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Downsizing My Life

What Happens When You Realize Just How Much Crap You Have

Photo by frank mckenna on Unsplash

I am moving currently and downsizing my space significantly. I have been in the same space for about five years, and through a myriad of roommates and a relationship now ended, a lot of things were left in my house that don’t belong to me. But since I am the last one in the house, it is all my responsibility to clear out the place, get it cleaned, and haul away anything that is left. Because I am largely doing this process alone, I have been pretty ruthless in my purge. Anything that isn’t immediately useful, or deeply sentimental has gotten the boot. I have labeled somethings OFF LIMITS for the purge, like my records, or things that belonged to my father, or certain books that I would be loath to part with. But the rest of it is all fair game. I have purged all of my kitchen things that are not vital to my survival. Plates, glasses, pots, and pans, novelty items, and small appliances, nothing was spared. Things I have held on to for years, but rarely ever used, got the boot. Over ¾ of my wardrobe similarly went out the door. A lot of odds and ends, and art also went. I was surveying my new empty and boxed up world, and discovered three things. They were interesting enough to me that I thought I would share my observations, and some extrapolations that I have made since making them initially.

1. One's idea of how much stuff you own is not rooted in reality.

If you had asked me what I would have to do if I had to move in a month, I would have shrugged and said, “No big deal! I don’t have that much stuff!” Whooooo am I delusional! I have more stuff than I could have possibly imagined. Everything from knick-knacks to unmatched socks. I have already donated more than 250 boxes of things and clothing, and crap that I don’t need to homeless shelters, good will, and thrift stores. I have sold some stuff, but most of it I have donated. I have taken truck load after truck load of crap out of my house, and after each and every truck load, I am convinced I haven’t done anything, because there is still more crap in it’s wake. The Hydra of miscellaneous crap. Every time I think I have cut the head off and the monster is dead, two more heads appear and wreck my fucking life. Every box I was incredulously filling, I was wondering why, and how I had kept all this shit, and how and why I had developed such a level of cognitive dissonance about it that I just imagined I didn’t have that much stuff. I think some of it is just that my house is large, but I am rarely in any room that isn’t my office or my bedroom. I think the other part of it, is that I grew up in abject poverty, and because I don’t know that I can always replace things, I never get rid of anything. A smaller reason, but still one that I should address, I am a deeply sentimental creature who hangs on to boxes and boxes of useless trinkets, because they remind me of things, and people, and events.

2. Once you start the purge, it's hard to stop.

Because I am so deeply sentimental about things, I was really stressing about the purge. I was really concerned that I would set out to purge my life of useless things, and only be able to throw away one box if that. But let me tell you folks, that was not the case. Once that first box was filled, it was all out war on my clutter. I was holding each item, and asking myself if it sparked joy, and if I said yes, then I asked myself if it was replaceable, and if the answer to that was yes, then in the bin in went. I started using a checklist, does this matter to me emotionally? Is this item imminently useful? Is this item replaceable. Through doing this, I was able to purge almost half my possessions in a weekend. Even though I still have a long way to go, it did make the path forward so much easier.

3. Helping others to help yourself

Before I throw anything away or donate it to a place like Goodwill or Value Village, I always ask myself if it can be useful to someone who is in need that can’t afford even a thrift store price. When I was going through my basement I found no less than seven tents, and a bunch of sleeping bags. I have a perfectly serviceable tent, and a couple of sleeping bags that I can employ depending on the weather. I took those immediately to the local homeless shelter and outreach program. The city of Seattle is aggressively sweeping homeless camps daily, and people are losing their possessions. There is always a need for soap, tents, sleeping bags, pillows, clothing, and personal grooming items. I no longer menstruate, but I still had a lot of left-over things from when I did, into the box for the women’s shelter they went. I also use Buy Nothing, which is a program designed to help share things through your community to prevent wasteful buying; I gave away old laptops, and gaming consoles, and games. I gave away everything I could, and what wasn’t useful or taken, then got donated to places that would resell them. My neighbor helps resettle refugees, and I gave her all my superfluous furniture and items for children that my own kids have outgrown. Anything to add a little bit of home to newly arrived people seeking to escape an impossible situation, including all unopened, nonperishable food. I also have a myriad of frozen meats, and vegetables that went to the local food bank, and through this act of altruism, I was able to help myself through helping others. It made it easier to let go of items I would have otherwise held on to, knowing they were going to improve the lives of people who are more in need than I am.

The long and short of this is, we are all carrying too many things with us, and while it is easy to get caught up in consumer culture, and constantly buy new things, and simply take the things we no longer want or need to the dump, there can be life for many of the things in your home after you are done with it. Please do make sure that when you are purging your items you are seeking to give them away as you can. I understand the inclination to Offer Up and Poshmark your used items, but helping people in need should always come before someone turns a profit.