Better living through purging stuff

I’m working on something life changing.

Will and I have been trying to simplify and downsize our lives, but there is a war within us. Our inherent environmentalism and frugality are in constant battle with our minimalist desires. We keep things because maybe we’ll need them someday, and we want to save money by not having to buy them again. We keep things that are broken, because maybe we’ll fix them one day. We keep things because it would be wasteful to throw them away, and they aren’t good enough to donate. But yet we don’t want all of this stuff.

I find having too much stuff oppressive. Wildling does too, I see it in her. She tried purging almost all of her toys once, when she was two. I had been threatening to take something away, I think it was her play kitchen, if she didn’t try doing something (I think it was potty training related). Her response was “take the kitchen,” and then she started adding stuff to it. She began making a big pile : “you can take this too. And take this. And this.” Soon there was an enormous pile of toys that I had to take away. I felt horrible about it. I didn’t want to take away all of my child’s toys. But I did anyway, and it was good.

Of course, Wildling’s toys came creeping back into the house. And we had to deal with getting rid of them again. One night when Wildling was going to spend the night at her grandparents’ house, I told her that Will and I would be cleaning the playroom and getting rid of most of her toys. She thanked me. When I picked her up and brought her home the next day, she ran to the playroom and was so unbelievably excited about how empty and open it was, and she has never once missed anything I took away.

Last month, Wildling and I went through her stuffed animals, and she was allowed to pick ten to keep. It was easy for her, and though my heart constricted a little bit (get rid of the stuffed caterpillar? That was the first toy you ever picked out for yourself) with some of her choices, it was ultimately very satisfying. We followed that with taking all the clothes out of her dresser and allowing her to pick ten things per drawer: ten long sleeve shirts, ten pants, ten short sleeve shirts, ten shorts/skirts, and ten assorted leotards/swimsuits. She only had three pajamas, so she kept all of those. Wildling was excited and I think a little relieved to reduce the chaos in the drawers. It’s easier for her now.

So now Will and I are doing the same thing. I just finished reading The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, and it is truly, as titled, life-changing.

We’ve already started our purge, following the book’s instructions. Over the past year, Will and I have gone through our closets numerous times and, I thought, got rid of tons of things. No. Our previous efforts were insufficient. Based on this book, we ended up getting rid of nine garbage bags full of clothing. I didn’t even realize we had that much stuff. I had a bag of old stained t-shirts from college that I thought I would one day use to make a t-shirt quilt. It’s been fifteen years, and I never made it. Gone! I had a leather jacket that belonged to my grandmother. It was too big for me, so I never wore it. It has been hanging in our hall closet for six years. Gone!

I’ll try and update on here as the purge continues. 122 of our 501 books went out the door yesterday – yes, I counted. Some are still in the back of the car, because one used book store rejected them and we are going to try the other before we donate them. But they are out of the house, and that’s what counts.

As this progresses, I honestly feel lighter. Having too much unnecessary stuff is a burden. It weighs on me. It surrounds me and forces me to organize it and clean it. I get overwhelmed by chaos and then I can’t accomplish anything. As stuff leaves the house, I feel the burden lifting. I feel freer.

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6 thoughts on “Better living through purging stuff

  1. Wow, your first paragraph summed it up nicely! My husband has hoarders in his family. He is one inch away from being one himself. I read the first paragraph to him and he agrees. So we’ll see how far that gets us. Before December was over, I got rid of a lot of books. I had to make room for stuff I brought home from my office after I retired. Some of the junk I left at work 🙂 It felt good to get rid of so much. Good luck with your purge!!

    • Thank you! My husband’s mother is a borderline hoarder herself, and Will has to fight the tendency. We’ve been talking about how we are giving ourselves permission to get rid of stuff, and that seems to be helping.

  2. You have definitely struck a cord with me. I’ve just moved home and apart from some family keepsakes and archives, I’ve discovered loads of stuff that hasn’t seen the light of day since our last move 6 years ago. Like you, I keep things that might come in useful one day, but they rarely are and they are usually buried deep in a cupboard and I can’t find them anyway! Now I am at the stage where, having unpacked the things we need everyday, I am now left with the dross and some hard decisions must be made.

    • It’s crazy what we move with, isn’t it? I’m a little horrified at realizing how much unnecessary stuff I’ve been saving for a ‘just in case’ that never happened. Since I’m on a bit of a purging high, I recommend getting rid of it all 🙂

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