STUFF. It's amazing to me how much stuff we managed to fit in our cozy little apartment in Bozeman. Even after we had taken all of the important and beloved items to the RV, we were still left with what you see in the above photo. This photo was taken right before we loaded up the truck to get rid of it all. We sold all of the furniture and higher priced items and gave everything else away. Well, almost everything. We kept the little munchkin hiding in the piles. It's like Where's Waldo :) Do you see her?
It was very freeing to downsize again...this time was much more drastic than any of our moves before. We ended up keeping only the stack of green totes behind Bella. The funny thing is...I don't miss any of it. But I do think about "stuff" a lot. Not how to get it, but rather how I can get rid of it! I still go through the RV and make piles of stuff to give away. As we were packing, I started wondering how it all got into my possession in the first place. So...let's discuss. How DOES all of this stuff get into our homes?
Where does it all come from? Well, Target of course! Isn't that where all STUFF originates from?! If it's not Target, it's another store that tells you that last season's style is now out of style. When I think back to my college days of credit cards and endless spending...it was usually when Target changed seasons that I went berserk. All of those cool new things in new colors! Calling my name! Ooooh! It didn't matter if I had something just like it at home already...whatever the thing was, the new one was better. Then, when I brought it home...the other item that I didn't want anymore would just get put in a cupboard, a drawer, or the basement....and voila! Follow that sequence enough and CLUTTER IS BORN.
Our dissatisfaction with our current state of possessions is mostly driven by advertising. It's practically unavoidable. The mall and television are the main culprits...but even without a television and with trying to avoiding the mall, I am still prone to being sucked in by banner ads for natural products or emails from companies I have bought from in the past sending me sale notices, etc. But, I know my weaknesses and I have started to unsubscribe from all of these tempting offers.
Speaking of knowing weaknesses...thrifting, garage sale-ing, ebaying. I'm sure there are many who read this blog who have a love of any or all of those things. But too much love for those things, and clutter will find you too! It used to be very hard for me to even go into a thrift store or to a garage sale without finding all kinds of things that would be "perfect"! When I had a larger living space, it was way too easy to find space to put all of it. But now, I have no extra space. I can tell myself "no" because I can't imagine where it will go!
So we've established that stuff comes from stores...new or used. It also comes from the stuff-giving people in your life. If you have someone in your life who is constantly buying you things, it can be very difficult to handle if you are trying to downsize. Lucky for me, I can just say "sorry...we don't have any more room in the RV!". But that isn't the case for most! :) My philosophy is to ALWAYS graciously accept whatever it is that someone is giving you. They have obviously given some thought into the matter and it's important to them that you have it. If you decide later that you just don't want to keep it, you can give it away, re-gift it to someone else, or if you're broke...you could sell it! Hey! It's practical. Some of you may have a problem with my suggestions, but when you're downsizing...sometimes you have to be brutal. I'm not going to keep a dust-gathering figurine just because someone else thought I should have it in my house. If you have someone close to you who is consistently giving you things against your wishes, it would be wise to sit down and have a heart to heart about your values and goals for your home. You could give them some ideas of things that would be really useful gifts for you...or you can also ask them to give you gifts of their TIME instead. They could have you over for dinner or take the kids so you can have some alone time.
What is "enough"? This is a question that only you can answer. I often get people asking me how much clothing they should keep or how many toys their child should have. It really just depends on what your priorities are. What works for one person would never work for another. Everyone one will have some types of possessions that will look like "excess" to someone else. The line between necessity and luxury is different for each person/family. You might be surprised at how little you actually need to live. I'm not saying that everyone would be happy selling it all and moving into an RV :). But it's a really good exercise to truly examine what things are important for you to keep and what things are just taking up time and energy. Ask the hard questions of yourself. Why do you "need" a certain item? Could you live without it and still have the same quality of life? Some of you might have never considered living without a car. You might be surprised at how much stress it relieves! For others, living without a car would actually create more stress.
If you have the special gift of hospitality and you love to open your home to others and serve them...you probably don't want to get rid of all of your extra dishes. On the other hand, if you have 25 cute coffee mugs, but you have never had more than 2 people over at one time for coffee...you might want to consider downsizing your collection. If you have a home with 2 spare bedrooms, but you only use them one weekend out of the year...you would probably benefit by downsizing your home. If you have people staying with you all the time and you love being able to open your home to traveling guests...then keep the bigger house!
