Remnants of Things Past

I did a little time traveling yesterday, and I didn’t like it.

“I’m going to clean the workshop,” I announced at breakfast. “I know I should write or mow the lawn, but I’m going to clean the workshop.”

“Sounds good,” Kris said. She rarely argues when I have an urge to do some cleaning.

A glimpse at the past
My WorkshopWhen we first looked at this property five years ago, I was drawn to the outbuildings. I have fond memories of the outbuildings on my grandparents’ land, so I was excited that our new house would have a detached garage, two sheds, and a workshop.

For the first couple of years, I actually used the workshop for its intended purpose. It was the place I practiced my (very limited) handyman skills. I also used it to build computers for family and friends. In time, however, the building fell into disuse; it gradually turned to storage.

I gave a tour of our home to a visitor last month. When I showed the workshop, I was dismayed. I hadn’t really looked at it in months — or years. But when I saw it through the eyes of a stranger, it was clear that it had become a dumping ground for my cast-off Stuff.

The past recaptured
I’ve written before about my battle with Stuff. In many ways, I’ve made great progress. I’m less acquisitive than I used to be, and I’ve sold most of the things that have value. But I still possess a great mass of Stuff.

As I began my cleaning project yesterday, the workshop was packed with:

  • Old computer parts (Apple II, Macintosh SE, etc.)
  • Vinyl record albums from my youth
  • Compact discs
  •  
  • Darkroom equipment
  • Old books and comics
  • Stacks and stacks of magazines
  • Boxes and bags filled with miscellaneous junk
  • Packaging materials from three years of purchases

Looking at this collection of Stuff — none of which I need or use anymore — I was overwhelmed. I felt sick. Did I really purchase all of this Stuff? Why? As I worked, I tried to answer that question.

Whenever I picked something up, I tried to remember how much I had paid for it and what had led me to buy it:

This voice recorder cost $59. I thought it would keep me from forgetting things, but I never remembered to use it. Not once. These photography books cost $20 each. I thought they’d help me make better photos, but I’m not sure I read any of them at all. I bought this old Apple II for $125 off of eBay because I wanted to play the games I remember from fifth and sixth grade. I used it for a couple of hours.

I took a trip through my past, and it wasn’t a pleasant experience. All around me was evidence of my wasteful ways. For nearly 20 years, I had been in acquisition mode. I accumulated Stuff. My workshop was filled with the last remnants of this life.

One fundamental principle of frugality is to buy only things for which you have a use (even if that use is pleasure). The old J.D. wasn’t good at this. I bought a lot of stuff that I didn’t need — and barely wanted.

Now here I am at 40, and when I look at all of the things I own, I can’t help but wonder what my younger self was thinking. Buying this Stuff seemed like a good idea at one time, I know, but owning these things did not make me happy. It didn’t make me feel free. Quite the opposite, in fact. This Stuff is a burden, a physical and a mental barrier to the things that are actually important to me.

A dream of the future
Kris and I are in the very early stages of planning our vacation for next year, and we’re leaning towards a Rick Steves tour. Steves is a one-bag zealot: Participants are not allowed to bring more than a single carry-on suitcase, whether the tour lasts two days — or twenty.

This might seem limiting to some, but I find the one-bag philosophy liberating. When Kris’ parents took us to London and Dublin in 2007, I took a single carry-on bag. For three weeks, my entire world consisted solely of the possessions I could squeeze into this suitcase. It was awesome. I felt unburdened. When we returned from that trip, the one-bag experience prompted me to undergo a short phase during which I purged Stuff around the house — but I never finished the job.

As I continue to develop my personal and financial goals for the future, I want to focus less on Stuff. I’ve learned to guard against the invasion of Stuff, but I want to take it a step further. I want to eliminate more of the Stuff I already own. To that end, I’ve developed some personal guidelines to help me approach the task:

    • Don’t overthink it. With so much Stuff to get rid of, it’s easy to make the project even better than it has to be. I’m tempted to draw up plans on paper or to simply re-arrange the Stuff into new piles. The key is to dispense with all this folderol and just get started.

 

    • Focus on one item at a time. If I look at the entire project at once, I’m overwhelmed. How on earth will I ever clean the workshop? How will I ever find a place for all this Stuff? Instead, I concentrate on one thing at a time. Where does this photo enlarger go? And what about my old Tintin books? I break the project into smaller steps.

 

    • Don’t get depressed. When I think about the time and money that this Stuff represents, I sometimes let it get me down. It seems like such a waste. But the past is the past, and I cannot change what I’ve done. All I can do is try to make smart choices going forward, to guard against the invasion of Stuff, and to get rid of the clutter that’s already in my life.

 

    • Do some good with the Stuff you have. If I’m going to get rid of things, I might as well make the most of them. Sure, much of the Stuff is going to end up in the trash, but can some of the items be donated to a local thrift store? A school? In my case, I have darkroom equipment that somebody on Craigslist or Freecycle may want. My nephew would probably love the two boxes of model railroad parts I’ve acquired.

 

    • Purge ruthlessly. When I sort through this Stuff, I have to turn off the emotional side of my brain. This can be difficult, but it’s necessary. Do I really need my high school newspapers? All of my old role-playing games? My boxes of common football cards? What about my cassette tapes from high school and college? The financial records for buying our first house in 1993? Everything has some sort of meaning; if I keep it all, I’m going to be buried in clutter.

 

  • Remember how this feels. Though I’m doing much better at avoiding Stuff, I still have my weaknesses. I still bring home too many books. I’m still drawn to “free” stuff by the side of the road. Next week, I plan to attend an enormous neighborhood garage sale, and if I’m not careful, I could come home with even more Stuff. When I’m tempted in the future, I need to remind myself of what it feels like to dig through this crap.

I almost think that this project should make me feel happy and triumphant, not sad and mopey. Look how far I’ve come! Look at the smart choices I’m now able to make! And think of how much less cluttered my life will be once I purge all of this stuff!

I don’t feel triumphant yet, but maybe I’ll get there. For now, I’m hoping that my own experience can serve as an object lesson to others who might be acquisition mode. Buying Stuff (and getting Stuff for free) can seem like fun. It can seem like “winning”. It’s not. Don’t buy things for which you have no use; the value is in the using, not the having.

96 comments

  1. Good post. I try to go by the “one in, one out” rule myself.

    Alternatively, I also like “don’t buy anything you won’t use at least once a week.”

  2. “Remember how this feels” is perhaps the simplest (and yet most profound) advice you could offer anyone trying to work their way out of *anything*, and yet it’s not something I see too many bloggers advocate.

    Good list.

  3. Good luck, J.D.! Maybe you could make the best of your “stuff” situation and request an invite to sell at the neighborhood sale…less appealing to buy others’ things if you’re focusing on selling your own.

  4. J.D. Save your money buy a Rick Steves book and plan your own trip. My wife and I are only in our 20’s and we have been on 3 trips planned using his books. You will save half your trip costs by planning it yourself and booking the rooms, train ect.

