I've always prided on myself as being someone who gets by on less. I'll credit my theater background: moving from month-to-month having to take theater gigs meant you could only possess what would fit in a suitcase or in your car. I managed to hold onto this minimalism for years until I bought my first home in the summer of 2013.
When you buy a house... people will start "gifting" you things to help "fill it up." Sometimes it will be actual gifts and other times it will be things that don't really fit your style, it's just something they can't bear to donate to goodwill or throw away altogether.
At first all the free items felt good. Receiving gifts is awesome, and as a personal finance blogger who never wants to spend money I don't have to, I love freebies as much as the next person.
But somewhere around the time I came home from NYC, and decided to sell my home, I began to feel suffocated by all my possessions. Literally, suffocated. So I began to declutter my own life. I knew I'd feel better by having less "things" around the house, but I didn't anticipate how much I'd learn. Here are the five biggest lessons I took away from my big "purge":
You May Need a Buffer Period
I listed my home for sale last Fall rather quickly, but that time included a lot of projects on the house and sprucing up rooms to make them more attractive to buyers. Part of the listing process is intentionally taking down your possessions so that people can "imagine" their own items in your house.
- I put everything I'm "on the fence" about keeping in my closet into a bag.
I started boxing up my own possessions and within a month I knew if I wanted to continue to keep them in my home. Sometimes you just need a little buffer period to release and let go.
"I May Need that One Day" is a Lame Excuse
I love my Mom, but she's the Queen of, "But I may need that one day." And 95% of the time, she's right. If she holds onto it long enough, chances are she'll need it again. It's how we've furnished so many houses and apartments over the years. (Thanks Mom!) I've always prided myself on being a purger. (See the time I spent as a professional organizer in college as proof!) I even have a "one in, one out" rule for my closet.
But just because I'm good at purging doesn't mean I don't hold on to more than I should.
I keep a pretty strict "one in, one out" rule for my closet. Last weekend I went on a shopping spree and bought 15 new items, which meant that another 15 items currently in my closet had to go. As I was putting my new clothes away, my hands fell on a bunch of my old "office clothes" I used to wear on a weekly basis back when I had a full time corporate job. I haven't worn those items since, but I found myself repeating my mother's mantra in my head.
"I may need these clothes just in case I decide to go back to work some day."
And then I realized I was holding onto these clothes because maybe... sometimes... I don't actually believe I'll ever really be able to make it as my own boss.
It may sound a little dramatic to have such a big self-realization in a tiny closet, but it's the God's honest truth. The reality of it washed over me in waves: I'll never actually be a success if I keep planning on failure.
And so went 15 of my snazziest office items to the "donate" pile.
Items Carry Emotional Baggage Too
During the purge I noticed a number of items reminded me of when I first bought the home and I was engaged -- a time in my life I'd rather forget. And I have for the most part put that time behind me, but it's hard to look at an item or piece of furniture and not think about where it comes from or what it previously meant.
Why was I holding onto these items? Because I'm cheap and didn't want to replace. And I didn't think it bothered me; but truthfully, getting rid of those items felt better than cleaning out any of the other items.
Yes, it'll cost money to replace them, but at least when I do I'll be able to pick out brand new things that I love that I got to choose on my own terms and because they fit my idea of decor, and not my exes.
There's Nothing Like the Unexpected for Perspective
I don't want to go into too many details, but my brother and I recently lost a number of items we put into storage due to a surprise flash flood in the basement after a particularly rainy season. Was it really upsetting to lose those items? Not really, because most of them were in storage for a reason; chief among them being that they weren't used all the time.
We had to throw most of what was ruined away and no one shed a tear. Once it all sat in trash bags, with the space around us so clean and tidy, we wondered why we even kept that stuff in the first place.
It Feels Good to Purge
I like to look at every item I'm giving away as one less thing I have to worry about.
Thanks to my big purge, I now have 226 less reasons to worry and am running 23% leaner. (Meaning I gave away 23% of my belongings) It felt freeing. Try it.
For now I feel comfortable with what I've done but would like to keep going: selling off the bulk of my furniture after I get rid of my house and no longer need those items for staging, continuing to phase out my "Corporate Lauren" clothing, and digitizing my files so I no longer need to keep stacks of paper copies.
I think it is important to yes, spend mindfully and consume less, but also become comfortable with using items for when you need them and they serve you, and then letting them go when those reasons no longer apply.
In the end it's not so much what (or how much of it) you're keeping, but why you're keeping it.