Emptying out.

My best friend walked into my room the other day, looked around and asked, “So, is most of your stuff packed?” (My mom and I are moving into a smaller place.) Her voice echoed off my walls, a sound I’ve grown accustomed to since drastically emptying out my room.

“Nope.” I took a look around myself at the bare walls and lack of furniture that she was referring to. “This is everything I own.”

While I take a lot of pride in this, and even still believe I could get rid of even more, I find people respond to that announcement with less enthusiasm than I feel about saying it. I always thought it would be so cool to own nearly nothing and to be freed of clutter, but other people seem to feel differently. Whenever I tell someone that I could fit everything I own in one room, their response always seems slightly confused, as if they can’t understand why I wouldn’t want more stuff. I can’t tell if they’re confused about why I chose to do what I’ve done, or if they’re trying to imagine themselves getting rid of so much stuff.

I’ve been looking at apartments a lot lately and pricing out studios. A few years ago, the idea of a studio was appalling to me. Why would anyone want to live in one giant room, and where would they put everything? Now, I can only hope that I will be able to find a studio for the few items I do own and keep it as empty as possible.
It occurred to me that people will walk into my apartment–should it pan out the way I hope–and think that I must be poor to live in such a small space with so little. In our society, small living areas and few things imply a lack of money and opportunity. However, I’m hoping it will be just the opposite: that living in a tiny apartment with few things will allow me to save money by not paying for space I don’t need, by needing to use less electricity, and by decorating as minimalistically as possible.

Donating my childhood.

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On Rosh Hashana, my mother and I went to services until 1pm (shana tova…ugh), then came home and spent the following 8 hours cleaning out the basement.

I moved back into my parents’ house–the house that we moved into when I was about 14-years-old–at the beginning of 2012. I had a wall in the basement with my “apartment boxes,” which were filled with all the things I would need when I move out again: pots and pans, cleaning supplies, etc. There were approximately 6 of those.

In another part of the basement were all my keepsakes. I had about 10 boxes of those. My keepsake boxes contained the entirety of the first 18 years of my life, at least. The scrapbook of my first 3 years (including all the cards my parents were sent upon my birth), 6 yearbooks and other miscellaneous school pictures, hundreds of random photographs, school projects that I did between preschool and 3rd grade… There was a box filled with all the fragile items my parents and grandparents bought me that served no purpose other than to hold memories. And did they ever. Snowglobes, music boxes, the cake-toppers my mom gave my dad and I for our joint birthday every year…

“Wow, I bought you a lot of crap,” my mother said, in awe of the clutter she accumulated for me.

The photo in this entry is of a music box my maternal grandmother gave me as a child. When you pull out a small wooden peg in the back, it plays Hava Nagila and then men dance in slow circles. What an anchor that tune was; I felt like I was 4 again, standing with my elbows on my dress, staring as the men turn on cue.

My whole childhood was in those boxes. These are the boxes everyone says, “Oh, you can’t get rid of those!” and “You’re going to want to show your children all of this one day!” No. I will tell my children about it, should I even have any. I will not move all this junk from apartment to apartment just in case I want to show it to currently non-existent children one day.

I sat with my boyfriend and showed him all the bits and pieces of my past life. We took it all in. Then, I took all those papers, projects, and yearbooks and I put them in the trash. Everything else was moved to the middle of the basement floor where my mom had piled everything she also planned to donate.

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And all that remains is my Magic Bullet, my senior yearbook (I mean, come on), and all of my yarn that I need to go through. Baby steps.

Sentimental value.

I found this graphic where I find most things pertaining to minimalism and decluttering these days: Pinterest. I’ve realized I’ve come to a new phase of my life where the term “sentimental value” now bothers me. It’s usually (if not always) used to describe a material item that holds value simply because we connect it with a person, a memory, or both.

When I first started cleaning out my room, I thought, I’ll get rid of these stuffed animals because I bought them on a whim… but this ridiculous dogbear-thing my dad won for me in a Claw machine is something I canNOT throw out!

I’m a sentimental person. I, like most people, have a lot of junk lying around the house that someone gave to me. In March, my father passed away and everything the man has ever touched is now sentimental. But I’m learning to let go of all of that.

Material items only hold the meaning we give them. They themselves cannot be memories and holding onto an item is not holding onto a piece of the person that gave it to us. All of that is within ourselves and the stress that comes with holding onto all the clutter is not worth it.

Sometimes, I look at things and think, Well, this definitely stays. There’s no way I could live without knowing I have that. Then I throw out a few other things and return to that item. When I look at it again, it’s suddenly just become something else I need to make space on the shelf for. It has served its purpose and it’s time to let it go. So I throw it into donation.