  5. I have been trying to purge for a year. I give to Purple Heart what I can. Recycled only textbooks. Then get throw out the rest.

    After 16 years in the house with two kids, we seem to run out of room in a hurry.

  6. I had a similar enounter this weekend while registering for my wedding. We were advised to register for xxx number of items. We are able to register for less than 1/3 of that. The thought of even getting everything we actually did register for made me sick because it’s just a bunch of STUFF. I’m not a minimalist, but I don’t want to own a bunch of crap I know I’ll never used.

  7. I know what you mean about needing to turn off “the emotional side” of your brain. Sometimes when I am purging items that have a little sentimental value, but that I clearly don’t NEED, I create digital copies of them. If it’s a three-dimensional item, I take a photo. If it’s a photograph or a piece of paper, I scan the item. Somehow it makes me feel better to know that I can look at a picture of [whatever], even if I no longer own it. Of course, with this strategy you do have to guard against accumulating unnecessary digital clutter.

  8. I’ve had two big moves in my life. Both times I thought “Why do I have so much stuff?” Funny thing is that in both moves the professional movers said that this was a small move and very easy – guess I don’t have as much stuff as others?!

    But recently we’ve been cleaning out my 90 year old grandmother’s house – she passed away about a month ago. She lived in a 1400 sq ft house (big by 1950s standards). I never thought of her as having much stuff. She was a child of the depression and just bought what she needed. She had a house full of nice furniture and pretty things sitting around – but she never had too much of it and she used what she did have. They only extravagances she had that I can remember are some nice pieces of jewelry and a fur coat she bought 20 years ago.

    The funny thing is that as we go through cleaning out the house we are throwing away very few things. Most of the things she had we (the family) want – cause its nice stuff. Most of the stuff we are throwing out is crap that we had stored there because we ran out of room in our own houses. I really credit her lack of stuff to her depression upbringing. Oh and one other thing – she didn’t die rich but she had plenty of assets to sustain a comfortable life for many more years. Most of this can probably be credited to not buying too much stuff.

  9. Oh no! Good luck!

    I feel much better about my Stuff problem after reading about how bad yours is. lol

  10. J.D. First comment on your site but read it for quite a while. Love it.

    Anyway, thinking of some of your stuff, like the yearbooks, cassette tapes, etc. I know it’s clutter and I have had the same battle with old VHS tapes. But instead of throwing them and losing the content and more importantly the memories, have you thought about digitising as much as you can? For instance I have sure I have PDF’s of manuals for things I have and throw the paper copies.
    CD’s? Converted to MP3.
    VHS Tapes? Converted to divx files and the media thrown
    Magazines? if I can’t find the article online, I rip out the page and scan. Most magazines are advertising anyway!

    Don’t lose the memories, just the media!

    But in my own battle for clearing debt I fall into the other side of the digital trap. Fancy that new tune? Get it online and it seems like I am not actually spending money as I and just getting a computer file and not a solid object. Same with downloadable games on my Wii. So easy to download and because I don’t have something tangible in hand, seems easy to just think, ‘lets go ahead and download. Oh yeah I have to pay with my card…’

  11. Yesterday I went on a homes tour, and then came back to my own place. Ick. And that’s the house–the shed’s worse.

  12. Quick computer tip to help battle your nostalgia:

    Get rid of the Apple II. If you ever get the urge to play one of those games again (it’s always Oregon Trail with me), hit up http://www.virtualapple.org/. It’s an emulator — software that you run on your modern computer that emulates an Apple II.

    As a matter of fact, most any older computing platform you can think of has emulation software today. From Commodore 64 to Nintendo 64 and everything in between.

  13. I agree. Don’t get sucked in to a “tour” of europe. You can do it yourself very easily.

    I have been to 27 countries on vacation and the only place I had a little trouble finding some one who spoke eglish was Poland. Everyone speaks English and it is easy for you to pick up a few phases in the native language to help you along.

    Do it yourself. get a Fodors book, search the web.

    You’ll likely save thousands. PLUS personally you are too young for a Rick Steves Tour.

  14. This voice recorder cost $59. I thought it would keep me from forgetting things, but I never remembered to use it.

    That’s pretty funny. I guess having more storage room can mean more junk – time for some major purging! Should make for a few good posts.

    You should consider hiring a student to help go through it all and listing it on ebay/yard sales etc.

  15. One more suggestion for possible donation – don’t forget universities, schools and libraries. With lots of funding cuts, a lot of these institutions can’t afford new materials. A lot of libraries have graphic novel or comic book collections, specialized hobby collections, etc. Schools might have theater departments that can use clothing for costumes or tools for stage crews.

    Caveat – please don’t send them anything that’s in poor condition, has mold or bug issues or is totally outdated. As a librarian who has seen her share of gifts that are unusable – if you’d be grossed out to borrow it, chances are we can’t use it. At the same time, things in good condition but just of no use to you are a great boon to us in a time when we don’t have a budget to buy anything new.

  16. LOL, such a true post!

    But I can’t believe I’m the only person who spotted this: maybe you should “just say no” to attending that garage sale?

    It’s hard to imagine you finding anything there but more “stuff” (ie junk). Random shopping without a specific goal is a sure way to purchase things you don’t need or want.

  17. I really enjoyed this post, and I hope it will motivate others to follow suit. I especially like your point about “do some good”.

    It seems that PF blogs are always telling people to sell their unwanted stuff, so this is a refreshing change. I think it’s important to share things with others. For the past couple of years, the “will someone get more use out of this than I will” question has been my yard stick for getting rid of something. The answer is almost always yes, so the item goes out into the world to do some good.

  18. Ditto to what Kate F. said about donating to schools or universities….especially the darkroom equipment!
    When my DH dismantled his darkroom to go digital he donated a lot of equipment & supplies to schools, who were very appreciative.

    Good luck in your decluttering! It is a tough task.

  19. My wife and I are traveling Italy in 2.5 weeks, and we’re using European Destinations for our bookings. It’s not as cheap as booking it yourself, but it is very close, and it does relieve some of the stress.

    I’ve become a evangelist of the one-bag travel method, also. onebag.org is an excellent source of packing advice.

    There’s a few tricks that I’ve used to save money or space while packing light. You likely know about these ideas, but for those that are new to this:
    1) Eagle Creek packing folders and cubes. I have some of the smaller ones, however instead of the Eagle Creek 15″ packing folder, I repurposed an old Mead zippered padded folder of my daughter’s, cutting out the three ring binder. It serves to hold all my clothes tightly and slips easily into the laptop section of my backpack. Of course if you don’t already have one, it’s not as cheap, but other old binders might work. Anything to hold your clothes in a flat, compressed state.
    http://www.amazon.com/Mead-Five-Xpanz-Zipper-Binder/dp/B001QQA6KG/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&s=office-products&qid=1245678361&sr=8-2
    2) Pencil case for toiletries. Shaving oil instead of shaving cream is the key here, otherwise you have to use one of the larger cases. It works wonders. http://www.amazon.com/King-Shaves-Formula-Alpha-Shaving/dp/B00027DH3S/ref=sr_1_6?ie=UTF8&s=hpc&qid=1245678316&sr=8-6
    3) I swear by my Marmot Ion jacket for rain and wind protection. Only 3oz and it rolls into a tight ball. A little pricey, but worth it for the convenience. I found mine for $36.
    http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_ss_b?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=marmot+ion&x=4&y=22
    4) My iPhone, which will have two of Rick Steves’ books on the Amazon Kindle app, downloaded maps for Rome, Florence, and Venice, bookmarked locations for our hotels and recommended food places, plus an app for common phrases in Italian.
    5) Finally, check out the cool design and maps on Knopf city guides. I’m impressed with their size, and their “user interface” is easy to use while walking around a city.
    http://www.amazon.com/Knopf-MapGuide-Rome-Mapguides/dp/0375711007/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1245678611&sr=8-1

    Good luck with your planning!

