In the midst of all of the changes, and the moving and the chaos in my life I’m finding a need for more order. I had movers pack and move my belongings and a few thousand dollars later, I’m looking at a lot of this stuff thinking WTF, I paid to move this and I don’t even care about it.
But I might need it someday
Drilled into me from birth was my mother’s constant admonition to keep basically everything I ever get because I might need it someday. And being an avid re-user of ribbons and other packaging, and a hoarder of linens, I was completely on board. I also “hoard” books, and believe in the sanctity of books — that they should never be thrown away, but instead donated or sold to HPB. And as an artist, I like finding unconventional uses for things, and I have often managed to find a use for that sliver of cardboard or scrap of fabric. I may have also bought WAY too many beading supplies that frankly I may never touch again (so if you’re into beading hit me up, yo).
But, I also know that I need my life to be more fluid now, freer of encumbrances. I want the flexibility and clarity of thought that comes with the ability to go wherever I want without needless things tying me down.
I had a chat with Adeline, my BFF from college, the one who knows where the bodies are buried, on this very topic. She got me started:
A: You’ll really get it when you read the book. Something she said really rang true. Why do you have to acquire so much stuff? It’s a very American thing where we buy mindlessly and often to fill a void. Which is so true! At least for me. Let’s be more French.
M: that’s exactly where I’m at, drowning a little in the THINGS I paid so much money to move and I almost never use them. like that scarf (I have probably 20 “that scarves”) that I hang on to because one day I might wear purple. who am I kidding. I hate purple.
M: I’m also refocusing on experiences and travel, not acquisition- living life, not padding the nest.
that takes money…money that I will have if I stop buying so much. funny how we’re on the same track…
A: I really think we’ve been such good buddies for so long for a reason. Our paths were meant to cross and though we don’t talk to each other everyday, there has to be some sort of a weird ass bond. I’d talk to you 10 years from now or whatever and be like yo COLLLEEEEEEEEN.
M: ooooh yard saaaale hmmmmmm that’s a brilliant idea
A: Ditch the husband, sell the stuff that’s tying you down too. Liberating I tell you.
M: YESSSSSS I was like “I need to buy a house” but here I am, renting, and I’ll pay the extra $500/mo to not be stuck here
like, I’m sitting here thinking of buying things to put things in – things I may never look at again. wtf.
containers and shelves and boxes ugh
A: Don’t do it. Get rid of the contents instead. Within reason. Just put everything on the ground and start sorting. Honestly, it can be quite fun. Play some music or have the news on TV or something.
M: that’s kinda what I’ve been doing for the past two months since I moved hahahaha but now it will be for real.
…a week later…
A: How did the wardrobe clean out go? TELL ME.
M: unfinished – it’s SO HARD and I got overwhelmed. but I’m off work tomorrow and will jump back in with a Red Bull and some dance music LOL
A: Do the underwear drawer first. Trust me it’s easier!!!! And don’t cheat, shit that never fit right, that underwire bra that was expensive but was never comfortable etc. chuck it. If you can’t, stuff into a box and revisit.
M: WILL DO! I’ll report back tomorrow
A: How do I know all these tricks? Because that’s how I did it HAHAHAHAAHAHAHA
M: i’ll bug you when I get stuck!!!
A: I didn’t do the whole content thing, I have way too much shit to do that and not enough space. So I did sections, but I kept culling. Till I could take out EVERYTHING and then just laid it out and culled some more. I still have boxes in my bomb shelter (yes we have those here in Singapore) of dresses. 4 suitcases full! I can’t throw them out BUT I really am living with a capsule wardrobe. For girls like us, it’s a step by step process, like freaking AA.
M: bahahaha yeah, it’s a process of letting go, not unlike grieving 😛
A: Yup, but this one is somehow more fun, it’s liberating. right!!
