Simplicity Part #2 or “The Great Purge”

As I mentioned in my post previous to this, the storage facility I had used to temporarily stash my belongings was 5x10ft.  It was filled solid, wall to wall, and most of it was stacked over my head.  Thankfully, I am a relatively organized person, so it was all in bins, and not loose, but many of the bins had just been filled willy-nilly in my hurry to move out of my dorm room at the end of college.

Seeing that wall of stuff was extremely intimidating.  I had about 2 days to reduce my belongings to be able to fit easily into my truck, so about 3/4 of a truckload.  What I had in storage was slightly over three truckloads.  When I rolled up the storage door and the mass of stuff was revealed, I almost felt nauseous at the thought of the task ahead, especially since packing and moving are both very emotional, sentimental activities for me, and getting rid of belongings even more so, so this was like the coup de grâce on my emotions at the time.

My initial reason for clearing out so many things was that I would have nowhere to put them while in Korea.  I couldn’t afford to keep them in storage, I didn’t want to burden Colin with more than a bin or two, Marc was still living at his parents at the time, and I didn’t want to take too much home to Texas, as I would just have to schlep it back up to the Northeast when I returned.  However, this changed.  Eventually, as I was traveling, I realized that I really enjoyed the freedom of being able to move myself entirely around in one vehicle.  It gave me a profound sense of freedom.  I realized that I felt tied down by my belongings, and that they had many times kept me from pursuing the snap decisions I so love to make.

One of the Quaker testimonies is Simplicity.  I have a complex relationship with this one.  To some people, I seem simple.  I don’t usually wear clothes with any sort of design, etc, and they’re virtually always functional.  I like the countryside, and the peace and quiet it provides.  I don’t like my life to be complicated.  I like living in small spaces.  To some, I seem complex.  I have many interests and hobbies, and always have my hands in several pots at once.  According to some, I even at times seem to have different personalities for different types of situations.  I have given this issue much thought, but not much has really come of it, unfortunately.

Simplifying one’s life is definitely one of the Quaker goals, but I have to say – that is not why I did it.  In fact, I’d say that it probably didn’t even enter my mind at the time.  Now, I will explain here that generally, when I am doing something “Quakerly”, I am rarely aware of it.  It is not a conscious decision to do something because it’s something a creed says I should do.  I do it because it’s what I feel is right at the time.  However, afterwards, I often end up looking at the situation and subsequently thinking “Wow, that was a very Quaker thing to do…” in hindsight.  This was certainly one of those cases.

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Before this, every single time I had moved, I had weeded out things by rummaging in my bins and pulling items out, or by setting aside items to give away/get rid of as I was shoveling everything into the bins.  As I stared at this tower of possessions, I had somewhat of an epiphany.

What if, rather than choosing things to get rid of, I chose things to keep?

I pulled out a bin at random, opened it, and dumped the contents on the floor.  It was clothes.  Now, I am not a fashion person by any stretch of the imagination, but clothes do hold a lot of sentimental value with me.  I poked at the pile of clothes with the tip of my shoe.  I saw something I knew I wanted to keep.  I picked it up, and put it back in the bin.  I knelt down and began to dig through the small pile.  I found a few things that I liked, but was unsure about.  I put them in a separate pile.  I found several things that I knew I no longer needed, and threw them towards a corner, about 6-8 feet away, out of my line of sight.  They were things that I had not worn in quite some time and would likely not be wearing again in the future.  Some were clothes that were heavily worn but that I had saved as “work clothes”, even though I always am getting new “work clothes”, as I am extremely tough on my clothes and they don’t generally last more than 2-2 years in a state fit for general usage.

In effect, what I was doing was a different sort of emotional sorting.  Rather than having to go through my bins and pull out things that I didn’t want to keep or that I felt I should get rid of, I was selecting things that I did want to keep.  Removing items is, by nature, a negative act.  It is a rejection of material memories.  Saving items, by contrast, is a positive act.  Rather than looking at my belongings and thinking “Well, X, Y, and Z aren’t important enough, so they can go…” I was thinking “Hm.  While everything here is important to me in a way, items A, B, and C are really the most important.”.  This simple difference between affirmation and devaluation was like a lightbulb had suddenly been switched on.  More like a floodlight, really, but I’m going to stick with the more common analogy here.