  20. The Dark Side of the Buy Stuff equation: it sure boosts the economy when people burn through their money on Stuff. The economy doesn’t care that most of that Stuff could really be spelled J-U-N-K.
    Scary when you think of it.

    But you’re onto something – the Stuff-Fest has to end. Way to go. Excellent post!

  21. Make the purging easy on yourself, don’t make it into a complicated project that will drag over months. Send an email to freecycle announcing everything that’s in the workshop and have people come cart it all away for you. I’m constantly amazed that people will take things I consider to the junk or garbage (plus it sounds like you have some good stuff in there). Just get rid of it fast and efficiently. No need to sort forever or try to find a specific home for each castoff.

  22. I’m all alone in a family of 8: I’m the only ruthless tosser, and everyone else is a keeper. It would matter so much less if we had a house large enough for all of us, but as it is, we have three girls sharing one room. The junk turns it into a fire hazard in a hurry. Telling the aspiring artist that she can’t keep every masterpiece is like asking a Mom to throw out a baby. We have to park outside because our garage is jammed with the “stuff” of 7. Me? I’ve thrown out things I regret getting rid of. I haven’t tossed the wedding photos…yet. But If I trip over that box one more time, I might.

  23. “I agree. Don’t get sucked in to a ‘tour’ of europe. You can do it yourself very easily.”

    “You’ll likely save thousands. PLUS personally you are too young for a Rick Steves Tour.”

    Couldn’t disagree more. I went on a Rick Steves tour, and if you’ve read about them or actually went on one, you’d realize it is not like most other tours where you stay in a little bubble. I do plan to do my next trip on my own, but only for the challenge. I can’t recommend RS enough. There are a lot of travel expensives, museum passes, meals, etc. built into the package, plus days spent with local guides, that it is a very good value.

    Also, if you’ve ever been on a RS tour, you would know that the ages range from 16 (on the very young side) to 20s to 40+, and MOST of the members in our group were 40+. One teenage girl was with her aunt, then my husband and I were next oldest at late 20s, and everyone else was much older than us.

  24. I think lots of folks spend their lives as you have. The first part of adulthood is spent accumulating Stuff – some by necessity (kids require a lot of Stuff to raise them, it seems) and lots by desire. The second part is spent accumulating Experiences – hence your desire to take the Steves tour. (I echo the commenter who says you’re too young to do that, and would encourage you to explore other options – if you need help with that, email me for awesome options).

    It’s nice to have nice Stuff that makes a comfortable life. But conjuring up Stuff-related memories pales next to Experiences. Moment-related memories are those you cherish, and often they’re shared with another.

    I was horrified at how tied to my Stuff I was when Pete and I combined our households. It was really tough seeing it all lined up for sale by the estate company – as though I had died or something. I hated the fact that Stuff could have that hold on me! But it was a baptism of sorts, because I was set free from it. Now we still have too much Stuff and I’m on a campaign of simplification. It never ends. Vigilance!

  25. If you go to discoverorganization.com you can sign up for their free 5-part mini course on how to have a more organized clutter free life, and a well-organized home you can be proud of. Their advice is simple, straightforward and motivating. I recently purged my entire house and garage of superfluous stuff, thanks to their free tips and insight. (You do not need to buy the book they feature; I didn’t).

    There is a new website called DiscoverAmerica.com for those wishing to get away for a budget vacation this summer. They have an activity finder that lists more than 3,000 experiences, attractions and events like museums, festivals and parks. It was fascinating to me to see their list from my hometown. They have links to tourism info for all 50 States as well.

  26. Hi! This is my first post on GRS…keep up the great work!

    I’ve found that my stuff collecting is directly related to the amount of space I have in my house. I got married 2 years ago and had to consolidate my stuff with my husband’s stuff (plus all the new stuff). There’s nothing like feeling smothered by stuff to get rid of everything you don’t need! The more space I had, it seemed, the more I needed stuff to spread out and fill the physical void. The smaller space has been good for us, as purging was necessary. Your house sounds lovely, but it sounds as though your outbuildings are way too good at accumulating things!

  27. My husband cleaned out the basement last weekend. A few bags of stuff went in the garbage. This Saturday was one of two monthly dates that our Dept of Public Works had its compactor open. (We call it “the dump.” We had cleaned out the garage and taken junk from there to the dump at the beginning of June.) So this weekend, we put the backseats of my Honda Civic down again and took two carloads of other junk to the dump — broken chairs and old wooden sawhorses, old pipes, etc.

    I had a 10-speed bike that I bought in 1976 that I’d previously tried to sell at two rummage sales for $15 but nobody wanted it. This Saturday, we propped it against the tree growing near our curb, and I taped a sign on it that said “FREE.” When I first suggested doing this, my husband thought it looked too “ghetto.” (We live in an upscale suburb.) However, by the time we had the car loaded for our first trip to the dump, the bike was gone. We were both so excited. Not just because we didn’t have to haul this thing to the dump, but because we were thrilled that someone would actually get some use out of it. Sure, it needs new tires and probably a few other parts, but that’s a pretty low cost for some free transportation.

    If you don’t want to go through the hassle of pricing things for a yard sale, put it all on your front lawn with a “FREE” sign and see what happens.

  28. I agree with those who said don’t go overboard in purging yourself of items that you may regret later getting rid of. I’m not going to comment on the computer and other stuff, but my mother couldn’t keep up with all the artwork and writing us kids did when we were younger so threw it out “mislaid” it. Sure most of the stuff I didn’t care about but there was a folder of stories I wrote (and some illustrated) when I was young that I would love to have now. So, don’t throw out your yearbooks.

  29. It’s funny how focusing on eliminating debt makes so many of us also want to eliminate clutter. I really had no idea that clutter and debt/finance issue were so closely related.

    I absolutely abhor clutter now, and my goal is to live in a very minimalist state. Only having the things I need and love, nothing else. I don’t want to live in a sequence of empty rooms, but I also don’t want them completely overdone and stuffed. Ultimately, I would like to have just the right amount of possessions so that I can appreciate them all.

  30. Of the two of us, my wife is the minimalist. I am pretty frugal too, and between the two of us we almost never buy anything. I have to force her to buy clothes for herself when she needs them – and then she’ll only buy them from Goodwill.