In the past week alone, we have donated or thrown out my baby blanket, gifts my friends gave me in the hospital, my dad’s 3 baseball caps that he rotated between almost every day for 30 years, the stool that I made and painted in 7th-grade wood shop, and a necklace I received for my Bat Mitzvah. I must tell you… it’s been incredibly freeing getting it all out and knowing that I’m not only still living without those things, but that I’ve been able to take out the furniture/shelving/storage space in my room that I had strictly for those items.

And guess what? I even still remember them. I was always will.

The guilt of gifts.

In a world where a selling point of every home is excessive storage space (are you hearing Dramatic Movie Trailer Man?), people struggle to understand why you wouldn’t hold on to the littlest things, even if they will just sit in one of those many closets. The idea is that it’s important to have it in your home, I guess, even when it’s seen and used no more than the insulation in your walls. Except, you know, it doesn’t keep you warm.

I’m noticing that people are very supportive of my decision to simplify my lifestyle to an extreme that is considered unusual, until they find out what that means for the items they’ve given me. (This does not, of course, include my closest friends who completely agree that our shared material items have served their purpose and they have no problem with me moving on from them. That’s why I keep them around.) I get a lot of, “Well, you’ll keep this at least, right?” and “I get what you’re doing, but you can’t get rid of that…” I won’t and I can. I threw away my baby blanket 2 days ago; I am officially unstoppable.

One of the big trials came yesterday. I walked into my synagogue with a box of items that were meaningful when my family received them, but have since only been collecting dust in our home: old prayerbooks (some of which were my father’s when he was a kid), books my brother and I received for our Bar/Bat Mitzvahs and confirmation, etcetera. They all had our names on them, one of which had my name engraved on the front, even. These were likely some of the most sentimental items we own. Therefore, it was out of respect for these items and my religion that they could no longer stay in our house. They were nothing other than something to look at and hold onto for the sole purpose of knowing they were in the house. My rabbi joked that when you regift, you’re not supposed to give it back to the person who gave it to you (referring to the Tanakh with my name printed in gold on the front). I felt guilty and almost took it back then and there, but assured her it would be better for the temple to have it on their shelves than in the back of my closet.

Half way home I thought to myself, What’s one more book on the shelf? I should go get it back. Then, I reminded myself it has been in a box in my closet since I moved out of my parents’ house in 2006. I had never opened it, I wasn’t going to open it, and it did not have a place in my home. That is how clutter builds: I could just keep that ONE item… it’s so important to have! It’s not. What’s important to have is things you put daily use to and need to live happily.

Between the Tanakh and the baby blanket, I’m anxious to get more and more out of here. If someone else can use these things on a daily basis, they should have them.

Paper & photo clutter.

Doxie Go – $189.99 on Amazon

One of my biggest problems with decluttering is photos and paper. I’m also a college student and I simply cannot throw out my notebooks. It’s not a matter of being packrat; I really need these notes for reference as I continue through my degree. The need to hold on to them, however, does not justify the space they take up.

Photos… well… we have about 30 albums in our living room. (They don’t even completely account for all the photos that we own.) They are large, clunky, and take up far more space than necessary. It gives me a knot in my stomach to imagine moving with them all. Not to mention, having recently lost my father, I have had to go through ALL of them recently to scrounge for specific photos. It’s all wasted time and space.

I purchased this Doxie Go today and I’m really excited about it. It has really great reviews and is highly endorsed by LifeHacker. It’s a great way to go paperless; you can scan photos, notebooks, records, receipts, and it will save all of them directly to Dropbox and Evernote (should you chose to use either of those).

It arrives on Friday and I plan to go to town. I’ve also set up Picasa to organize all of them. With face-recognition and tagging, it’ll take me two seconds to find all the photos of my dad and I together and from specific events (such as, you know, our shared birthday).

How do you start?

While I’m new to the idea of minimalism, I don’t think anyone is particularly new to the idea of wanting to get rid of junk. I’ve had a few people ask me, “How do you start?” It can be incredibly overwhelming looking around at everything you own. It seems impossible to live without any of it because it’s all become part of your life and, in some ways, who you are. The decor on the walls, even that little cute little thing that sits on your dresser because it reminded someone of you when they were at a yard sale, it’s not really stuff we think to get rid of. When people think about what to donate, they think, clothes, old toys, books, the bigger things. Then, after bags and boxes of donations, our homes hardly look any different. I got rid of SO MUCH junk; how does my room look exactly the same?

The place to start is sitting down and looking around your space, carefully. Look at everything; the books, the toys, the clothes, the furniture, and everything on top of the furniture. Then, pick a piece of furniture to start with and focus just on that. Aside from selling my bed, I started with my big white bookshelf. It had 5 shelves, 1.5 of which actually had books. The rest of the shelves had a jewelry box, framed photos I’d kept for years, loose papers I “needed,” stuffed animals… I went through shelf by shelf and when I was done, I was left with so few books they fit on my nightstand (now serving as my new bookshelf).

