Last Updated on December 30, 2016 by Heather Hart, ACSM EP, CSCS
In 2015, I got rid of stuff.
About 75% of my belongings, to be exact. Material objects, luxuries, and wrongly perceived necessities. All of which from this point forward, will be referred to as “stuff” in this blog post.
It was a semi gradual process that is still ongoing, but has made a massive change in my life, my lifestyle, and my stress levels. It might be ranked up there on the top five best decisions I’ve ever made in my entire life.
Sharing my “I got rid of stuff, and it changed my life” story could be as simple as that. Or, I could open up and truly share my story, despite it’s potential vulnerability. However, I know plenty of people, especially in our materialistic society, may have found their self in similar positions. So here’s hoping my story might be able to help you unclutter…if at least only a little bit.
A little preface for you: I’ve never had a healthy relationship with stuff. I’ve never looked into the psychology behind it, but I’m assuming I’ve been just a few steps away from “hoarder” status for my entire life. No, I didn’t live in a house full of trash, like you see on the “Hoarding: Buried Alive” television shows, but I’ve never been able to just simply get rid of stuff.
I didn’t come from an affluent family. We were your typical, American, lower middle class or upper lower class, take your pick, family. While my parents often struggled to provide, they ALWAYS provided, and my younger sister and I never went without. We also had a lot of toys. And I always remember having some sort of emotional attachment to those toys. I never wanted to get rid of any of these toys, even if I never played with a particular toy. Perhaps it was simply in my nature, or perhaps it was my young subconscious fearful that we might never be able to replace said toy if I one day decided I wanted it again, therefore getting rid of it would be wasteful. But I always felt the need to keep almost everything…even if “keeping” simply meant it was shoved in the back of a closet or put in a box in the basement.
As an adult, the trend continued, though to a lesser extent. (I no longer believed a stuffed animal would feel betrayed if I got rid of it, haha.) Now with 20+ years of living behind me, I had collected a slew of items that had either sentimental or practical value to them, and I felt compelled to keep them.
I mean, that’s what we do in this society, right? We work, we earn money, we pay bills, we buy “stuff”.
I would like to take this time to say around the age of 21 is when I discovered the store Target. Target has a way of sucking you in for one item, say, laundry detergent, and sending you home with $100 worth of interior décor and other knick knacks that you TOTALLY don’t need, but you are convinced at the time will make your apartment look freaking fantastic.
Needless to say, in the first 30 years of my life, I accumulated a ton of stuff. Especially when you consider that now the stuff I was accumulating was also for two small children and a three bedroom home. The stuff often resulted in clutter, as I’m sure so many of you can relate. And extreme clutter often results in the feeling of stress, or even suffocating. My house was often a mess because I simply didn’t know where to put all of the stuff. Occasionally, I would try to consolidate or get rid of things. Typically I’d get rid of a little bit, but end up packing the rest of the cluttering “stuff” into storage boxes and tuck them in a closet or storage area.
Because, you know, I might need them one day.
Unfortunately I, like so many others in first world societies, had somehow developed irrational and unhealthy emotions surrounding all of this “stuff”. For example:
– There were a lot of things that reminded me of the past in a good way. Though I had no physical use for them, couldn’t imagine parting with. For example: the adorable orange button up baby sleeper my oldest wore for his first Halloween, my art portfolio from Kindergarten through 12th grade, or the hilarious notes my 10th grade best friend Rebecca wrote to me during chemistry class.
Or gems like this:
– Brand new, never been used items. Things like an 8 pack of stationary cards. A plastic enchilada maker. An unopened picture frame. A pedometer I got at a race expo. The GIANT box of scrapbooking supplies that I bought when I was on a scrapbook kick 5 years ago, but haven’t touched since. I hadn’t used these things yet, so statistically speaking, I probably never would. Yet it seemed wasteful to get rid of them, because I *might* use them. One day.
-The worst of all, things that reminded me of bad times. These were obviously easy to get rid of, but would often evoke emotions that I didn’t want to deal with, therefore making me avoid the whole “going through your stuff” process in the first place.
Trying to go through this kind of stuff almost always resulted in stress and anxiety, as I truly agonized over what to do with all of it. And the more I agonized, the more the piles of stuff seemed to grow larger and more suffocating. It was always easier to just walk away.
Now, let’s go back to the end of 2014. My parents informed us that they were moving out of their house to another, much smaller house. When I abruptly let South Carolina in 2011, I packed every last possession of mine and my children’s into boxes, which were promptly transported and stored at my parents house. The immediate needs were unpacked, and over the next few years, some of the other stuff made it’s way to my own apartment. But countless boxes of other “stuff” was left behind at mom and dads.