Clothing is a great place to start your downsizing journey because nearly everyone has too many clothes! However, it can be a hard one because there tends to be a lot of emotions there. But they are just clothes, and they don't make you who you are! If you have a piece of clothing you're holding onto for sentimental reasons, consider making a throw pillow out of it or frame a piece of it like art. That way you can re-claim the space in your closet and make your memory functional.
If you haven't been able to fit in those five pairs great jeans for 2 years...it's probably time to give them away and enjoy the extra space in your closet. If you don't love how you feel when you where it, it shouldn't be there. If it stains easily, is hard to wash, or is not practical...it shouldn't be there. If you haven't worn it in a year...it's gone! There are a couple of exceptions of course. If you have a job that requires a certain type of dress code, you will obviously need to keep clothes for work. And if you don't have laundry on-site, it's often easier to keep a few more clothes than you think you will need so that you have some available even if you can't make it to the laundromat.
I'm sure that you have some things in your life that bring you extreme joy when you use them. For me it's tea, pillows, cookbooks, and photos. Those are things that I will occasionally downsize, but I know that it's ok for me to have what may look like excess to other people... because I LOVE them. Just know yourself...know WHY you are keeping something around. Only you can decide what works and what doesn't.
Getting Rid of Stuff The best way to start your downsizing journey is to JUST START. When I have stuff I need to go through, I create three boxes. The first box says "KEEP", the second box says, "DONATE", the third box says "SELL". You can also have a fourth box that says "NOT SURE". After you start doing this a lot, you'll find that less and less goes in the "not sure" box because you get better at making decisions about what is important and what isn't. Once you have your boxes set up...get busy! It helps to have a non-biased person helping because they can talk some sense into you when you when you need it. When you are done, put the donate box by the door so you can continue throwing stuff into it every day. When it's full, put it in your car and take it to the Goodwill/Thrift/Salvation Army store that very same day. Don't delay...otherwise it will sit there for 6 months. After 6 months you'll find it and think "ooooh...look at all this fun STUFF!". Just get rid of it fast and don't look back. You won't miss it. Take the sell box and sell those items on Craigslist, eBay, or your local classifieds.
Here are some places to focus your efforts:
- Clothing (as discussed above)
- Books: If you haven't read it and never will, pass it on to someone else, sell it, or donate it to the library. I try to only keep my very favorite books on the shelf.
- Dishes: I like to only keep on hand what I need for my immediate family. One plate, one cup, etc. for each person. The rest goes in storage until we have guests. This also makes doing dishes much more enjoyable.
When you are at a level of possessions that you are happy with...make sure that everything has a place. I cannot stress this enough. When you don't have a place for something, it just goes on the counter. Clutter breeds clutter, so pretty soon you have a little clutter colony there. You should have a place for keys. A place for incoming mail. A place for pens...and so on. It will be so much easier to clean your house when you can put it all away quickly. I also prefer to have a clean counter-top in the kitchen and bathroom. If you have the space to get your appliances and knick-nacks off of the counter and put them into cupboards or closets...do it. You'll be amazed at the difference it makes. Replace those items with a simple bouquet of wildflowers, wipe off your empty counter and SMILE!
If you do live in a small space, it's critical that you de-clutter and put everything away EVERY night. If you let it build up for even one day, it can be overwhelming and get out of control. It's especially true in the RV...I usually go through at least 2-3 times a day and put stuff away, straighten the counters, the bed, etc. I actually love doing it...because when everything has a place, it's a JOY to "keep house"!
A Joy to Keep House?! Yes. When your home is organized and decluttered...you will be a different person. Your outlook on life changes. Situations that seemed out of control and chaotic now seem manageable. When you wake up and walk to the kitchen to make coffee and your counter-top is clean...your day just got that much easier.
The state of your home is in direct proportion to the state of your heart/mind. When you have piles of stuff all over your house, your spirit just gets bogged down with all of it whether you know it or not. When you don't have to worry about moving your STUFF around, cleaning your STUFF, and storing your STUFF...you have a lot more time to spend doing things things that you love and spending time with your family and friends! And that's what life is all about.