And once you start, it’s almost addicting. The more you get rid of, the more you want to keep going. You start to realize how little value these possessions actually hold and you just want it all gone. It’s freeing to watch your space become empty.

My boyfriend asked me, “How do you know when to stop [getting rid of things]?” I stop when I feel like everything I still have is something I really need in order to live my life fully. But, if I don’t stop, is it the worst thing?

Project 333: what to wear?

The concept of Project 333: have only 33 articles of clothing to choose from for 3 months.

My main goal at the moment is to get rid of as much clothing as I can. However, I’m sure that my entire wardrobe, even after letting go of everything I can, is likely to be more than 33 articles. (Baby steps.) Once I get down to whatever my minimum will be, though, I think I could certainly pack up all but 33 and make it for 3 months. And who knows… maybe I’ll find I don’t need the rest after all. I do live in New England, but the creator of this project also lives in an unpredictable part of the US as well, so no excuses.

I’ll start as soon as I have my wardrobe (and the rest of my room) figured out and cleaned out. Hopefully September 1st. Feel free to join me!

How To Get Started

Exchanging instead of collecting.

My birthday was 2 days ago. Thankfully, my friends all brought me beer (because no one actually brings gifts to birthday parties once you cross the “21” threshold). Only one friend bought me a gift and it was something I really wanted: a NEDA yoga mat. Of course, this now means that I own 2 yoga mats because I already have one. Typically, this would mean that I roll up the other mat and put it in the closet “just in case.” Maybe my new mat won’t cut it. Maybe I’ll miss the other one. Maybe a friend will need to borrow a mat and then I’ll have one to lend! I always need to be prepared, so I keep everything just in case. That’s the packrat’s motto, isn’t it? “Just in case.”

Well, the fact of the matter is that there is a very low chance that other mat will ever come out of the closet (poor yoga mat). “Just in case,” it’s important to note that the average yoga mat is not very expensive. I can always buy another one if I need it (I won’t). It’s not like this is the only chance I’ll ever have to own that mat. But I’ve gone this long with only one yoga mat, so I will continue to live this way.

From now on, if I want to buy something new, I can! As long as 1) it is something essential to my daily life and 2) it will replace something else. It doesn’t necessarily need to be the same item, just something I deem of equal or lesser value. For everything I buy, I must donate something I own. This way, the material items I do own cannot accumulate and I don’t have to feel like I am depriving myself of something I truly feel I need. If it is not worth me getting rid of something else, it is not worth owning.

Now, if only it wasn’t considered tacky to ask my family for “flat” gifts only for my birthday.

“One big transcontinental commercial cesspool.”

This is how George Carlin describes America the Beautiful as in one of his famous stand-up shows (may he rest in peace). And he’s right. And this is why I continue to be able to let go.

We are a nation of consumption. We buy and buy and buy and give draining amounts of emotion to all that we buy. Everything means something, every gift must be cherished, and he who owns the most is the winner of all the things. We have our own hashtag (#firstworldproblems) because of this.

The more I think about things like this and hear rants like the late Mr. Carlin’s, I feel more and more disconnected from these items that I’ve collected. I look at so many objects that I once believed I could never let go of and would forever feel trapped with. As I come across those gifts and trinkets now, I’m starting to see them as simple material items. They are not people, they are not memories, they are not feelings. As an American, I’ve been taught to have feelings for all this junk because consuming is what we do and it’s important to us. When you step back and think about it and look at what our society is as we aimlessly wander in and out of overpriced clothing stores, it all looks so ridiculous and unnecessary.

A girl’s favorite collection.

For the past couple days, I’ve been thinking, “I’ll empty out everything I own, but my clothes get to stay. I can’t let go of my clothes!”

I’ve donated 6 bags of clothes in the past year, but with every bag full that I remove from my room, I always think, It doesn’t even look like I got rid of anything… I have SO many clothes, it’s ridiculous. And with everything I’ve gotten rid of, I actually do wear everything that I own. But is it all necessary? No, definitely not.

Two things have inspired me to rethink my decision to hold onto every article: 1) this photo above showing that it is possible to live with a very small and focused wardrobe, and 2) the fact that half of my clothes are strewn about my room. They lay across my dresser and there is a pile in front of my bed so large that I actually had to carve myself a tiny path. And even with all those clothes off the hangers, my closet still looks full, and so does my hamper. What’s worse is that, when my room is this messy, I won’t even see some of my favorite clothes for a few weeks. Unless I really love those articles of clothing, I won’t even notice they’re gone.

I think it’s time to let go and create a wardrobe for myself that:

  • fits entirely in my closet
  • forces me to do laundry more often
  • allows me to see everything I have at once
  • frees me from anxiety of having 2 wardrobes: a closet one and a floor one