Last Updated on January 3, 2016 by Heather Hart, ACSM EP, CSCS
In my last post , I shared my story of why I got rid of most of my belongings. 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 far more than an act of simply decluttering, I truly tried to distance myself from a life of materialism…all brought on by a forced downsizing due to a move.
But the results have been phenomenal. I am still a long way from truly living a minimal life, but Geoff and I are quite content in our small apartment with minimal furnishings (hell, we sleep on the floor. It’s actually pretty awesome. Don’t worry, the kids have beds.), sharing one car, and only requiring one closet and one dresser (total, not each) for our clothing.
It’s certainly not the lifestyle for everyone, but this downsizing has allowed us to focus our time, energy, and finances on experiencing new things, training, racing, and traveling. It’s easier to afford these types of experiences when you aren’t struggling to pay a mortgage on a giant home, a car payment on the latest car model, or credit card bills that have been racked up paying for clothing and other frivolous items.
What happens when you get rid of your stuff*
* based on my personal experience of getting rid of my stuff.
You will appreciate what you do have that much more. Talk about a first world problem, but it’s so true. When you have a plethora of stuff, you almost become numb to its presence. How can you appreciate the usefulness and uniqueness of an item when it is deafened by a sea of other stuff? You can’t.
For example, if you have a closet full of 25 hooded sweatshirts, each one is just another sweatshirt. But if you cut back to two, you learn to truly appreciate the differences between the two. One might be tattered, worn, and soft…perfect for lounging around the house. The other heavy and thick, perfect for keeping you warm on a cold night in front of a campfire. You appreciate each one for its uniqueness and purpose, and reach for one over the other accordingly.
And if we are going to be honest here…if you’ve got a closet full of 25 hooded sweatshirts, I’m guessing you constantly reach for the same two over the others anyway. So you might as well give those others away to someone who will use them.
You’ll appreciate the stuff you DO have…period. When you get used to living with a lot less than you were previously used to, you’ll open your eyes to the wastefulness of our society when it comes to material objects. You’ll realize how our concept of “necessity” is completely blown out of proportion. Further, you’ll look at those who live with even LESS than you have, and truly appreciate how lucky and blessed you are to have what you do have.
You’ll want less. Partially because of the aforementioned appreciativeness. Partially because you get used to and enjoy not being surrounded by stuff. Either way, it is a huge relief to become free from the desire to constantly want more material objects, a desire so many in our society suffer from. A desire that creates needless stress and so often crippling debt in so many.
You’ll need less. When you get used to living with less, you’ll realize you never actually needed that walk in closet chock full of clothes in the first place. You’ll realize you don’t actually need 10 pairs of jeans, or 8 nearly identical black pairs of running tights. You don’t need all of these frivolous “time saving” devices that have been created to simply make us lazier, when the “old fashioned” way takes literally just a few extra seconds of effort.
Your home won’t feel so cluttered. Because you will have less stuff. Less clutter = less anxiety, and less to clean.
You’ll help save the environment. This is a huge one. But in short, by purchasing less stuff, you’ll contribute to less waste, both in production and disposal of material objects.
You’ll appreciate life more. This is a huge claim, but hear me out. How many people do you know in your life that spend the majority of their life at a job they don’t love, just so they can have money to buy stuff…stuff they likely won’t use or see often, because they are always at work? Yes, there is the dream of retirement, of living the life “one day”. But the truth is, none of us are promised tomorrow. Enjoy and live your life TODAY.
Now, I’m not necessarily saying to throw your financial plans and obligations out the window, but I am saying to re-evaluate exactly what you are working so hard FOR. Does that $40,000 car really make you that much happier than a $15,000 model would, when both vehicles serve the exact same purpose? Do you really NEED a 3,000 square foot house, one that you struggle to pay for or upkeep? Further, are you only living in a house that big so you have somewhere to put all of your stuff, the stuff you hardly see or use?
When you stop slaving away to earn money to buy things you think you want or think you need to have (Keeping up with Joneses, if you will) you’ll have more time and in theory, more money to enjoy life NOW. The term is so trendy right now but I’m not afraid to use it:
Enjoy experiences, not things. Collect memories, not stuff.