    I have been coveting several gadgets lately though. This post came at a good time to remind me that I don’t need most of the things I want. Thanks.

  31. “Don’t buy things for which you have no use; the value is in the using, not the having.”

    So true, yet sometimes so hard to see when you’re in the moment.

    Do you have a plan for your space once it’s been liberated?

    As for traveling, my girlfriend and I did Europe for 2 months last year with nothing more than small day packs. It was totally worth it not having to lug tons of stuff around with you. Very freeing knowing that you can go anywhere you want and take everything you have with you.

  32. My fiance Tim and I realized the same thing about “stuff” and travel…though for us it happened in reverse. When we went on our round-the-world trip, we only took 1 small carry-on bag each (and 1 tiny tiny almost purse-like bag each). Our goal was to never have to check anything during our 18 months of traveling. It was incredibly, incredibly freeing to have so few things with us, to not have to deal with checked baggage, and to be able to walk easily with our light bags.

    On the road, we’d accumulate things – books, DVDs, an extra pair of shoes, warmer clothes, etc – but because we had limited space in our packs, we had to have “purging sessions” every few months. We’d take every item out of our bags and question whether or not we needed it for the rest of our travels. If we didn’t need it, we either mailed it home (sentimental items or souvenirs), donated it to local organizations or fellow travelers (useful items in good shape, but not sentimental to us), or trashed it.

    Before we left on our trip around the world, we had sold everything we owned with the exception of our books, some sentimental items, and our cars (which we already owned and were able to store for free). We also had about 40 “boxes of crap” that we just didn’t have enough time to sort through prior to leaving. Neither of us understood how we had accumulated so much stuff/papers! It was shocking. But we couldn’t just toss the boxes of crap because there were financial details or sentimental items in many of the boxes, so into (free) storage they went.

    When we returned home (with the lessons of small bags and purging fresh in our mind), facing the “boxes of crap” felt monumental. Over the past year, we’ve gone through all but 8 boxes of crap. And when those last 8 boxes are gone? Everything in our cottage will be here for a valid reason and there will be nothing in our cottage that wasn’t purchased deliberately. It will be an amazing feeling! 🙂

  33. I thought I was a light traveler until I had to move house. What an eye opener. It took me a month to sort, pack, throw out, garage sale and finally donate. I have vowed to not fill my life with clutter again and so far I’m doing well.

  34. One of the hardest things about collecting is that once you start, it’s never enough — you’re always on to nicer, cleaner, newer Stuff, whether it’s towels or toe nail polish. Thanks for the reminder. Worry about having stuff (rather than using) is a headache.

  35. Regarding the Rick Steves tour…I say travel however it makes you feel most comfortable. As some folks have already mentioned, you would save money by doing it yourself. BUT if this approach feels right to you both, then go for it. I’m all for encouraging folks to travel in the way that feels best for them! 🙂

    And I couldn’t agree more about traveling with only one bag! Most people will fill whatever space is available to them. So if you want a manageable carry-on bag, just stick to that size. A few days before you leave, pack your bag with everything you think you’ll need. If everything doesn’t fit, purge some items. Once you’ve gotten everything to fit, take another close look at everything you’re choosing to bring to see if there’s anything else you can leave at home. Remember, just because it can fit doesn’t mean you need to bring it. 🙂

  36. Long-time regular GRS reader here.

    I’m 31, my husband is 32. We’ve been on two Rick Steves’ trips — once when we were 25 & 26, once when we were 29 & 30. Both trips were AWESOME and WAAAY better than what we could have done on our own, despite having already had a good amount of independent travel experience. If you go in the summer, you’ll have plenty of other young people with you. I’d rank the money we spent on those two trips as easily among the best money we’ve ever spent.

    Rick Steves has a contest every year for the best web “scrapbook.” We entered both times we went and actually managed to win 2nd prize the first time ($500 in the Rick Steves travel store — we used it to buy luggage as gifts for four different graduates).

    You can see how many young people were with us on the first tour we went on, back in 2003. Fully a third of the group was younger than us at the time:

    Europe in 21 Days
    http://europe.abcdland.com

    Not as many younguns in Turkey, but that’s to be expected since Turkey isn’t typically everyone’s first choice of destination:

    Turkey
    http://turkey.abcdland.com

  37. I’m all for purging ruthlessly and it’s highly satisfying in the end. But, after throwing/giving away so much stuff, I think one can keep a few “emotional” items. They have to be only a few and be chosen because they feel special for you. i’ve read again and again the advice about taking a picture of the objects you throw away, but doesn’t mean much to me: it’s just a photo. An object is a keepsake because you can touch it, because it has the signs of time on it. It’s strange to think it was there 20 years ago and still is today…
    How sentimental I sound! Oh well. 🙂
    Example: I recently purged my old videotapes, I threw away lots of them, including the whole 9 The X Files seasons I had taped year after year (I now had it all on DVD, it’s my favourite show). It felt kind of sad, because it was a reminder of some happy past years, but I had to do it. One thing I kept was the first tape I ever bought when I was 15, the one of “Ghostbusters”, even if it’s ruined in places. I tought, who cares, after all the clutter I got rid of, this won’t take so much space!

  38. in my neighborhood, if you don’t want something, you put it on the curb, usually gone within the hour.

    i need recycling/donations to be as easy as possible. ebaying the stuff or taking it to a donation center is too much work on my current schedule.

    as a reformed hoarder/packrat, my need for minimalist space outweighs my need to find out how much it is worth and then take the time and effort to sell it. let it be gone.

  39. This really hits home. I am just now beginning to realize what J.D. has known for some time: buying stuff you aren’t really going to use is just borrowing against future depression and self-disgust. It’s so easy for me to see how many hundreds or thousands of dollars of crap I have lying around that could be funding a 20% downpayment on a house that I can’t afford now. And just taking up space until I decide to do something with it.

  40. Agree with post above – please save yourself heartache and don’t bother going to the yard sale! Do you have a list of things you *need* that might be there? if not, skip it.

    Re: purging, I suggest taking several whacks at it. I go through a box, can’t part with some of it, then re-visit in a few months. Usually by then I know it can GO.

    Also, set time limits. I never clean/purge for longer than two hours. If I do I get burnt out and then don’t want to do it again! But if I set aside a block of time, and then reward myself after, its fun – especially when big bags end up going to Salvation Army!

  41. You have a very Buddhist way of thought in this post. The source of suffering is our attachment to physical things and you are right that you will certainly feel better when you get rid of everything. It gives you a sense of freedom when you don’t own many things.

    My wife and I are in a similar situation, and we have only lived in our home for four years. I completely cleaned out the garage and I can now walk into it and breath a sigh of relief!

    Best of luck and excellent post

  42. I’ve been trying to tackle the clutter in my own home and I’ve gone through many of the same emotions… Mostly I’ve been angry at myself for buying so much crap, or depressed to see all the Stuff I thought would make me happy but didn’t. And on top of that, there just seems to be so much of it! The job has been feeling quite overwhelming so I really appreciate the tips. I’m motivated to get back home and to start sorting through my junk.

