Sunday, June 5, 2011

Unencumbered- Thoughts from a Reformed Packrat

 "Frugality is one of the most beautiful and joyful words in the English language, and yet one that we are culturally cut off from understanding and enjoying.  The consumption society has made us feel that happiness lies in having things, and has failed to teach us the happiness of not having things."  ~Elise Boulding

So often in conversations of simplifying, or living with less, or downsizing, the focus tends to be on everything one must give up. To me, living with less and having (relatively) few possessions is not about deprivation- I think an apartment or home that is more empty than full feels amazing. I get so many palpable benefits of doing so that I don't see it as a chore, I see it as something that gives me freedom. When Bobby and I moved this last time, we were able to pack our entire house in about 6 hours, including breaks, singing stupid songs, eating, and dawdling a bit as we sorted things and really took a ruthless eye to a pre-move culling session. Plus, since Bobby was having to physically move, I told him he only had to pack the study and the outside shed, so one person did the brunt of packing and it still went by pretty quickly. We took the following two pictures after we were done. You're looking at everything we own, minus our bed, Bobby's computer desk, and the dining room table- all of which we were still using up until the day of move out.
View from the dining room plus my creepy face
View from the kitchen plus my creepsauce face again
This includes all of the gear and supplies for all of our hobbies- both of our bikes, exercise equipment and yoga paraphernalia, books, yarn/materials/sewing supplies, Bobby's tools and saw, and a crap load of camping stuff. I know, compared to some super simple living gurus, that this is still a lot of stuff for two adults. But I think, on average, it is far, far less. Because of this we don't have to spend more on housing than we need, we don't have to rent storage sheds, and most importantly it is a lot easier to maintain our relatively nomadic lifestyle. Moving is usually not very fun or easy, regardless of how little one owns, but I can tell you, as a reformed pack rat, that it is much more fun and easy without having to break one's back over boxes of crap that are, in the grand scheme of things, useless.

Speaking of useless crap, I'm a big fan of quarterly culling. Four times a year, I sift through my possessions and glean out that which is no longer serving me. Sure, it usually ends up just being a few items, but I'd rather have a few items that I can easily drop off at Goodwill on the way to the grocery store instead of having to dig through mountains of stuff every few years. I've also found that this makes me a lot more ruthless with getting rid of things- if it's not seasonal and it hasn't served me in the last 3 months, why am I paying rent on it? I know that so many people (myself included, for many years) are afraid of getting rid of something and then needing it. I'm here to assure you that I have been ruthlessly bootin' my stuff to the curb (ok, not really the curb, Goodwill or friends who need/ want it) since 2005 and I have never, not once, given away something that I later needed/wanted back. Never. And you know what? If you give something away and you really, really need it then at least you know you really, really need it and you can get another one. Craigslist, thrift stores, and people like me are good places to find free or cheap goods if you really need to replace something you tossed aside a little too hastily.

I know many people have very sentimental attachments to things, for various emotional reasons, but I personally don't, with very few exceptions, which I can count on one hand. To me, the only things I cannot replace in this life are pictures and various very personal mementos like diaries or letters from loved ones. That's precisely why I undertook the photo project that ended up taking far longer than I ever could have imagined. But now it's done, the pictures are safe in digital form, and a huge chunk (maybe half, at last count) have been given away now that I'm not the only person holding the keys to my family's cumulative picture memory box. I'm about to start scanning in my old diaries, so that I can get rid of them as well (most are written in spiral notebooks in pencil which is starting to fade, anyway). Don't get me wrong, I still have a beautiful, small cedar chest that my Great Granny gave me, which holds things like said diaries and mementos. But you know what? I cull from that, too. Because trust me, the things I thought I would treasure forever at 18? Yeah, some of them went straight in the recycling bin last month when I sorted through it.

If you had told me at 18 how very different I would be in terms of material possessions by 22, I probably wouldn't have believed you. And if you had told me at even 22 how different I would be by 28, I wouldn't have believed that, either. The point is that sometimes you have to force yourself to just do it, to start choosing to live with less, get rid of some things, and stop accumulating more things. And very soon after, you might find that you don't miss it at all. I want to reiterate that I am FAR from a simple living guru. There are tons of great blogs out there on that topic, and I certainly can't claim to have whittled my possessions down to 100 things- and I don't desire to (at least not now, we'll see where another 5 years gets me). In the end, I just know that I am so glad that I am not drowning in stuff anymore.

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