Now, here’s where I have to put a disclaimer, because it’s 2016 and people are far too easily offended by everything everyone says. IF YOU ARE HAPPY, genuinely happy, living your life surrounded by material objects, then rock on. Do your thing, smile, be happy. Do what makes you happy. However, if you read the above and thought to yourself “I want that freedom from commercialism and materialism…” then continue reading.
How do I start getting rid of my stuff?
1) Start with the stuff you have the LEAST emotional attachment to. For example, dive into your kitchen or closet before you attempt digging through that tote of photos, cards, and memorabilia.
Ask yourself the following questions:
Do I use this?
If the answer is no, get rid of it (see “What do I do with all of the stuff? suggestions below).
If the answer is yes, ask yourself, how often to I use this item? If it’s daily, well then chances are good this is an item you should consider keeping. If the answer is “not frequently” or “rarely”, then ask yourself if there is something else you use often that could take this place of this item as well? The more multi purpose items you have in your life, the less stuff you need overall.
Let’s get back to the sweatshirt example. I have three of almost the exact same hoodies that I earned for sleepless nights as a volunteer coordinator at a race from 2012-2014. I wear them all on occasion, but do I need all three, or can one suffice? Answer: one can suffice.A more practical example: You’ve got a giant electric can opener. You also have a smaller, manual can opener that is also a bottle and wine opener. Do you really need the larger, counter space taking, automatic can opener? Answer: no.
Be realistic. There is no prize for having the most stuff. Life isn’t a contest of material possessions. The purpose of having things is to USE them. Don’t worry about “wearing something out”…that is what these items were created for. When that day comes, you can buy a new one. You don’t have to have five back up items waiting in a closet in anticipation of that day.
2) Move on to decorative items. And by this I don’t simply mean paintings on the wall, but instead non functional, or only sometimes functional, items that are filling up your home.
For example: the first thing that comes to mind, and something I dealt with, is a bookshelf. Now, I LOVE books. I love the look of books, I love the feel of books, I love to read books. But, when it came time to move on a space-limited budget, hundreds of pounds of books weren’t in the picture. Especially ones that I’ve only read once, might not ever read again, and were only taking up space on the bookshelf because I liked the look of a full bookshelf. Instead, I picked out a few that I truly loved and WOULD read again, and donated the rest to a local library.
Consider paintings, lamps, and decorative items that are solely for appearances. Does their presence make you happy, or does their presence feel forced, fake, or cluttering?
Knick knacks, tchotchkes, and other material objects that serve no other purpose than to make us smile: ask yourself if these items truly, always put a smile on your face. I’m still a ways from being a “minimalist” myself, and recognize that it’s fun to have things that make us happy. I’ve got a tiny shelf of my own random tchotchkes, and a wall full of race medals. Ask yourself: would you smile any less without them? Would you feel happier with more empty space, or less attachment to a physical item, than the happiness the item brings you in the first place?
3) Memories don’t have to be physical. For me, this was one of the hardest parts of decluttering and moving onto a more minimal life. I had plastic tote after tote of photo albums, scrapbooks, and other memorabilia from various times of my life. While it was great to relive those memories as I flipped through the albums, the reality was, those albums and other mementos lived in those totes, only to be revisited once every few years.
Ask yourself: what purpose does holding onto these items fulfill? What will happen if you get rid of them? Remind yourself that getting rid of the physical part of that experience will never take away or minimize the experience or memories themselves.
4) Think: survival. This is for the extreme cases only, those of you truly looking to try and live more minimally. And because “survival” sounds scary, let’s go with opportunity. Say you were presented with an absolutely amazing opportunity, perhaps it’s your dream job or the opportunity to travel, but you could only bring with you what you could fit in your car. Everything else had to go. What would you choose?
Of course, this idea is far fetched, but it will help you put into perspective the things that really matter. Ask yourself the following: How will this “stuff” contribute to your “experiences”? In this case, we boil it down to true necessities only, taking into consideration what it is that you love to do. For example, I consider a pair of trail sneakers AND a pair of road running shoes absolutely essential for what I do and what makes me happy. Others may have no need for either.
