There is nothing like moving to make you think about things. And I mean that in the most literal of ways. I pick up each thing I own, examine it, think about the last time I used it, think about whether that thing is worth the trouble of packing, lifting, carrying, and placing back in my life at the next location. When I add into the mix a reduction of space by 1/2, I scrutinize even more carefully. Is this thing worth my time and energy? Where will I put it in my new place? Is this something I will be able to find and use? Is it something I will replace if I don’t have it? I never cease to be amazed at the number of things that have found a place in my home that have turned out to be a drain on my energy.
Having purchased our last house from my father, we inherited all the things that he didn’t want in his life anymore. This included things from four grandparents, my mother, and my aunt–the leavings from their lives that I felt like I should be emotionally attached to. But none of those things were them. Detaching objects from people was a mandatory step in reducing our burden when moving from our house last year. Now, we have reduced our space again by half, requiring yet another reduction.
Digital photography is a great tool for dealing with balancing emotional attachment and physical space. Pictures of the things that represented something important take up only virtual space. This method, suggested by my brother, has allowed me to unload things I don’t know what to do with ranging from trophies to family heirlooms. Take a picture, sell or donate the item, move on. Interestingly, I don’t find myself looking at the pictures of these objects when I want to remember the people and experiences that went with them; I just remember.
Harder for me is balancing reduction and waste. I hate getting rid of an object that I spent money on that I don’t feel I’ve gotten my money’s worth out of yet. Likewise, I hate to get rid of something I might use. Clothes are hard for this reason. I seem to always end up with items I consider expensive that hang in my closet far more than on my body. I decided that I should get my wardrobe down to 7 outfits for each season. Then, I won’t need much space and I will save time deciding what to wear. Unfortunately, that hasn’t been too practical. I have a wardrobe for work, hanging out, going out, working out, biking, hiking, skiing, and yoga. I have highly technical clothing for virtually every weather possibility. These are practical clothes that I use to death, but it’s a slow death. Now that I work from home, my work clothes will be needed about as often as my ski pants. Being prepared and being a nomad don’t seem to fit well together.
I think about a book I once read called Your Money or Your Life. It talked a lot about the concept of “enoughness.” The stats show that there is an optimal state of wealth, and it’s not what we think of as wealth. Once you have food, shelter, and clothing, your happiness maximizes at some minimal level of comfort beyond that point and then the stress of maintaining things causes your happiness to decline. The trick is that there is no formula for determining what your personal level of eoughness is. I, for one, cannot imagine life without my iPad or iPhone. Yet, was I less happy before they existed? It’s a slippery slope. I introduce something new into my life and it takes hold, becomes part of what I do each day, and I cannot imagine giving it up. Yet there is a cost to all of these things–even those that don’t require a data plan. Clothes have to be cleaned, put away, decided upon. Pictures have to be arranged, hung, dusted. Collectibles have to be maintained, safe-guarded, cared-for.
I wonder if I should start a website where people can trade homes not for vacations, but for cleaning out the clutter? If someone else came into my home and made the decision for me about what I needed to keep and what I could live without, wouldn’t it be easier for them to decide? In the meantime, I struggle to find places for the debris of my life that I cannot part with, but don’t have a place for. I wonder how we’ll reduce what we have to a set of things that we can take with us and how much comfort I am willing to give up in exchange for more space, time, and energy to do what I enjoy?