It’s amazing the number of things we can throw out and not miss.
I do not wish to backpack through Third World countries living on a dollar a day, I hate the tiny house fad, and I am staunchly against miserliness, but I have to say: I find the slavery of things to be more of an encumbrance every day. Really. I’ve had it with things, and I’m starting to detest them.
Well, almost all of them. I just realized I really love my couch and the big TV. My wife and I are movie maniacs, and the lovely screen and a Blu-ray player beat the chaos of movie theaters. Also, we’re attached to our laptops (they are indispensable for work). But just so you don’t think we’re total couch potatoes, we also use things like yoga mats and weights, for fitness and whatnot.
‘The art of losing isn’t hard to master’
Shedding possessions these past few years has been like peeling the layers of an onion.
Three years ago we moved from a three-bedroom house to a one-bedroom apartment. Downsizing was a huge relief and a triumph of good sense, especially in the face of financial meltdown.
After dumping all of our stuff into three separate storage units, we eventually sold our old things at the flea market. Amazing what people will take! Someone even paid me a dollar for a ratty old pair of hippie-looking sandals. (What they did with them, I do not know — but they paid.)
The one-bedroom place was more manageable, but it got crowded, too. So much so that I ended up renting a storage unit for our work gear (we made videos, and the equipment is bulky). And inside the apartment, personal things also began to accumulate, inadvertently.
Things changed again when our storage unit was burglarized last year, and there went most of our professional equipment. Unwilling to start shopping all over, we reorganized our business. Now, more than ever, we are focusing on our core competency and outsourcing the rest. Yes, we still need some tools, but fewer of them, and they are easy to replace. That’s like making not just lemonade, but lemon meringue pie out of lemons.
The last step
I had mentioned this in one of my first articles here: next month we’ll be moving temporarily to an artist residency that will last us through the spring. We’ll get a furnished house and a studio, and we need to bring nothing except some personal items and our work tools.
In anticipation of the move (it’s not time for the actual move yet), we got rid of all the inessentials in the apartment earlier this month. Just to make things easier when it’s actually time to go.
We packed away books, CDs, records, the record player, idle kitchen utensils, forlorn clothes, redundant furniture, a rusty bike, a portable grill, and countless other things. We boxed and moved everything to our country hovel (we have a country hovel, like in a Russian novel, in the middle of nowhere) where the stuff will await our return.
Except that now (doh!) I realize we should have sold the stuff instead of moving it.
I love what we’ve done with the place.
Here’s the wonderful thing about this removal of dispensable items, which we realized a little late (but better late than never): we don’t miss any of what’s gone.
With 80 or 90 percent of our stuff out of here, we’re as comfortable as we’ve ever been in this apartment. There is space! And it feels great!
The towering storage units (drawers, shelves, and more shelves, and shelves on wheels, and shelves within shelves) are all gone. The file cabinet remains until I can digitize the important stuff and throw out the rest. Two suitcases sit in the corners of the room, and only a few things still hang in the closet (and we nevertheless manage to dress adequately for all occasions).
We also got rid of the outdoor storage, which held mostly junk (neglected tennis rackets, unused car oil, random wires, abandoned gardening supplies, a fishing rod I last used two years ago, and various other “just in case” nonsense). I put this in boxes on the sidewalk, with a sign that said “free stuff,” and within the hour everything was gone.
I love the freedom and comfort of a clear space. It’s so calming. There is no confusion. I’m even enjoying the slight reverb in the acoustics of the place.
An 80/20 rule?
I don’t know that we perform 80 percent of our activities with only 20 percent of our things, but I think it must be something close to that. Maybe it’s a 95/5 breakdown in our case, and for the remaining 5 percent, we can usually improvise with what we already have. Beyond a few crucial things, I realize most of our possessions are superfluous — and I don’t mean that in a moral or spiritual sense. I mean it practically and materially and hedonistically. (Yes, I love pleasure, and I have no guilt.)
My books got little use this past year. The dictionaries, which cost a mint in their day, have been replaced by the Internet. Even as I kept only my most prized books at home (the full library actually resides in the country hovel), I rarely opened them. And when I can’t borrow from the library, I have been buying digital books lately — they are cheaper, they live right in my laptop (the indispensable tool), they are easier to search and quote, and there is no waiting for them to arrive on the mail.
Times have changed since my college days, and I have to admit that my reverence for the book object and for physical libraries is more superficial than I had realized. Ultimately, I am a mercenary when it comes to reading. I just want the words.
Same thing with music. Yes, vinyl records are gorgeous, delicious, and thick with sound, but I have been using online music services to play the same music I had in the records. Having a portable player with a few music apps hooked to the stereo makes audible pleasures and exploration so simple to achieve that sticking to my records is not just a waste of effort but a limitation of my horizons. Technology will solve the audio quality issue without the added weight. (Yes, I have become that which I hated. Sue me.)
In the kitchen, I’ve gotten rid of knife blocks, redundant cast iron griddles and an ice cream machine that was supposed to save me money. My utensils now fit in a single cavernous drawer, and I have more room than ever to actually work. We’ve kept the juicer though — fresh juice is like nothing else. And the popcorn machine gets used constantly. (Who would have known?)
This month, I’ve discovered that for me most things are valuable for their function, and whatever sentimental attachment I may have for objects is ultimately trumped by laziness: keeping stuff requires work and expense, and I don’t want to perform unnecessary work or waste good money in containers and storage.
Most of our days we work with a few specific tools, use a few specific items, wear a few specific items of clothing. The rest of our possessions just sit there, “in case” of something, just maybe, some day… but eventually it all becomes clutter (even if you love it) and clutter ends up as junk. Why wait until that day arrives?
A question, an experiment, a challenge.
Yes, you have a discerning taste and a refined sense of aesthetics, but when is the last time you used the [insert noun here] that’s right in front of you? Seriously. Look at it. Is it really necessary? Or is it just taking up space?
I know this exercise isn’t for everyone, but have you considered making an honest inventory or what things you really use, and what things are just… stuff, kept around to sooth improbable anxieties? What essentials would you actually take with you if you had to relocate in a hurry? What things do you use over and over, and what jilted objects do you keep around for no other reason than having dust accumulate on them?
Without deciding to dump or sell or donate things just yet — would you consider putting some of your unessential things away, maybe in boxes, maybe in storage, and observe how you fare without them? Would you try it for fun? Would you do it for self-discovery? If you are trying, or have tried, or will try — please tell us how, and what works for you and what doesn’t.
Me, I’m absolutely loving it.