What do I do with all of the stuff?
So you dove in headfirst, and have a giant pile, or maybe even boxes worth of stuff to get rid of. So what do you do with it?
1) Sell it. This is only if you are inclined to do so, and could use the extra money. (If not, move to suggestion 2 below). There are many options for selling new or gently used items these days, it all boils down to how much effort you want to put into it. eBay, Facebook “for sale” pages, Craigslist, classifieds, yard sales, or consignment shops are all viable options. Keep in mind however, that you WANT to get rid of this stuff. Get rid of the “if I don’t get $____I’m not selling” mindset. Take any offer you can get, otherwise, donate the items.
2) Donate. There are countless people who would be thrilled to have the items you no longer have use for or want. Consider donating new or gently used items (don’t try and pawn off your junk) to a shelter, a school, a library, a community or recreation center, a consignment shop (Goodwill, Salvation Army, etc), even an animal shelter (they can use blankets and other items!). Not only will these places be happy to take these items off of your hands, but more often than not, you can use these donations as an end of the year tax write-off.
3) Recycle. For items that are deemed non useable with the above two options, find a way to recycle them if possible. For big, possibly still usable items, see if your local dump or transfer station has a “swap shop” or salvage shop. Your outdated TV or beat up bicycle might be useful to someone who is looking for parts to fix their own outdated TV or bicycle. If not, recycle in the standard way, if at all possible.
4) Trash it. Your last ditch effort for items that are totally unusable in any other capacity by any other human being would be to trash them. This is the least environmentally friendly suggestion, so use this as your last ditch effort (pun totally intended).
For some, this may be a relatively simple, if not slightly time consuming, task. For others, the thought of an overhaul of their belongings may seem overwhelming (I get it, check out my last post.) There are no “rules” saying you have to dive right into the minimalist lifestyle, nor do you have to jump into it 100% at all, ever. If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed, start slow…though I will telling you diving in headfirst makes it much easier in the end.
So, if one of your goals this year was to get rid of clutter, I certainly hope this post helped. If it wasn’t your goal, but you are now intrigued…I encourage you to get rid of some stuff and give it a try. Either way, I urge you to try and separate yourself from the hold materialism has on you, and on our society.
Remember, you are NOT what you own.
Questions? Comments? Suggestions? Experiences of your own? I’d love to have you contribute to this conversation! Please leave a comment below!
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.
Betsy Moats (@WarriorBetsy)
Great posts! They remind me of the book The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up. One of my goals for 2016 is to de-clutter, organize and get rid of stuff.
Yes! I’ve heard there are some awesome books out there about decluttering. I was tempted, but didn’t buy any. Because they’d add to my clutter, haha! 😉 This was more my own trial and error…and diving in head first after a lifetime of hanging on to “stuff”.
I easily become overwhelmed and anxious in clutter and “stuff”. So much so that I’ve resorted to piling all the extras in a guest room that I can just shut the door and forget its existence, because I wasn’t quite ready to let go. There may always be a use for these things, some day.
I’m not much of a resolutioner,but a goal setter, and am determined to have a real, functional guest room again. I’ve got some “stuff” to get rid of!
Awesome article! My goal for 2016 is to declutter my life. It may take me all year, but I intend to donate as much as I can to places where the “stuff” will benefit others. This way I am helping others as well as helping myself find a less cluttered, less overwhelming lifestyle. Thanks for the encouragement.
Sharing this but before I did I had to chime in 🙂
I don’t know I never would have started down this path if we did not mail a few times in close succession. It’s been the most freeing lifestyle change ever.
This is so true! I’m that person that has all types of nick nacks in her house because she doesn’t like getting rid of stuff. I literally have the hardest time even letting go of clothes that don’t fit! I’ll have to go through and do some of these wonderful tips so I can beat that bad habit! 😀
A GF Mom
I love this idea! I have lofty goals of decluttering my house as well. It seems like a never ending process for me! I love the benefits that is has provided for you.
It’s like you’re speaking directly to me. I don’t have 20 hoodies but I do have 10 and only wear 2. Since your last post you’ve inspired me to start in my closet. Thank you!!