And now that mom and dad were moving, I was told to gather my stuff, they no longer had room to be my personal storage unit. Except I couldn’t bring all of the stuff to the small house I was currently living in, as we had a lot of people and a lot of other “stuff” to deal with. The thought of having to go through all of the stuff and figure out where I would keep it was crippling. So in a panicked, anxiety ridden, rash moment: I got rid of most of the stuff.
As quickly as I could and with as little thought as possible, I boxed up the things I truly couldn’t part with and put those in my car. I put anything that could legitimately be used by someone else (no junk) in one pile to be donated. Everything else? I threw it away (or recycled it).
Was it easy? Nope. Not even close. But it was done…sort of.
Months passed and the stuff that I truly couldn’t part with lived in those same boxes in the basement of my new house. Then May rolled around, and Geoff and I were getting ready to move to South Carolina. The cost of a moving truck from Vermont to South Carolina was significantly out of our budget, so we had some serious downsizing to do to fit everything into my Scion.
Now, I was not only faced with those untouched boxes of memories that had made the last cut, but I was faced with downsizing the things I DID use on a regular basis: namely, books, clothing, shoes, and running gear.
Here we go again. Cue: anxiety.
I thought back to 6 months earlier when I purged all of the stuff at my parents house. While it sucked at the time, I realized I didn’t miss any of it. Not once did I think, “Hey, it’s really a shame I got rid of _____because I could totally use it now.” And somehow remembering that made this second purge much, much easier.
I asked myself a lot of questions. Some were much easier than others to answer.
Do I need three pairs of khaki pants, when I haven’t worn khaki pants in years? Do I need this many sweatshirts when I’m moving to a Southern climate? Did I need a t-shirt from every race I’ve run, or was the memory of the experience enough? Did I need to keep every book I’ve read on a bookshelf, because a full bookshelf looks awesome, or was the fact that I’ve read the book enough? Would my kids truly care that I saved their very first onesie, or every piece of artwork they’ve EVER created?
And what would happen IF I got rid of these things? Would there be regret? Would someone get mad at me? Would the world end?
The more I thought about it, the more for the first time in my entire life it all started to seem silly. After all, it’s just STUFF.
I took a serious look at the way I was living my life, and asked one big question:
What was more important to me? Having things, or having experiences?
I got rid of almost everything.
(I will explain more on how and why I chose what I chose in the next blog post.)
We moved to South Carolina with only the things we could fit in my tiny Scion and a regular sized mini-van. The relief from the lack of clutter was almost immediate, but the longer term effects and growth have come more slowly. I have finally realized that, at least for me, the “stuff” we own should, for the most part, simply be necessities or accessories towards the experiences that we enjoy.
Of course, we also live in a very affluent, privileged society (comparatively, even the financially “poorest” of us) where we often CAN take pleasures in material items. I am no exception to the rule. Hell, I’ve got this hilarious, pointless, plastic Yeti that is currently growing “magic fur”, staring at me as I write this post. Do I need him? No. Does it make me smile? Very much so.
But deciding to live a life NOT ruled by material items has absolutely changed my outlook on almost everything. I don’t feel compelled to have things simply for the sake of having them. I’ve completely done away with the “keep up with the Joneses” mentality, the one so many in our society suffer from. I don’t buy things simply for the sake of buying them, I buy out of necessity. I realize how many of the things we clutter our lives with are supposedly designed to make life easier, but instead are just making us lazier.
And in doing this I have learned to be completely content and much, much more appreciative of what I DO have. I have stopped comparing myself to others, especially those with bigger bank accounts and the ability to buy more.
Now, please don’t confuse my story with a lecture or judgment. If you live a life full of material objects that you enjoy, then by all means, continue to enjoy them. But if you are living a life that feels cluttered, find yourself obsessed with “having” items, or feel compelled to “have” things because others do (or, alternately, feel frustrated because you can’t or don’t “have” what others have)…then maybe this post is for you.
At nearly 2,000 words at this point, I decided to split this topic between two posts. In the next one, I’ll discuss how and why I chose to get rid of specific items.
Read part two- Get Rid of Your Stuff: Why You Should and How to Start
Heather Hart is an ACSM certified Exercise Physiologist, NSCA Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), UESCA certified Ultrarunning Coach, RRCA certified Running Coach, co-founder of Hart Strength and Endurance Coaching, and creator of this site, Relentless Forward Commotion. She is a mom of two teen boys, and has been running and racing distances of 5K to 100+ miles for over a decade. Heather has been writing and encouraging others to find a love for fitness and movement since 2009.