about those pictures in any sense of the word. But looking through them taught me a lot about my grandmother’s life, and then I was able to keep some favorites and send the rest on to my uncle and his family — allowing others to know more too.
- We only interact with a tiny portion of what we own. Imagine for a moment that you have electric blue, glowing dust on your fingers — how many things do you touch in your home on a daily, weekly, or even monthly basis? Now imagine that gazing upon something also lights it up with blue dust — what things in your house would glow — how many pictures? And how many rooms would have nothing at all touched or seen over the course of a month? I learned that ‘storage’ (except for winter/summer clothes) doesn’t actually seem to have a point. Why are we keep this stuff?
- It’s much easier to let go of things in rounds. Last spring I made a list (always make lists!) of every room that I wanted to go through. Then this spring I did it again. The goal here is to let go of what you can, and then happily keep all other things ’til the next round. Maybe you’ll use it by then, or maybe you’ll realize that it’s not important to hold on to. The point is, the more times you return to a place, the easier it is to get rid of stuff.
- It’s fun to gift your things away. One of the downsides of hoarding/collecting/acquiring is that you can feel possessive and fearful — ‘These are MY things, and someday I’ll use them.’ When you let go of things, the opposite is true — you feel generous and trusting. The universe and you have got this and you’re not imaging that somehow a broken Nikon camera from eight years ago is all that — one day — will stand between you and starvation. So give books to your friends, give tools to your neighbors, and give everything to Good Will/charity etc. Selling off things is so much harder than giving them away — trust yourself and let it go!
- The equation ‘MORE STUFF = BETTER LIFE’ is false. I wasn’t raised to be materialistic, but we also never got rid of anything. If you were tired of having something on a shelf, it went to the closet. Cleaning the closet? Move it to the pantry. Then the garage. Our life wasn’t ‘richer’ for having more things, and we didn’t have more fun by having every room crowded with junk either.
- Making it a joyful process is a key to success. Don’t think ‘I must get rid of stuff to make my life better.’ Instead, just see what you’re excited to get rid of. Everything in life works better if you happy and excited.
- Trick your mind by taking everything off the shelf/out of the closet and only putting back what you want. My sister taught me this one. For years, every square inch of her bedroom walls were covered in art — from tiny cards to giant posters. And occasionally she’d take a couple of old ones off and put a few new ones up. But it was only this year that she transformed her room into something awesome. She did the work and took every single picture off her wall. So now it was harder to put the things back on than just get rid of them. This changed her way of thinking and she threw away a lot of pictures that no longer inspired her, and re-sorted the other stuff so that similar works could be grouped together.
- You become richer by having less. When I started getting rid of my ‘to-be-read’ books last year, it felt like a betrayal of who I was — I’m a writer, a reader. But that very first day also taught me a lesson: down on a bottom shelf, un-examined for years, was Roots. I was about to get rid of it but then I read the first pages and it ended up being one of the greatest reading experiences of my life. I realized then that I only really enjoyed the things that I saw and interacted with — I ‘got’ a book that day instead of losing the 20 I gave away. And over and over again I’ve found more peace, more rest, and more joy as I’ve given away excess items.
A year later, I look around and I can’t imagine why I had all that stuff. I didn’t use it, I didn’t need it, and the emotional weight I was attaching to old family items didn’t increase my love for the family members who had owned them.
Now I feel like I have breathing room. And with each carload I take to Good Will, I feel closer to being able to travel the world, to move cities if I wish, and to live the life of my dreams. But even if I wanted to stay right here for the next 50 years, I’d be glad to do it without sharing the space with that old, broken Nikon camera.
Try it for yourself. But be warned: you might just jump-start a revolution that reverberates throughout your entire existence. Today the pantry, tomorrow — the world!