As I spent some time in November purposefully going through storage areas with a mind for getting rid of stuff, getting lighter... I've learned some things. Some things may be just about me and some things I think may be truisms that anyone can benefit from hearing again (I say again because I'm not the first to say them, and I won't be the last).
Please know that when I use the pronoun "you" I'm including myself. If the "you" statements sound judgy or bossy, just reject that thought. While I may think they're probably, generally, universally true, I don't know who you are, the life you're living, the root of what guides you. I'm not thinking of any of you in what I write. I only include you (whoever you are) as likely recognizing some of the things below as generally, universally true.
So... with all that said, here are some of the things I learned (or relearned) last month:
I don't tend to think of myself as a collector, per se, but it is undeniable that I have squirreled away far more things than I knew I had, and much that I didn't even want when I took an honest look at it. In time, this "squirreling away" results in collections of things that can be really hard to get rid of. I suspect because collections have a way of seeming more valuable than the individual parts.
This "collecting" can happen in any category, and in any room or space that stuff inhabits. It's easy to not see all the stuff - or when one does actually see a thing that's not being used, it's almost instinctive to think that that thing will be useful some day. Afterall, why did I keep it in the first place, if I didn't think it might be useful or have a purpose?
And it is at this point where some variation of a scarcity mindset can take hold - you may say to yourself... I'd better not get rid of this because when I want it, I might not be able to get it. Or I know as soon as I get rid of it, I'm going to discover I need or want it. You maybe even pause for a minute or so flip-flopping between finding a safe place to put it so you'll be able to find it when you need it, or making a conscious decision to leave it out in the open so you don't lose it. Or am I the only one who does this? 😏
Somehow, in this emotional juggling, I forget that if I truly do realize later that I need it or want it, I can most likely replace it very easily. Overcoming the different variants of a scarcity mindset was the first (and is probably a continual) hurdle for me in the letting go of stuff. Even stuff I don't particularly like.
4. If you can't bring yourself to believe #3, be gentle with yourself. Believing is seeing, in this case; but it's okay if you're not ready to believe. Try believing in something small to start. Big changes can start small. And if you have to remind yourself of #3 as you go through different areas, well... I suspect that's probably normal.
- Expecting adult children to appreciate and want what you don't want to store anymore.
- Not knowing what is recyclable in your area and disposing of it incorrectly.
- Defaulting to tossing things into the trash just because it's easier than making a phone call or driving across town to donate it, or quicker than checking out a few websites to see if there's someone out there who can make use of what you can't use, or don't want to use anymore. I'm not judging you. I'm speaking to me here. I'm just guessing someone(s) else could benefit from it.
- That said, sometimes we really do need to keep moving and may find ourselves tossing something that could otherwise be useful to someone else. At this point though, I suggest having an honest moment with oneself. I benefit from acknowledging whatever the reason is that causes me to throw the thing away. Did I buy thoughtlessly? Did I use it properly? Did it become ruined because I stored it carelessly? And most profoundly... did this (often cheap) thing I'm throwing away come at the expense of another, like... the possibly underpaid (or worse) worker who made it? the farmer who planted it, then prayed for rain? the laborer who did the backbreaking work of picking it? The possibilities of the questions we might ask ourselves are going to come from the various knowledge and consciences each of us has. I'm sure you can come up with similar questions that are meaningful to you.
- While I strongly encourage applying oneself to thoughtful questions like those above, don't let these thoughts so paralyze you with guilt over things/situations that are past that you do nothing to change the future. Rather, acknowledge what's possibly true and let that truth inform future acquisitions and how to treat those acquisitions. Always move forward. Just move forward better. Move forward with more thoughtfulness.
10. You don't have to always have a surplus of everything you're going to need and use. That doesn't mean it's not a good idea to have an extra package (even a big package) of toilet paper tucked away, or the next tube of toothpaste you're going to need in a drawer at the ready. Or any number of other consumables that get regularly used. But be careful that you don't find yourself being a stockist of the numerous sundry items that you may use someday.
11. Which brings me to this point. I don't know if this is a universal truism, or if it's simply true for some, but I have come to recognize that the more stuff I have, the less productive I am. Energy (mental and physical) is drawn upon to keep track of and deal with my stuff rather than being freed to be creative, loving, caring, taking care of myself, giving to help meet the needs of others, etc...
12. Doing this exercise for an audience really helped me. It wasn't an accountability thing so much as I knew the challenge of posting a daily picture and writing a little something would serve to motivate me. And the encouragement I received was really helpful. It helped it feel like a game. I wanted to think of fun ways to present my "junk". I don't think I want to subject blog visitors to month-long minimalism challenges very often, but finding a way to share the continuing decluttering adventure might help me in the future. We'll see...
13. Look for and watch, listen, or read about others' experiences in minimizing. Avoid (for a time, anyway) books, videos, even people who are a wealth of ideas for finding creative ways to use stuff. Or organizing stuff. These resources are terrific when the time is right. But if you're wanting to get serious about not having so much stuff, get insight from those who've truly embraced the idea of minimalism. They've got some very good things to say.
I'm not a minimalist, and likely never will be. But boy, do I want to become freer from stuff than I am. I'm pretty sure this is a life-long pursuit. And while I don't have as much life ahead of me as I have behind me, it still seems like a worthy pursuit. I'm finding in these senior years that I still care (maybe care more) about what my purpose in life is. I want to "get it right" more than I ever have before. I want to leave this earth with my loved ones full of good thoughts about me, not burdened down by how they're going to deal with my stuff.
Lastly, but very importantly to me.... getting freer from stuff goes hand in hand with my faith and Biblical teachings that instruct me how I am to live. It is consistent with thoughts I have about how I want to treat this earth and other people who inhabit it. So much more to write about this, but I'll continue to try to live a life of owning less stuff before I opine too much.
Several people have either commented here, or mentioned to me privately that they've found this series of posts motivating. I can't tell you how happy it makes me that my little effort at "getting rid of" has been that for anyone. But it shouldn't really surprise me. It was reading articles and watching videos of others that inspired me. That's what we need to be for each other - inspiration and encouragement. Thank you to everyone who was that for me over the 30 days of this little experiment.
Now, hopefully I can carry this minimalism challenge into this next month and the new year. It will take a whole lot longer than 30 days to truly effect a real and lasting change in this area of my life.
If you're thinking about doing something like it, I can only encourage you to do so. Give it a shot. You've got nothing to lose. Except stuff!