The Half-life of Stuff (Part 1)
By: Josie Straka
I recently completed the process of getting rid of half of what I own in this world. It was an interesting process. The parts I thought would be difficult were the easiest, and I was surprised by some of the internal processing I experienced.
At least for me, managing the stuff I own is a lifelong commitment. It’s the result of living in a place and time where I have enough food and security to be able to accumulate stuff since I don’t have to run away to be safe, and I don’t have to move around to hunt and gather.
Where to Start? Categorize!
The things you gather around you and live with in general end up in these categories:
- Needed to live day to day
- Makes living functionally easier now, but not required
- Might need someday, in varying degrees of might
- Remind me of someone or some time
- Makes me feel good when I see it
- Entertains me
Some things fit into more than one category, like the old colander that has been passed down by my grandma and that I still use. I ended up giving away the nice new enamel colander in favor of this dinged up old tin one because I enjoyed using it more, and it brings pleasant memories with it.
The 50% Rule and Deadlines
So my goal was to get rid of 50% of everything in each area of item I own. For example – half of my books. Same with clothes, furniture, crafts, art, bathroom items, kitchen, tools, heirloom items, everything. My deadline was to complete this task two weeks before I moved, so that I would have time to pack after doing this work. This gave me almost two months. I think the deadline was absolutely necessary because some of this work was really difficult and I could see putting it off if there was a *someday* tag attached to it.
Tossing the Maybes and What-ifs
The books were first, and once I identified the purpose of keeping books (to read them again), it was easy. Even the authors I loved, if I knew once was enough on their books, they were gone. It took about an hour to sort the general books, and another hour to sort the single box of books that had been handed down by my grandmother. I kept a sampling of the books from my grandmother. I passed along the rest to my sister so she could pick some out for her and her kids. The others I took to half-priced books and got $43 for. It was the only thing I sold.
I’d been carrying around clothes that don’t fit me for generally my entire life. It’ll fit me next year. I could never find something just like this ever again. It was difficult to give up clothes, and I think one reason is it feels like admitting defeat. But actually getting rid of clothes was easy with the 50% goal in mind. Anything too small or that I didn’t wear, went. I found a young friend who could use one of the sizes I was getting rid of and gifted some large bags of clothes for her to sort through. The rest went to Value Village. It felt amazing to have that load of maybes leave my closet.
No, not the Dining Room Table!
My dining room table was an especially difficult piece of furniture to part with. I’d combed Craigslist for over a month looking for exactly what I wanted. It was in solid shape, lovely cherry wood with excellent craftsmanship. I’d gotten a great deal on it, a couple hundred dollars. I spent some more money and time re-covering the southwest style fabric on the chairs with some very nice black fabric. The set looked sophisticated and comfortable. I loved having people over and serving them dinner at that table, or playing games at the table. It expanded big enough that I could seat 10 people easily. I kept on talking to myself about it, it could shrink down pretty small, maybe I could keep it. But I knew even then, the table was more than I would need. So I finally decided it would go, and posted it on Facebook looking for a new home. When I got a response, it was someone who’d had to leave their home due to domestic violence and was starting out new with nothing. Nothing. When their friend came to get the table I found out that nothing really meant that, nothing. So while she loaded up the table, I rushed around and quickly sorted through bedding, kitchenware, towels, everything. We loaded up her truck as full as it would go and as she drove away, my heart was lighter, I felt giddy. It was really easy to give away possessions that I loved to someone who really needed them. I was thanked over and over for my generosity. No matter how much I tried to explain that this was a two-way need, I don’t think they really understood. But, maybe I am the one that didn’t really understand, because I have lived long enough with the ability to go and get whatever I really wanted that I’ve forgotten what it is like to not have the personal resources to do that. To depend on someone else’s help. So they were gracious and I now understand.
Clearing out the Cobwebs
After that things got serious. I’d trimmed the low-hanging fruit, and as I worked my way through the various groups of things in my house, I realized that a very large percentage of belongings were never seen unless I was moving. Why had I kept them? I never questioned it, these were items I’d had too long, I never really even noticed them there. It was like they had become a part of me. Once I got to that point, the epiphany hit – I’d been carrying around stuff from my past that was not needed or useful any longer. It was there taking up space in my life by default because weeding it out took an awareness I hadn’t had. Only by creating a boundary and intention had I found the awareness to realize what I’d been doing.
Oddly enough, this echoes the work I’d been doing emotionally and mentally in the last year (and into the future, of course). Weeding out habits of thought that are not useful or helpful any longer.
So, that added a whole new dimension to the process of deciding what to let go of and what to keep. I found that by understanding why I kept something around, I was a lot more likely to be able to let go of it, and I still got to decide if I kept it or not. It became a true choice rather than a default situation. In some cases, I kept things fully aware, and in some cases I was able to let it go to someone who would use it.
Wide Open Spaces
For now I am done with the process of getting rid of half my possessions. It feels and looks great. But like I said at the start, it is a lifetime commitment to manage stuff if you are fortunate enough to own things. Going through this process has been illuminating for me, and I don’t think I’ll ever see the items in my household in the same light again.
If you want to try the same process, I highly recommend setting yourself a deadline, and giving yourself a lofty goal. Both will change the way you think of and approach the project. I had the luxury of only needing to negotiate with my past, not with a partner, so I don’t know if there are any ways to make this easier when you are going through household items with more than one owner. When sorting, I deliberately kept in the front of my mind a feeling of abundance, knowing that I can find what I need in the future, as well as an awareness of how useful this will be for someone else. It was much easier to part with things if there was a particular person in mind who could use the items.
For example, getting rid of accumulated craft materials was easier since I knew my nieces and nephew would immediately be using the things that I had sat on for so very long. It may also help to keep the end result in mind. My end results are that it is much easier to clean my home, there is ample space to put things, I know where everything is, and it feels lighter.
Does anyone else have experiences or thoughts they’d like to share about this process?