Hello Emptiness: A Farewell to Stuff

“Having enough, but not too much, because too much always leads to wanting more.”
-Kristen Hedges.

Nothing makes a chick consider her possessions and bank account like buying a house and then having to move ALL of her crap into said house. Oh, and then buying a car to get to and from the village with the house in it! Of course, I did not do this alone and so I’ve also had to consider Le Monsieur’s stuff and financials as well. That’s a lot of brain power going to areas that aren’t always inspiring or joyful… though, of course, the motivator is to live in beauty and love in our shared cocoon.

Despite having gone through a major decluttering a couple of years ago, I still threw away an appalling mountain of objects in the last months. Clothes that don’t fit, books I’m no longer attached to, old candles, ugly blankets, birthday cards, posters, broken kitchen appliances — the list of useless things I’ve held on to over the years is mind boggling. And I’m not even slightly a hoarder. Since graduating high school almost 20 years ago, I’ve moved every 15 months on average. And so it’s astounding that I’ve managed to gather so much garbage while continuously shedding along the way.

Let It Go

Let It Go

One rule I’ve read for getting rid of clutter (and I sure read those decluttering blogs!) is that we should only possess that which is either useful or beautiful. I love this idea! Aside from a few sentimental mementos, there is no reason to keep anything that lives in a box permanently. While packing, I’ve too often come across an object stored with my “in case of” junk that might have come in handy had I actually remembered owning it. These things turned out to be double burdens: taking up space for years without purpose, plus causing stress each time I had to consider whether I wanted to keep them.

Yet, as with many situations in life, going from theoretical knowledge to practice is not easy. I promise you that, even though I have repeatedly paid people to move sh*t that I’ll never use and that does nothing but weigh me down, I continue to cling to a few useless items. The worst offenders are those pricey fashiony things that turned on me the second I left the store. It’s easy to throw away a wonky incense burner I used while at university, not so a new top by a local designer that cost $90. And yet, if I hang on to the mistake blouse, I’m just depriving someone else of wearing it and overstuffing my closet. Donating these to worthy charities helps attenuate feelings of guilt and wastefulness.

I wanted my living space to be as fresh and open and the ocean.

I want my living space to be as fresh and open and the ocean.

Here in home-ownership land, I’m faced with a whole new dilemma. On the one hand, we now have much more room than either of us have ever had and so there are many empty spaces I’m trying desperately not fill. These unoccupied bits let me breathe. On the other hand, with property comes the need for ridiculous new implements — lawn mowers and snow blowers and central vac filters, oh my! I just have to remind myself that those eye-sores are necessities that live with us in order to help us; they’re not in my way, they don’t disrupt the flow.

There’s a sort of paradox at work too. Hanging on to things for fear of needing them one day creates a sensation of lack; whereas, freeing up space and shedding stuff feels like already having enough. At the risk of sounding Oprah-ish, I’m going to identify this as an abundance principle. I’ve seen it at work — having left behind what I could no longer use, new versions of the same items appeared when I needed them again. In 2006, for example, I gave my futon couch, kitchen table, and book shelves away in order to pursue a housesitting job and lighten my load. When I had to eventually move into my own apartment again, I ended up with a sofa, shelves, and a kitchen table left by the previous tenant. I still have the shelves (see photo) and sofa (which is uniquely Brenda-sized and comfy)!

Here is what I’m doing now:

  • Not buying anything new unless it’s perfect. Spending on a few special, high quality objects has more value than getting good deals on disposable fillers.
  • Feng Shui, baby. I’ve read Move Your Stuff, Change Your Life by Karen Rauch Carter backwards and forewords. I’m not sure if it’s real, but I know I’m forced to consider each room carefully and be extra mindful of colour selection and object placement. This can only be good.
  • Following through. I’m pretty good at having lots of great ideas, but then I get tired and become distracted. Having someone else to whom I’m accountable helps, and wanting to make this place our own is also great motivation. I should have been this diligent during my apartment-living years.
The book Move Your Stuff, Change Your Life… one of the reasons for my new ocean coloured living room!

The book Move Your Stuff, Change Your Life… one of the reasons behind our new ocean coloured living room!

 A word about dinero:

  • While money can’t buy me love, not having enough of it can sure procure stress and illness. That said, studies have shown that beyond a certain point (about 50K), more happiness is not gained by higher incomes. So it’s really about setting priorities. A swanky new ottoman won’t make me happy. I’d like an energy efficient washer, but I’d much rather spend a long weekend in NYC! (When our appliances crap out, then they’ll get priority.)
  • I really wish my parents had taught me about money management, or that it had been a subject in school. People don’t like to talk about these things, thinking perhaps that they’re vulgar, but we all have to go there. I’ve had to teach myself about interest rates, investing, and how to negotiate. There’s a lot of anxiety the first time around.
  • I’ll always remember reading that many among the most wealthy have a tendency to repair things rather than buy new (reupholster… that old IKEA couch?!). Luckily for me, I’ve got my Mr. Fix It with a garage full (oh so full) of replacement parts and tools to do the job. This is a change for me — valuing my things, maintaining them. And I’m going to put that old sewing machine to use and make cute curtains out of a favourite [unworn] sarong.

The bottom line is that we acquired this house in order to enjoy it. The eye must be able to rest and take in beauty in order for us to feel at peace. In our home, I hope to find only those things that improve our existence in some way and to dispatch the rest.

Comments

  1. When I moved back to Montreal a few years ago I had only 6 suitcases full of stuff, the rest I sold or gave away. It was at the same time very liberating and stressful. Like you since high school I had moved around quite a bit, about once a year or two. Every time I moved I would get rid of garbage bags full of things I didn’t want to take with me. I have learned through the years that stuff is well, just stuff. I can certainly live without most of it. I also have adopted a rule that when I shop now it is to replace something, so one new thing comes in, one old thing goes out. We accumulate so many things instead of repairing or buying better quality things in the first place. I prefer living with less. I am much happier.

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