  43. I need the directions for the enormous neighborhood garage sale please. Just kidding. Sort of.

  44. I was a bit of a collector prior to my marriage. A great deal of my disposable income went to various and sundry collections that rapidly filled my shed as well as two bedrooms of my house. My wife is a purger and she has finally rubbed off on me. In the first round the contents of the shed and one room were given away to family, donated to charities or sold on eBay, which was new and exciting at the time. I am still working on getting rid of a few other things to make the house seem less cluttered and more organized.

    It’s funny that when I look back on all of the things that were purged, I can’t really think of too many things that I miss. I do miss the money that I spent on all of those things. If I had focused all of the time, money and energy on something a bit more constructrive, I would be a lot farther along financially. Oh well, live and learn…

  45. The older I get and the more living space I acquire I feel the urge to get more stuff. I think decorative stuff could be one of worst ways to accumulate things I’m going to throw away in the future. I suppose so long as it’s actually going to use and not shoved away in boxes then I’m not too far off track.

  46. When I am getting rid of stuff and my emotional side starts to intervene, I have a simple solution: Keep the emotional memory and ditch the physical thing. I write down everything I remember about the item, the reasons why I’ve kept it around so long, the memories, etc. Then I take a picture of it. All that goes in a digital “Memories” file on my computer. Which takes up very, very little space. Whenever I put something in that file, I wind up looking through the other items. And I always have the same thought: “Wow, I remember that! But I’m glad I don’t actually have it anymore!”

  47. Ah, the subject I understand all too well: clutter!

    Thank you, J.D. for posting this. Those of us who also have clutter problems can certainly appreciate what you’re going through.
    Getting rid of all that Stuff can be hard at times, and I certainly find myself tallying the cost in my head when I try to get rid of items. “But this cost me $100, it would be a waste if I get rid of it!“.
    Believe me, it’s more of a waste to have it sit around in your house and not be used. As you said, you can’t change the past, so you may as well move forward. Releasing these items (either by selling them, or by simply giving them away) lets them do more good in the world than they are doing sitting in your workshop.
    We believe in you, J.D.! You can get rid of all your clutter!

    Remember the 80/20 rule: We tend to use 20% of our belongings 80% of the time, while the other stuff just sits there. I’d love to get myself into a 90/90 position, where I use 90% of my stuff 90% of the time (the extra 10% would be things that are still worth keeping that you only use occasionally; like seasonal decorations or items)

  48. I agree with this completely! Being in the military and moving 7 times in 7 years allows me to do a purge quite frequently, but I’m still overwhelmed with the amount of stuff I have. I dont consider myself a gross consumer, but it just all piles up somehow and I cant help thinking that the environment or my wallet are somewhat hurt by the accumulation of useless things.

  49. I think a lot of the clutter in our lives (not all, but some) is because of who we once were. I used to love to rollerblade and did it often. I’ve moved somewhere where I can’t do it as readily and haven’t pulled them out in 5 years, but can’t bring myself to give them up. But…it’s ok. For now.

    I do disagree with the person who said “Don’t buy anything you won’t use at least once a week.” I just spent 2 hours this morning cleaning out the basement after (yet another) Flood of the Century with the wet/dry vac. I hope I don’t use it more than once a week! But for the 2-3 times a year my basement floods, it’s PRICELESS (and we have never lost anything in that flood because we just don’t have a lot of stuff).

  50. Rick Steves is great for people who are into package tours but I agree with Nathan #4 and Karen #13, it could get expensive. Probably up to 50% more than independent travel. You have to do the work yourself but in Europe it is very easy using the Eurail Train Pass.

    While a 2-week trip costs $4000 + air – That is $10,000 for 2 people for just 2 weeks with Rick Steves. We spent $30,000 for 4.5 months in 19 European Countries, staying in hotels and eating at restaurants. Of course, there were only 4 flights involved and everything was on the train but just to demonstrate how easily you could do it yourself and save money. In Rome, the hotel (Aberdeen Hotel) we stayed in had a Rick Steves group on a tour. We booked the room ourselves and got there by train so yes, it is the same. Public transportation is also more fun and part of the cultural experience. Better than a mini-bus full of tourists. You have to be a little bit more careful with safety but that’s more fun.

    However, again if you want to go the easy route, Rick Steves tours are good. Plus, you might enjoy mingling with other people. Just do your research.

    Let me know if you want more information on independent travel.

    http://www.cosmicadventure.com

    -Charlotte

  51. I have a shelf in my garage full of mostly common football and baseball cards. It feels so wrong to just throw them away. They probably aren’t worth enough to try selling. So they sit on my shelf taking up space.

  52. I agree with you there, KS. By Joey’s definition, I shouldn’t own a strapless bra, first aid kit, a party dress, dress shoes, emergency kit, emergency use cell phone, baking pans, a basic suit, etc.

    But I can see his point. Many of the items I don’t use often are ones I tend to research ahead of time or shop around for. If it’s not going to get used very often, it deserves more thought rather than being an impulse buy.

  53. I love Rick Steves’ books. I agree with the one bag theory of travel. My first trip overseas was to Greece and my teacher told us, “You’ll have to carry your bag for 10 blocks uphill on narrow stairs in some places, so plan accordingly!”

    It was never quite that bad, but it was a good lesson in packing light. Nothing like carrying everything with you to focus on your needs vs your wants.

    I have been cleaning up my hoard of stuff and like you, I remember when or why I acquired stuff and it seems so unimportant now.

  54. On the “Stuff” — gad. It just appears, I swear! 😉 It sounds like you have a handle on what to do next.

    DH and I tend to travel on our own, but we very much enjoyed our Rick Steves tour of Paris. It was the friendliest group of people ever, and we got to see the typical tourist stuff. We also got to walk around and see more of “normal Paris” than we would if we were trapped on a bus. I think it helped that Steve Smith (co-author of the Paris/France books) was our lead guide — neat guy. We had 2-6 hrs/day on our own, if we wanted.

    If you decide to do the Rick Steves tour, give yourself a few days on either side to explore on your own.

    We would use Rick Steves tours again for a place and language we are unfamiliar with: Turkey, Russia, Eastern Europe, most Asian countries (were they there).

  55. I am in the middle of decluttering my garage after 30 years — yipes. Old cassette tapes, CD boxes with no CDs in them, bottles & cans for a forgotten recycling drive, old sports trophies (both of my sons are in their 20s now), boxes of things I wanted to save but have no idea why. I am a court reporter and required to keep my paper notes for one year. I had boxes of notes from the 80s!!!! At least there were no 8 track tapes. Be thankful for small favors. I must say having a dumpster would have been helpful. As it is I have to wait for my weekly pick up to start in again but I am making some headway. I hope by the end of the month to have a pristine garage with room for parking our cars, some gardening tools and my husband’s work bench & nothing else.

  56. All I have to say is: eBay and donations.

    If you aren’t going to use it, get rid of it and either make money (eBay) or get the tax deduction from the donation.