M: go to sleep you brilliant genius, you
Then this how-to manual showed up
Within a few days of this chat with Adeline, Gretchen shared this in a post on FB, “Every Thing You Own is a Relationship You’re In”, which got me even more deeply interested – and gave me a way to finally get it done, properly; joy. I bought the book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up and I’m reading it in case I get stuck, but just the blog post alone was revolutionary thinking to me:
Most of us own lots of things that make us feel bad. Unused gifts. Clothes that don’t fit. Supplies for hobbies you never really got into. Books you’ll never read. Plastic crap from the dollar store. When you hold a possession in your hands it becomes clear that it makes you feel something—joy, guilt, weariness, fear, very often mixed feelings—sometimes very strongly. If it’s normal to have hundreds or thousands of possessions, then we are each, at all times, bearing the weight of hundreds or thousands of these relationships. So it makes sense to very carefully consider what we keep in our homes…
Culling things like this forces you to make some austere decisions about your identity. You have to confront certain truths about what you’re going to make time and space for in your life…Much of this process is about deciding who you are and who you’re not going to be. You can’t move forward when you’re trying to keep a foot in every door.
Getting rid of the joyless stuff can reveal that you never really had what you thought you had. I always had lots of clothes, but when I culled them down…suddenly it’s clear that I only have one pair of non-dress pants that I actually wear, but it seemed like I had more because of the five pairs of pants I never wore.
This association of joy with all of my things – this was a stunning concept. And the part about identity and admitting to yourself who you REALLY are and what you REALLY value makes such a difference.
First things first
First things I culled were linens/sheets/towels. These had the strongest association with my past life, who I had been, especially bed linens. I had no way to store all of these things, and I realized I never use most of them, they just sit around filling up space. So as I looked at every item, the first test was state of repair: ripped? stained? torn? If so, out.
The second test was: do I see my former life when I look at this? Almost always the overwhelming answer was YES YES YES YES YES and so toss toss toss toss toss. I gave them all to him, and they’re out of my life. Never again will this bed remind me of that misery, and it’s amazing.
Next I went through my books. Unless I held the book and felt warmth, I put it in a box. I did scan most to Goodreads just so I’ll know what I got rid of, except for stuff given to me that I never really wanted, like the two unused Chinese Brush Painting sets, really? Or fifteen-year-old Information Architecture books…? There were some books, like faded paperbacks I’d read in junior high, or motion graphics books, or cookbooks that were more difficult but then I resorted to a few questions:
- How long has it been since you read this?
- Do you still get value from it?
- Can you get an other copy, either digital or physical in case you ever decide again that you need this book?
- If not, do you care?
Then the dreaded closet. I’ve been a clotheshorse for many years, most of my life really, and I hadn’t gotten rid of most of the things in there since I discovered who I really am and how I really want to present myself to the world. I was stunned at the amount of STUFF I have, and how little most of it actually means to me.
The sound of calm
I know this will be an ongoing process, but it’s begun. I’ve already gained joy from the bookshelves, linen shelf, now the closet…I rejoice in uncluttered spaces and it’s even extended to doing the dishes (almost) every day. I like an empty sink, clean countertops…and this would surprise most of the people who’ve ever lived with me. I used to be a messy person (not filthy, just untidy), and slowly but surely I’m succumbing to the peaceful calm that is an open space filled with objects I love. As a designer I know how to prioritize, add white space, remove the unnecessary, but I’d never done it in my own physical surroundings. I’m a master editor of content, video, and the like, but never applied that to the real world. Now I can’t stop culling. And I’m feeling better every day.
Each little thing you own whispers its words to you. Some things are louder than others. When you have a million things whispering at once, it’s like the constant, merciless crash of waves on the shore, but not little lapping waves, great arced curls of water slamming down rhythmically, the ceaseless roar of the next one approaching in your ear. And some things shout, shout their memories, shout someone else’s name, shout your failures…and now the words whispered to me are loving, sweet, without malice. I can hear myself above them. I enjoy hearing them. And the penetrative, maddening hiss of roaring waves have been dialed down to a small stream, still constant, but instead of disruptive, it’s supportive, energizing, comforting.
I don’t plan to get lost in another person ever again, and this process is so helpful in helping me see who I am, what my values are, and what truly matters to me.