Have you ever looked around your house or apartment and wondered, ‘How in the heck did I get so much stuff?’ Books, DVD’s, random piles of computer gadgetry, plastic and metal organizers that seem like THEY need organizing? Kitchen appliances you haven’t used it years, fitness equipment you keep promising to use, 30 years of National Geographic?
One of the touchstones of preparedness and self-sufficiency is getting back to the simple things in life. I look around my house and my life and while I am blessed with many good things, sometimes the blessings of material things weigh heavy on my spirit. We held our annual yard sale this past weekend, and I was ecstatic to watch 500 pounds of stuff leave my life. We didn’t care how much it sold for, we just wanted it gone. We sold two heavy, old pieces of furniture for a third of what it was worth, just to get rid of it. After several years, I finally acknowledged I won’t be getting back into my size 36 pants anytime soon, and they all went. Video games that I haven’t played in 5 years. And on and on. And everything that didn’t sell was put into the van and brought to Goodwill. If we are willing to sell something at a yard sale, why should I ever bring it back into my house?
I’ve read a lot of articles on simplifying, and most of the ideas are common sense. Still, it is hard to let go of some things, either because we spent money on it, it is sentimental, or because we fear that once we get rid of it, we might suddenly need it. What do you mean I don’t need that waffle maker? I made waffles 4 years ago, and I might do it again soon!
My wife and I have a goal. The next time we buy a house, we aren’t going to move any of our stuff into it. We will buy (as frugally as possible) only items we must have to live there in reasonable comfort, and nothing more. If the house has lots of closets in the bedrooms, we won’t buy dressers. If a space on the walls seems empty, we may put up a piece of art, but not a rack full of knick-knacks. If we want music, we’ll install a permanent speaker system inside the walls or ceiling and run it from our laptops, and not a giant stereo system.
Maybe you like your stuff, and that’s cool, I used to have a great love affair with all of ours! But if you feel your stuff draining your spirit and attention, here are 7 tips to help you take back your space and simplify your life.
1. Identify what is important to you, and eliminate everything else. Yes, much easier said than done. We’re not even close to doing this yet, but it is our goal.
2. Mediate your Media. If you haven’t watched it, listened to it, or read it in the past year, sell it. I know people with 1000’s of DVD’s, games and movies. Most of them are as busy or more busy than I am, so I know they can’t possibly watch 1000 DVD’s, especially if they have seen the movies before. Pick 10…heck, pick your 25 favorite movies, and sell the rest. If you really feel like watching something, it is likely available online from Netflix, Hulu or other digital service.
3. When you reclaim space, give it a purpose. The two pieces of furniture we sold took up a lot of space in our work area. Instead of refilling the space with clutter, my wife built shelving into the wall, which now holds business supplies that sat on a table or in totes on the floor previously. We have gained at least 75square feet of floor we didn’t have before.
4. If you don’t wear it, donate it. Those parachute pants are never coming back into fashion. And sitting on the couch will never make you a size 2 again like you were in high school. If you haven’t worn it in a year, you are not going to wear it again. Bring it to Goodwill and it will find a a good home. Prior to this yard sale, our clothes closets were bursting at the seams. Now, we have spare hangers for the first time in years.
5. What do you really enjoy doing? Pick your 3-4 favorite hobbies, and sell any hobby-related items not related to those. For me, that means preparedness, hiking, reading, and board games. Sorry Roller-blades, you were fun but I don’t use you anymore. The X-Men, Thor, and 5000 other comics I have? Sell in bulk to a shop, or donate to a children’s home. Collectible cards? I sold them last year for over $500 and put the money into a savings account.
6. Use what you have. If you have something serviceable, don’t buy something new just because you want to. I have an excellent Mountainsmith backpack, and it is still in excellent condition after 5 years of use. When I started thinking about my Appalachian Trail section hike, I asked my friend Bill from BuyItRight about what I should get for a new, larger backpack. He told me not to get anything at all. He said ‘if you have a larger backpack, all you’ll do is carry more stuff.’ The same goes for my sleeping bag. Instead of buying a new -30 bag, I should probably schedule my hike to where my excellent 32-degree bag works just fine.
7. Use Technology. It sounds funny even saying it because most of us have computers, cell phones, and GPS devices. But do we use it all to the fullest? All of my banking is done online, including auto-bill pay, direct deposit when I had a regular job, and even my check-writing is done online. No more stamps, a permanent record of when I paid or got paid, and about 1/3 the time I used to spend on that sort of thing. Some folks are still a little wary about doing things online, but almost all banks protect you from fraudulent charges. I’ve been doing it for over 5 years, and I check my credit report for free regularly to ensure nothing has gone wrong. To be honest, I need a better system to organize all that data, but it’s better than the filing cabinets filled with paperwork my father has.
Simplicity creates a sense of peace, serenity and control over our surroundings. As the timeless Henry David Thoreau said ‘Our life is frittered away by detail…Simplify, simplify.’