I have been a collector (some may say a hoarder) my entire life. As a kid I collected baseball cards, comic books, stamps, rocks, pennies, and 45s (yes, I am that old). As a young adult, I continued with books, record albums, and video tapes (Beta fail), all of which I have hauled around with me for twelve years as I moved to five different states, including Hawaii. Later in life, the collecting addiction blossomed to include Pokemon cards (had to catch ‘em all!), CD’s, DVD’s, a room full of Dept. 56 Christmas Village, and a collection of Boy Scout memorabilia worthy of a museum.
Between my collection of stuff and my spouse’s reluctance to throw anything away, we gradually filled every nook, cranny, closet, crevice, and horizontal surface in our home with stuff.
Here is George Carlin’s classic take on the subject:
Suddenly, I completely lost interest in all of it. Moreover, I know why.
• You do not need all that stuff! For the past two years, I have spent my week days in a 288 sq. ft. apartment and have commuted home on the weekends. Gradually, I became aware that I was quite comfortable with the few items in my apartment and that I did not miss my stuff at home.
• When you move, it costs a lot of money to take your stuff with you and it continues to cost you even more money when you have to obtain a residence big enough to hold all of it. Remember, your house is just a container for your stuff, and the more stuff you have, the bigger container you need.
• Saying that you are saving your stuff for your children is a sham justification. Your children will grow up with interests different from yours and with no sentimental attachment to your stuff. What you are doing is either burdening them with getting rid of your stuff after you are gone, or making them keep your stuff out of guilt.
• The most important reason for getting rid of your stuff is that it is an anchor that weighs you down and prevents you from being on the go. It takes a lot of money to collect, store, and take care of all that stuff. You should use that money to collect memories and experiences in the exciting adventure of life. Don’t be imprisoned by your stuff.
Now that you have decided to lighten your load and throw a purging party, where do you start? The task, as it was in our case, can seem daunting. The best thing you can do to prevent analysis-paralysis is to take small bites of the elephant by focusing on one room to start with.
After you pick a room, you have to start sorting. In our circumstance, we developed a methodology that included five piles of what we called garbage, inventory, give to family, donate, and keep.
Identifying the garbage is the easy part. If it is dirty, torn, ripped, missing parts, or has not been touched in ten years, it is garbage. Twenty-year-old 5K Fun Run T-shirts that you outgrew fifteen years ago? Garbage! Utility bills from Y2K? Garbage! The drawer full of single socks looking for a mate? Garbage! On a side note, we put a huge pile of this stuff next to the road one afternoon and called the garbage utility to schedule a special pickup. The next morning, 95% of it was gone. I don’t understand it, but you know what they say about one man’s trash.
The inventory pile includes things that you no longer want that might be easy to sell on eBay. The bulk of my collections fall into this category, as do Scouting uniforms, vintage toys, and some miscellaneous kitchenware. The ideal eBay items are easy to ship, reasonably light, and have some value. It is easy to look up sold auction items on eBay to establish a baseline price, and I set a threshold price of $5.00 to determine if it is worth going through the trouble of listing the item.
Give to Family
This was our easy-out for items that have a strong sentimental value but that we did not want to keep, and that we couldn’t bear to sell to a stranger. You will likely find that most of your family does not share your enlightenment on the benefits of stuff-less living, so it is only right to offer them the items that have been in the family for a while. The most difficult items for me to part with were the tools once owned by my father and grandfather. I am fortunate enough to have a son who wanted these tools and will actually put them to good use. If you are hanging on to stuff left behind by your grown-up children, box it up and ship it to them. Let them make the decision to toss it or to keep it.
If you do not want it, it is in good shape, and it is too much trouble to sell, donate it to charity. Goodwill was more than happy to receive the five SUV loads of stuff I brought to them and I knew it was for a good cause. This is the easiest way to get rid of your stuff without actually having to send it to the landfill.
Stuff to Keep
Now it is time for the hard decisions. What do you really need or want? If you have placed something in this pile that you have not touched for two or more years, it is not a “need.” Outside of the items you keep for daily living e.g. a bed, clothing, pots & pans, etc., there will be some items that you “want” because you have a sentimental attachment to them that cannot be ignored. For me, those items are thousands of pictures, but I am only saving them until I have time to digitize them.
There are only a couple more steps in this process. Obviously, when you finish one room, you move on to the next room. When you have been through your entire home, it is probably a good idea to repeat the process with your “keep” items to see if you can further reduce the volume of stuff.
It sounds like a lot of work, and it is. At the same time, it is a sheer joy. Your stuff represents your entire life and you will find that as you sort through those old birthday cards, family photos, children’s drawings, and vacation mementos, you will recall many fond memories. For me, there was also an immense feeling of relief as the burden of the items that I had been collecting for decades was lifted. The freedom from unnecessary stuff allows me to live a simpler life on the go.