    Then sell the sheds to keep yourself from accumulating stuff in the future.

  57. Great post. I feel the same way about the psychologicail burdens of “stuff.”

    This weekend, after getting tired of looking at a box full of stuff i’d been collecting for a tag sale, and realizing a tag sale wouldn’t be worth the time or money, I decided to just get rid of it. I did try to post what i thought were the most “sellable” items on craigslist, but got not a bite. So the pack of votive candles went in the trash. The books i donated to the library for its annual book sale. Etc. Etc. Perhaps one of the biggest wastes was the $160 i spent 10 years ago on a set of rollerblades which i used maybe 3 times. Now i’m too old to get banged up by rollerblading falls.

  58. Funny that you mention the one-bag guideline for vacation in relation to purging your excess belongings. As we strive towards minimalism and less stuff, we often joke about the ideal of the one-bag escape. We talk about how nice it would to have all of our posessions able to fit into a big duffel bag in case we need to pack up and escape quickly (you know, like in case of a zombie attack or something like that).

  59. I agree with the poster who said that moving often helps limit the amount of stuff that you have. We moved 11 times in the first 10 years of marriage (int’l corporate assignments and several grad school moves, as overseas was part of the program). Only when we bought a house and had 2 girls did stuff start to accumulate. Now that they are older and loads of their childhood toys have moved on, we have some of our real estate back.
    I’ve also made it known to those who buy gifts for me that I only want experience or consumable gifts from now on. Passes to movies, zoo memberships, decent $10 wines, etc..are all great gifts that won’t end up in a corner, and eventually the curb. We’ve lived 10 years in our house, and it’s really difficult to NOT accumulate stuff in this society.

  60. Oh yes. One idea you may not have thought about. If your life is flexible enough, it is fairly easy to rent an apt in a great city for a month or several months, and then travel at your leisure. When my husband was in grad school, we lived in Paris in a 6th floor walkup that had a tiny bath, tiny kitchen and 2 other rooms that were convertable rooms, and we all slept in one and ate and had living space in the other. We paid the equivelant of $600/month and it was in a great part of town. We had a 3 yr old at the time, and I was shocked to find out that the family who owned the flat had raised 6 children in this small space!!!Too much space =Too much stuff.
    Anyway, being based for a period of time gives you the flexibility to travel and really get to know another culture. Have fun on all your travels!

  61. JD-I’m waging the same war against Stuff that you are–Congratulations for seeing it as a burden and even attempting to do something about it!

    It’s natural to regret the resources (OK, money) tied up in stuff, but at the time we bought it we were younger, and to a less mature mind it all seemed to make perfect sense. The younger we are the more we’re oriented toward acquisition–which is the very reason the marketing world targets the youth market specifically, so I guess you can say we all had some “help” in learning how to acquire during those years.

    I’m sure there are some psychological studies that can explain why it’s so hard to get rid of possessions, even if we never use them. Here’s my shot at it: in our minds, by holding on to stuff, we think we’re somehow giving or preserving it’s value–which somehow justifies our having acquired it in the first place.

    Maybe that’s the obstacle that keeps me from being more aggressive in getting rid of stuff, but I also have to confess that I’ve never regretted getting rid of anything. In fact, most of what I felt was…LIBERATED!

    Excellent thread, thanks!

  62. I love the title of the post (and Proust).
    I have to say, it’s hard to relate to this post, as someone who lives in a 4th floor walkup apartment no more than 500 square feet. If I wanted a lot of stuff I would have to carry it up 4 flights of steep stairs (or hire someone to do it for me) and then when it got to my apt. I would have to find somewhere to store it. Makes me think long and hard about what I buy. I hope that in the future our houses and living spaces are smaller so we will have less room and be less tempted to bury ourselves in stuff.

  63. I found this fascinating to read! I would be very interested to hear how you get on with this project. Good luck.

  64. JD, I bought one of those voice recorders and ALSO forgot to use it! I still have it, and every time I see it, I keep saying to myself “once you replace the batteries, you can really get yourself organized!” But I keep forgetting to replace the batteries!

    Your post reminded me once again at how many years and dollars I spent being brainwashed into thinking my possessions defined me. I am conflicted in that the frugal part of me feels I should not dispose of my clutter until I sell it and put the money towards paying down debt. The part that just wants to live simply says to donate it or throw it away…just get rid of it, and get rid of it fast!

    My husband and I spent a weekend in North Carolina in one of those extended-stay hotels. Neither of us wanted to pay the baggage fee for the flight, so we each took a carry-on. It was liberating, and I loved having a weekend with virtually no stuff to clean, organize or maintain! I get the same feeling when I go on meditation retreats…yum!

  65. What a terrific post! I’m guilty of this. My problem is that I’m constantly cleaning and purging, and I never seem to be rid of it. I’ll think I’ve done a good job purging only to realize that I still have more junk I need to get rid of. I used to be a collector of such things like stationary, coins, erasers, and the biggest space eater are my box of gadget manuals and three boxes of notes/letters/cards that I have received throughout the years. I have not been able to get rid of those at all. Do people just throw away their letters? If I took pictures of all these letters and notes, it probably would take forever! But I guess that would be the suggestion. Yes, my problem is I do get emotionally attached to letters, yearbooks, or things I made or a friend made. I have been able to purge useless trinkets and gifts.

    J.D., you probably already know about this website but I love love http://www.onebag.com/ – Ever since I went to Europe and researched on how to travel lightly, I use their method of packing all the time and only use one carry-on backpack (Rick Steve’s!). I will never go back to using rolling luggage, even if it takes me a while to unpack-pack with the one-bag method. It feels completely liberating to have everything on my back.

    Can’t wait to hear more about your getting rid of your Stuff. It’s inspired me to go home and tackle more of my ‘Stuff’!

  66. i tend to move a lot at this stage in my life – so whenever i’m tempted to buy “stuff” i just think about whether it will be something worth moving later, or whether i will just sell/donate/gift it when i move on.

  67. With regard to those computer parts: since you live in Portland, you might consider taking them to FreeGeek (www.freegeek.org). There are “suggested” prices for dropping off your computer stuff, but they’re not a huge amount. FreeGeek will take “computers and computer related hardware in any condition.” They reuse the parts to put together working computers, which they then give to their volunteers or to nonprofits, or sell for cheap in their thrift shop. What it can’t use, it recycles according to the strictest rules possible so that none of the computer bits end up in the landfill. It’s a fantastic organization; there are others in other parts of the world as well.

  68. There’s something to that moving thing. We’ve moved several times in the past 20 years and it’s a good thing from a standpoint of eliminating clutter. We’re it not for periodic moves we’d be snowed under with crap! It forces you to purge from time to time. Moving puts you face to face with the question, “do we really need this”, and if the answer is no, there’s a tangible reason to justify ditching it.

    That’s about the only thing I like about moving!

