Like many people, I have too much stuff; I possess too many things. The words stuff and things tend to bother me because they’re too vague. However, there’s really no other way to describe what I, and most people keep in closets, under beds, in the basement, and atop shelves; it’s just a bunch of stuff and piles of things.
After reading Minimalism: Live a Meaningful Life and Everything that Remains, books by Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus, I was inspired to start cleaning out my house. As I found things shoved in the backs of closets or inside tubs I haven’t opened in years, I would ask myself a series of questions prompted by the books.
Does this hold any personal value?
Do I use this often enough for it to be taking up space in my house?
Does this work or is it fully functional?
Am I holding onto this out of guilt?
Am I holding onto this for sentimental reasons?
If I get rid of this, can I find it for less than $20 in the event I absolutely need it someday?
Have I used this in the last 30 days? The last six months? The past year?
If I were to move, would this be something I would take with me?
Holy wow, the answers to many of those questions were quite revealing! I usually knew whether to keep something after just one or two of the above questions. Here are a few ways I used the questions to let go of things that were taking up space in my house and my heart and mind.
Shoes: Are they functional? Do they go with multiple outfits? Can I walk a mile in them comfortably? Are they in style? I got rid of about 10 pairs of shoes which was tough because I always feel like I’m giving away or throwing away a part of me when I relinquish apparel. The hardest to part with were these:
I bought these in 2007 before a trip to NYC. It rained so hard when I was there that the insert in one of the shoes came unglued. They were never the same and I always needed to adjust and readjust the insert every time I wore them. Still I felt the need to keep them for seven years. Seven years! Goodbye gold-rose Adidas. We’ve been to a lot of fun places together and if you could talk you’d tell some great stories, but all in all, you weren’t functional any longer.
Clothes: I filled about three bags worth of clothes for Goodwill and the Career Closet. I’ve found that less is more when it comes to clothes and shoes. As I was purging the closet I realized the things I buy on clearance are usually the first to go. So moving forward, when I see something for $20 at Back Country Outfitters, I will ask myself: “would I pay full price for this?” If the answer is no, why should I buy it at all? I also felt guilty for not wearing things I spent money on. When you get rid of all the things you don’t wear, the reminder that you wasted your money is no longer there. Instead, I feel happy because someone else is wearing my clothes or shoes!
Sentimental Stuff: When the offer we made on our house was accepted nine years ago we were so excited we rushed to the Brass Armadillo to start looking for antique pieces for our 1885 Victorian. We came home with this: a green pepper tea kettle. This sat on our stove, collecting dust, over a thin film of grease, for the past nine years. We used it maybe three times. It was time to part, but not without a photo first.
Notes from College: Apparently both my husband and I thought we needed to keep all of our notebooks from college. We graduated in 2003 and 2004 respectively. We hadn’t opened those notebooks since they were last closed. They are now in a recycling bin where they belonged a long time ago.
Household Items: I found a lot of wedding stuff we’d never used, like picture frames. Note to anyone shopping for a wedding: People buy frames for pictures they need framed. People don’t look for photos to put in already purchased, awkwardly shaped frames. I felt bad letting go of things that were from dear friends or family but at the end of the day, that’s not a good enough reason to keep anything.
Bad Memory Items: We all have things that remind us of not so great parts of our lives. As I was cleaning, I found this adorable tote bag that I would take on health screening assignments. When I saw this bag, my immediate thoughts were: 3:30 AM wake-up calls, wearing itchy polo shirts, and eating Snickers Marathon bars. No thank you, no thank you. Out it went.
I’m just scratching the surface with these examples but in honor of minimalism, I’ll stop because I’ve already written too much. I will say that the past few weeks have been really energizing and I feel better about my surroundings. There were a few things I kept, like my golf clubs, because while I haven’t used them in the past year, they’d be expensive to replace. I also am keeping things that are irreplaceable, like family heirlooms that hold a lot of personal value to me. Over the year as I’ve been cleaning I came upon my grandmother’s spoon collection. This had been in my closet for far too long. I got out the silver polish and now they’re on display in the foyer. My grandma would be so happy to know that her beloved spoons are being enjoyed by all my house guests.
I encourage you to find 10 things in your personal space (house or office) that are no longer of value to you but could be of value or useful to someone else. Ask yourself the above questions and then determine if it is garbage, recyclable, or worthy of donating or selling. Ready, set, go!