For many people, myself very much included, culling belongings is a very emotional task, triggering all sorts of memories and nostalgia (and often guilt – when’s the last time you wore that sweater your grandmother bought you?!) for them.  I have sometimes heard this referred to as an “emotional leash”, and I have always hated the negative tone that term implies.  Memories are a good thing.  They allow us to learn from the past (so that we may not repeat it!).  They allow us to take solace in times of stress.  Without memories, we would make almost no personal progress at all.

By using this method, I was able to get rid of somewhere between 65-75% of my belongings (well, those not back at my family home, at least) in two days of 3-ish hour shifts at the storage facility.  There were times when I kept most of what was in a bin, and times when I only took out a few items to keep and dumped the rest into one of my donation boxes.  By the end of it all, I had almost two truckloads of stuff to donate.  I ended up donating the stuff to a couple different charities, and all told, ended up with around $2500 in tax deduction receipts.  Considering how much stuff devalues when you donate it, that should tell you how much stuff there was.

I feel much more “free” now.  I know that I can pack up all of my belongings into my truck (or about two normal-sized cars).  I have virtually nothing that doesn’t get used on at least a semi-regular basis, and that has translated into me really thinking about my purchases these days.  I don’t want to have to go through another purge of that magnitude again, at least not for several years, and so I am taking preventative measures.  I certainly still buy things, but before I do, I think about how much I will use it, and whether or not it would have passed my prior test.  This has made a serious impact on how I live my life, and I feel that it is most definitely a positive one.

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Anyway, that’s pretty much it.  It didn’t come out as eloquently or as organized as I was planning, but that’s what happens when I write something over the course of three days!  I’d love to hear your commentary though!

Here, by the way, is a photo of me with the resulting pile of belongings.  That, right there, is pretty much everything I own (and two of those bins are reenacting gear).  As I mentioned in the post, originally that entire space was 5×10 and full to over my head.  In this photo it’s about 2.5 feet wide by 3.5 feet high by 7 feet long.  I’m standing next to it for scale, and I’m 5’0″.

 

Essentially everything I own...

Me and essentially everything I own...

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3 Responses to “Simplicity Part #2 or “The Great Purge””


  1. 1 kate August 18, 2008 at 3:21 am

    Wow!

    I am impressed. What an excellent perspective: choosing what you want to save.

    You did wonderfully as far as lightening your load, and it sounds like you really shifted your attitude.

    I am wondering if you will query further acquisitions, and how? Do you plan to make decisions about acquiring differently in future?

    (You may not have fully worked this out yet and it may take time, but when you do, I’d be interested to know. Simplicity is a toughie for me too!)

    Cool blog. Thanks for your comments on Among Friends!

  2. 2 Driftingfocus August 18, 2008 at 7:44 am

    Thanks!

    Yes, while I think I would still have difficulty in the “burning house” scenario, I did look at this similarly. Even though I *could* leave some things with friends up in New England, I looked at the task from the perspective of “everything I have has to be stored in Texas while I’m in Korea, and I only have time and money to make one trip, so it has to fit in the truck in one trip”. In reality, I left about half my stuff up in New England and DC, so that when I return stateside I will have some of my basic stuff near at hand (bedding, work clothing, etc), but I did not consider that in my process, as I felt it was an unnecessary complication and would lead to me keeping more stuff.

    I do query them, generally. I really think about how much I will use something, before I buy it. If I think I will use something, but am unsure, if I do end up buying it, I at least give a good effort to try to use it (for instance, I recently bought clear nail polish to try to dissuade me from biting my nails, and although it’s not working yet, I haven’t given up, as I don’t want the purchase to have been useless). Especially as far as clothes go, before I buy it, I think about what situations I would wear the item in. If I would only wear it in a specific situation, I rarely purchase the item, as it’s not really a practical purchase.

    I was wondering – may I add you to my blogroll?


  1. 1 Simplicity: Shut Up and Listen on un-hoarding « among Friends Trackback on August 18, 2008 at 3:28 am

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