  69. I’ve been having similar thoughts after trawling through my Stuff last weekend for a pre-moving purge. What really surprised me is how much I regret spending lots of money on books! I’ve always been a bookworm and always had tonnes of books. But when I was tossing things, all I could think was, WHY did I buy all these books new when I could have borrowed them from the library or friends, downloaded them for free to my iPhone or bought them for a few dollars secondhand and then resold them? WHY?

  70. Oh, and PS: I went to the UK for three weeks (including attending a wedding) with one bag and my only regret was that I didn’t take even less. If the packed bag weighs over 4 kg (9 lb or so) it’s too heavy IMO. 🙂

  71. I admire your resolve. We have too much stuff, and need to purge. It’s hard to get motivated. So many more fun things to do. Like read GRS!

  72. Have you considered joining the garage sale instead of just attending to “shop”? You could contribute to the number of buyers by paying for some extra advertising and the more people selling in one place, the better everything seems to look to other shoppers.
    Turn that event around and do both of you a favor!

  73. JD, I know how you feel, we have just relocated from the Philippines to Oman and moving from a large house to amuch smaller house with 3 kids is a challenge, suddenly we have not enough space for all the tyhings we have kept over the years and so a ruthless PURGE is on — and as you say, I’ve been finding things we hardely ever used and wonder we ever bought them in the first place. Moving house every 3-4 years helps in this respect as every time you move you tend to throw a lot of STUFF…luckily nowadays we are not as consumerist as we used to be and can withstand the urge to buy something – unless it’s a great investment property 🙂

    As for your tour of Europe, being european I would strongly urge you to do the planning yourself. Not only will it be much cheaper, in the process of planning you’ll learn a lot about the places you intend to visit and take will make it more fun. Nowadays just about everything in Europe can be booked online and there is a huge amount of competition. The Eurailpass are a good option, but also think about using the highspeed trains, Amsterdam to Paris is only 4 hours with very limited check-in hassle and if you pick the right day/time it’s pretty darn cheap too. Also, look at using http://www.ryanair.com for very cheap flights all across Europe. And while you’re at it, why not go for a couple of months instead of two weeks – there is internet in Europe nowadays, even in “Old Europe” 🙂 so you can continue blogging. Heck, why not put your own home up for a holiday rental to cover some of teh exopenses? If you can stay away from the July / August month you’ll find that most places are cheaper, less crowded and simply more fun! I’m no travel agent, but I do like your blog a lot and have been in quite a few places in Europe so if you have any specific questions feel free to drop me a line or two.

    Whatever you do, enjoy the process of planning your trip and the actual trip, both can be huge fun!

  74. My father was in the Air Force, and we moved every 2 1/2 years. My mother used to say that three moves were as good as a fire in getting rid of stuff. Each of us kids had a footlocker. When we moved, all our toys had to go in that footlocker. We had to choose what to take.

    When my wife and I were younger, we moved a great deal — 12 times in 13 years. We could move into a house or apartment and have it homey looking in three days because we had personal items, art, and books that went everywhere. Then we bought a house with a vast basement, attic, and ultimately two-story garage. We owned it for fifteen years, and each of those spaces eventually looked like my grandfather’s barn. Ditto in our present house. Nature abhors a vacuum.

    We spent five months this year living in another city in a rented apartment with rented furniture, and we certainly learned what we could do without. Back home now, we are purging and using up.

    We have actually bought another property in that city that needs to be furnished. Partly we are moving furniture and equipment from home, but there are still things we don’t have. We now go to second-hand stores, auctions, and yard sales with specific things in mind. If we don’t need it and we don’t love it, we don’t buy it.

    This is pretty much an American way of restating William Morris’s dictum: “Have nothing about you that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.” I love this because utility is easy to recognize, but Morris understands that when it comes to beauty, Your Mileage May Vary! But beauty is important. It was hard to live in a soulless space with nothing to please the eye when it came to rest.

    We are finding it helpful to go through things serially. All that art! Can’t decide on it all right now, so we make multiple passes. Every pass helps me understand what I love and what is merely pleasant. Sometimes I am surprised.

  75. Vanessa (#71)–Have you considerd selling your old books on Amazon? You wouldn’t recover the full price you paid, but you’d at least get something back. The net of your purchase of the book new less the sale on Amazon may end up being about what it would cost to buy them second hand.

    Alternatively, you can buy the books second hand–which you can also do thru Amazon–then sell them when you’re done with them. You might actually break even that way, so that you’ll have read the books for free!

    (BTW, this post isn’t an ad for Amazon, I’ve been using them for years and just love the service they provide. It’s a great way to save money on books.)

  76. Great article.
    I’m bookmarking it to send to my clients. (I do occasional professional organizing)

    I have on my list this month cleaning out the kid’s playroom (our family room). It is a huge mess and half the toys are unplayed with. I think we’ll have a yard sale for most of the unused toys and finally start individual savings accounts for the kids.

  77. JD,

    Don’t know if anyone mentioned this since I didn’t read all the comments, but if books are a big “stuff” item for you maybe you should buy one of those Kindle’s. I just bought one a coupe weeks back and quickly purged all of the paperbacks I had. Might end up with a bit of “sunk cost fallacy” by buying more books then you nomally would, but I have to say that I like the e-books and it helped me get rid of a bunch of stuff in my apartment.

  78. Great list. I know what you mean about the package boxes; we have a small closet housing a few of those items. I also have a colletion of menus from small eateries or takeaways. Must purge!! 🙂

    By the way, lot of folks in Europe speak English so you don’t have to stress (I myself am based in Netherlands).

  79. Historically, having a library was a status symbol because only the upper classes could afford to collect books, and in many cases they wanted to appear wise and learned. The members of the lower class bought inexpensive literature like chapbooks (penny books)and ballads and read them aloud at gatherings and shared them.

    Er… I’m over-simplifying here, but my point is that books shouldn’t be a status symbol or a decoration. I firmly believe they should be used and shared if you’re not using them yourself. Don’t regret the money you spent on good books — they’re good entertainment. Just share the wealth 🙂

  80. Hi JD,

    great post. As I learned from his website, Rick Stevens is offering trips to europe. If you and Kris are visiting central europe, just drop me a line, maybe I can be of any assistance. 🙂

  81. Someone mentioned getting rid of the kids stuff as they grow out of it. I’d like to chime in on clothes. We have 2 girls and even tho one is 5 years younger than the older one, she gets all the handmedowns. Well, she’s starting to develop her own taste in clothes, so, while we’ve always gone to thrift stores when they were little (amazing what a few quarters would buy only a few years ago!), as they’ve grown into teens, I feel as though we can go to the store, give them a spending limit, and let them choose. I knew this day would come. However, I’ve also found a great consignment shop in my town, and every season we go thru the younger one’s clothes she’s outgrown,take those clothes there, and a few months later, I get a check. I immediately put that money into their college funds, with the thought that the money for clothes is spent on the girls, and so whatever money comes in for their clothes is still going for them…just in a few years from now. It helps to control space in their rooms to purge outgrown or unwanted clothes, buys them a little more education,and I get a little more real estate back!…such a great feeling!

