Why I Got Rid of Half of My Stuff

Why Get Rid of Stuff You Might Need?

Possessions are inherently dangerous opportunities to become implicitly materialistic.

The things we own can easily own us. 

Yet they also are necessary and good. Finding a balance between the extremes of materialism and non-ownership is the story here. Over the past couple months, and since reading Tidying Up and Early Retirement Extreme (this is a book about financial independence, not a promotion of bumming around) I’ve been moved to take a deeper look at what I’m holding onto. I didn’t have a ton of stuff before, but now I have a countably finite number of possessions. The experience has been joyful, enlightening, and universally positive.

Purge

I decided to get rid of anything I don’t consider almost essential or essential.

I’ve gone through my room, my storage boxes, and got rid of everything that doesn’t spark either a feeling of necessity and/or joy. In my definition, “necessity” is anything I need to keep up with generally acceptable hygiene and appearance  and the comforts I expect (bed, multiple sets of clothing, a desk, lights, notepads, a dresser.  It’s not a statement about an item’s necessity to my survival. It’s helped me to recognize objects that I could improve (tailor clothes, clean things, improve health routines, move things around for the logical organization.)

Most of my possessions now fit into two small sets of drawers. Everything possible goes out of sight into the closet as per Marie Kondo’s recommendations in Tidying Up.

As my possessions went through this ruthless purge, I found items falling into three categories: needs, joys, and items that do both.

Examples of remaining possessions by category

Necessity

  • Soap
  • Screwdriver
  • Inactive credit cards
  • Important documents (Passport, Warranties)
  • Towels
  • Waste basket
A collage of all my remaining household belongings.

Joy

  • Tour de France shirt
  • Religious articles
  • Baltimore Ravens jersey
  • Appalachian Trail thru-hike newspaper article
  • Cable management box I buil this week from a $0.94 WalMart box
  • Beer, wine, whiskey.
  • Gym Chalk
  • Speakers, TV
  • Bench
  • Daylight box for reducing non-clinical SAD and normalizing circadian rhythm in the winter.

Need and Joy

  • Bed setting, desk, and reading setup from Amazon,
  • Macbook Pro
  • Various food items (spice blends, sauces, knives)

Discard (Trash, Donate, or Sell)

  • Shirts and pants that almost fit
  • All but one book: The Flavor Bible. This is the only book I owned which I considered physically necessary due to it’s non-availability in any form online.
  • Backup toiletries
  • Redundant cooking implements
  • Redundant cleaning and general household supplies
  • Infrequent OTC medicines
  • Bikes I didn’t ride
  • Clothes that were in season but I hadn’t worn in the past month.
  • Various tools I never used.
  • Knickknacks/memorablia I held onto from things I’d done.

Slowly the categories of joy and necessity are merging, which is commensurate with my personality of optimization, but not a necessary element of this program. Because I draw joy from utilization, there aren’t many objects that I keep just for pleasure.

It immensely helped that I didn’t ask my roommates or friends if they wanted anything. Kondo insists on this and it’s been a personal stumbling block in the past. Discarded items need to exit your life to be gone. I would still have some connection to items that switch belonging amongst my roommates and family. Also, figuring out how, when, and who to give your items to in your personal circle greatly complicates the discarding process and exponentially increases the potential to hold onto things to wait for the right person and time to give them away. I recognize this has some negative impacts, but the change in my environment I think is worth this tradeoff.

In all, this purge amounted to being around half of my stuff. I already didn’t have that much, so now I’d consider my possessions to be very lean.

Impacts

I’ve been sharing the book, Tidying Up, with everyone I can. It’s led to significant life improvements.

I have a more rigorous understanding of my artifactual anthropology. I understand what I use and how I use it.  I can see it all. I know why it’s there. Thus, I feel more in control of my environment. Being able to see the things I want and/or need helps keep me grounded in and feel like I live in a purpose-driven environment. This makes my space a place that naturally lends itself to purpose-driven action. Control of one’s environment is essential for psychological well being.

I’m more conscious of the impact of new purchases to my physical and ontic environ. Every new purchase needs a place in this new system. It gets held to the same standard which I’ve held the discarding process. Perhaps this will save me from impulse purchases and help me keep my physical environment practically and visually efficient.

I have a  new take on ownership and a renewed connection to my  possessions. We have finite level of concern for focus. Less things mean the important things get more attention.  The things left remind me of what I value and what I want to do. They are tools for my happiness, my service to others, and my consistent sustenance. Having this simple rule from my possessions helps remind me that objects don’t own me.

My life doesn’t feel any more empty like I thought it might at first. My room is bare, but it doesn’t feel empty. It feels like a lot of space I can use.

After a month, I haven’t missed anything. Most items I’ve trashed I don’t remember at all.

This project has cascaded into a rethinking of what I enjoy and how I want to spend my time. It’s forced me to clash with old assumptions I had about the possessions that I could use to bring me joy. I have found my space to be much more consistently clean. That lends itself to productivity. This productivity has led me to focus further on the other spaces which I inhabit, which I will continue to explore in the months to come.

Have you considered what your physical space means to you? Does it lend itself to focus and joy? Do you feel in control of your space? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Wearing the beloved Tour de France shirt with my brother at the University of Toronto (#22 university in the world).  Late May 2014. Go Blue Beavers!