Have you ever opened a closet only to be shocked by how many things had found their way in there? We accumulate things over time. Lots of things. Too many things. Don’t let stuff own you or define you – simplify your life and dump all the junk. When we moved into our house about 7 years ago we probably had twice as much (or more) overall stuff than we do now, and we still have too much. Before my Multiple Sclerosis diagnosis, our lives were very disordered. Parts of our house were unusable or difficult to navigate, and there was certainly no open space for yoga or other exercise.
It’s a difficult process to go through everything that seemed important enough to accumulate at one point and choose what to keep and what to let go. When possessions become entwined with identity or self-worth parting with them can cause some anxiety. The great culling of things in our house started out because we simply did not have enough storage space in our 2 floor, less than 1,400 square foot house. We had an entire room stacked with boxes, all kinds of junk in the attic, and packed closets. When new stuff came in, it just got stacked on top of surfaces (or on top of other stacks). We thought of ourselves as collectors of films, CDs, vinyl, books, etc. With so much, we couldn’t even find or use the stuff that was so important to keep.
Multiple Sclerosis had taken a lot of my balance and a lot of my strength – I found myself tripping easily or unable to navigate through belongings to get to what I wanted. My physical surroundings also had a bearing on my stress level. It became more difficult to keep the house clean and left my mind feeling restless and cluttered.
Initially we just looked around and knew we had kept some obvious junk just because it was easier to leave it there than to throw it away. We didn’t realize how much there was, and what we expected to be a small amount turned out to be load after load of trash and donations. Eventually the line between “obvious junk” and “stuff we keep” became so thin that we found ourselves debating getting rid of things that we had never questioned. Now, I constantly find ways to continue the process of downsizing.
You will have to create your own set of rules to accommodate your personality. Our guidelines were:
- Do you love it?
- How much would you pay to buy this if you didn’t have it? How much can you sell it for?
- Is it worth the space it’s using? How much would you pay to have that space available?
- Does it function exactly as you need?
- Is it broken, stained, ill-fitting, out-dated, etc?
- Will it be frequently used or could you live without it?
- What would this space look like without it? Is that more desirable than having access to it?
My guidelines evolved over time as I became more severe with cutting out objects. I began to let go of things I thought of as sentimental. One tactic many people use to deal with this is to take a good photo of sentimental things so that you can remember them well without needing the object itself. Remember, while objects are associated with your memories, they do not represent you and they do not represent your relationships. Learn to appreciate the memories you have without needing stuff to validate them.
We go through all of our belongings 2 – 3 times per year now, and I’m sure this will continue until we have gotten to a true minimum amount of belongings for ourselves. Psychologically, it’s intense and rewarding. It feels like we are getting rid of the unimportant and distracting things in our lives and moving toward a more serene existence.
Each time we cut through our stuff, we sort everything into 4 piles (or boxes, or bags, or stacks, etc):
- Trash: It’s broken, stained, or just generally really messed up
- Donations: It’s not too bad, but isn’t valuable enough to bother selling – keep a list of these items and their estimated worth for your taxes
- Sale: We can profit about $20 or more through ebay or craigslist by selling (I will cover how to sell this stuff next week)
- Maybe: We know it should go, but we aren’t ready yet – items in this pile usually get sorted by the end but sometimes end up being sorted in the next round of cleaning
Last week I wrote about cleaning up finances. This is the path that we took, and I’ve noticed that it’s almost a universal evolution. When finances are in order, we seem to be more clear-headed about what is important to us and why. We accumulate much less now that we have more money because we better understand what is worth spending money on and bringing into our home. Some things were difficult to let go of because we had spent so much money on them, but the truth is that the money was wasted at the time of purchase and not at the point where we got rid of it.
You have enough challenges with MS – enough things already that are out of your control. Make your life better.
What challenges have you faced because of your excess of belongings?