  82. Get rid of a little at a time and resolve to let not only the stuff go, but the guilt. The money has already been spent. Now it’s time to move on. Guilt is such a waste anyway. You want to do better. Guilt won’t allow you to do better … guilt will have you going out buying something else to feel better. Seriously. Charity thrift shops and Freecycle are the best way to go in my opinion. When you try to sell the stuff, you get all emotionally involved with it again, thinking “I might use this one day, it does have value.” Yeah, maybe, but not to you … “blessing” someone else (e.g., nephews and railroad parts) with it will be a great feeling and one you can experience more than once. Let it go. Once you start the ball rolling, this stuff will be gone in no time (similar to the debt snowball effect).

    Good luck … enjoy sharing with others,
    Shirley

  83. Ok, so this is another book (I got it at the library), but it was helpful to me regarding the emotional issues behind being a pack rat.

    Clutter Busting: Letting Go of What’s Holding You Back (Paperback) by Brooks Palmer

    I have found that a good way to get rid of stuff that I don’t want but is still useful is to put it in the lunchroom at work with a sign saying “free to a good home”. Hasn’t failed yet.

  84. As a Portlander you have some fantastic options for unloading Stuff. Free Geek has been mentioned, and I’m sure you’re already good friends with Powell’s Books. I would add the Community Cycling Center for old bikes, bike parts, biking gear, etc – they reuse or recycle just about everything. And SCRAP for art supplies and any miscellaneous junk that could conceivably be used as such. We’ve found that stuff on the curb with a Free sign is gone very quickly, and if not a post on Craigslist is sure to make it disappear.

    I have two problems. One is items with sentimental value to someone else (I don’t care). I have a NYT from my birth date which my grandmother carefully saved for 20+ years before entrusting to me. What on earth do I do with it? The other problem is my pack-rat husband. He is a man of garage sales and free stuff, collects all manner of fantastic things he’ll never use, and then is loth to get rid of anything. And every once in a while we’ll actually have need of something he’s had squirrelled away for years, and of course that justifies keeping all the other stuff cluttering our closets, garage, and two storage sheds. Oy.

  85. When I think about getting rid of things, whether donating or selling, this helps:

    I think of some item that I really want for myself, something I’ve been pining for. Maybe it’s a cashmere sweater, a mint condition 007 movie poster from the ’60s, a new(ish) vacuum cleaner. Something that, for whatever reason, I really really want, but either can’t find or can’t afford. Then I think about how someone out there, somewhere, owns that item, and doesn’t want or use it. If only our paths could cross! If only they were ready to purge the item and it happened to cross my path. It would be such a win-win for both of us.

    I then look at the “stuff” I am not using. An almost-new camping backpack, a barely-worn silk dress, a set of dishes. I realize that there’s probably someone out there who is pining for these items right now, wishing he/she could find them for a good bargain. Since I know that feeling, it helps me send those items out into the world without a moment’s regret.

  86. I lived in a Marriott hotel room for over a year while working overseas in the U.K. That was the best year of my life. One suitcase, and a few personal things at the office.

    Now I own a house, a garage full of crap (I haven’t set foot in there in ages – it doesn’t hold the car!), a basement full of stuff, and a room upstairs full of boxes I never opened when I moved in 6 years ago. No wonder I’m in debt up to my eyeballs.

    Time for me to do some serious purging – this is going to give me the push I need to get started!
    THANK YOU!

  87. MG–your post is reassuring. I’m embarrassed to admit that our garage is full of everything but the cars! But then again, we have kids, so they take priority.

    It isn’t so much that the garage is filled up with useless stuff, but more that the center portion is occupied by bicycles and other items that are used frequently, and it’s just easier to park the cars outside rather than reshuffle the contents of the garage all of the time.

    Not good because garaged cars last longer. But it’s nice to know others have the same issue.

  88. I think a lot of people have the “full garage” problem, Kevin.

    Much of what I have came to me when my dad downsized from a pole barn on a farm to a condo in the city. I had 3 rakes, 6 shovels, 2 wheelbarrows, etc. Over the past couple of years we’ve weeded out a lot of the doubles but a lot remains. I have an ancient grinding wheel that I will never use, but he thinks we need it. I also have an extra-wide flat bottomed canoe hanging in there that I just had to have (while I was working in the UK I had a LOT of disposable income – what a laugh now! I’d love to have that money back!) and I took my niece and nephews out it in at least 4 times – that’s $100 per canoe trip! Yikes…

    Really bad thing is after I signed on my house, I found out 1/2 my gravel drive was actually on the neighbors property and he made it a point to tell me, as I was moving boxes in, that I was driving on his land but that it was “ok”. Sure… I’ll come home someday and find a toll gate there! We’ve not been friendly since that day, unfortunately. But long story short, I took out the two overhead doors that were half rotten anyway and boarded up that side of the garage – since I had no easy way to pull my car in without driving on his property – and was always intending to rotate how I drove into the garage by 90 degrees. So now I have a man-door where the car doors were and no way to get a car inside!

    When the bank forecloses on it (pretty likely at this point – my small business is tanking after 4 years of scraping by) they are going to scratch their heads and wonder “how did they ever park their cars in there?”

    I’ve found keeping a sense of humor has really helped me through some hard times lately.

  89. @[email protected] (#78), thanks for the suggestions. I was planning to pass on any books I buy from now on to friends or take them back to the local secondhand store to exchange them, but Amazon would probably recover more of the cost!

    However, I’m going to take the boxes of newly culled books to the op-shop, just to get them out of the house. I still haven’t eBayed the unused Chaco Z2s and leather clutch purse that have been sitting in my bedroom for that purpose since March. Anyone want them? 🙂

  90. Good post!

    Just a thought on the papers from your first house: maybe it’s worth allowing yourself to keep some small sentimental items. Years from now you may look back on that and wonder at how cheap it seems, and remember how hard you had to work to get that house, and the good times you had there.

    Maybe, like the Rick Steeves one-bag approach, you need to allow yourself one shoebox of sentimental crap that is really just worthless clutter to most people, but to you means something more. Limit this to a single box. If ever you fill it up, it’s time to purge some of the items in it.

  91. If you need some encouragement / reinforcement, I would suggest Don Aslett’s books (Clutter free and Clutter’s last stand come to mind). They’re good at being helpful in the process, and humorous enough to make it a little fun. He’s also really good and drawing the line between treasures with actual sentimental value that make you happy, and clutter that weighs you down, which sounds like a key point here. I kept them by my bed and read a few pages each night – helped get rid of a lot of stuff.

  92. There is one thing that can give you your energy back – take one thing at a time, breathe consciously and remember all the feelings connected to this thing. Now, keeping conscious breathing, withdraw the energy and emotions you invested in the thing, and disentangle from any energy and emotions that others might project through that thing to you.

    Remember about conscious breathing. When you feel that you are now perfectly indiferrent to that thing, you can get rid of it and doing it will not make any bad consequences for you.

    In fact, doing it with all the things that you want to get rid of is giving you back your energy and vitality.

    I’m not joking 🙂
    good luck

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