The Current Situation
I don’t know about you, but I have been an stereotypical, materialistic, American. I have stuff nearly spilling out of my house, out of my garage, out of my car. I don’t think I’m a hoarder, but there is no question that I have way too much stuff. Here are some examples:
- “Juicing sounds fun, I’ll get the best juicer and then I’ll get another one while I’m at it.” (Yes, I have two juicers that I don’t use.)
- “Juicing is too much work, I’ll just buy a Vitamix blender.” (We actually use this, but come on, its not really a necessary item.)
- “Warm bread is yummy, I need a bread maker.”
- “Homemade ice cream is yummy, I need an ice cream maker.”
- “My tablet is broken, I’ll buy another one.” (I now have 3 including the broken one.)
- “I want another musical instrument.” (I now have 1 guitar, 1 clarinet, 3 banjos, 2 mountain dulcimers.)
- “If I buy this camping stove I’ll be so much more comfortable while camping.” (I probably have 4-5 different camping stoves.)
- “Camping and sleeping on the ground is too uncomfortable, I think I’ll buy a cot.” (I have 2 cots, 3 or inflatable sleeping pads, a couple foam pads.)
- “I like board games, lets try another one. And another one. And another one.” (Most are unplayed in my basement.)
I could go on and on. Trust me, I’m really not a hoarder. Am I? Well, maybe I am but our house doesn’t actually have stuff stacked up with isles to walk through. At least not too many such piles.
Hitting Rock Bottom
Recently I ordered a bunch of junk from Amazon (but it’s really cool junk!) and I got disgusted with myself. I felt like I hit a new low and I thought about all the cool stuff I just bought, all the cool hobbies I was going to get to try. I thought of myself as a drug addict who just bought a big bag of dope. I thought to myself, “I need to quit, but I just need to do this great bag of drugs and then I’ll quit.” I thought how stupid this sounded and I decided to quit right then. Maybe not equivalent to “Rock Bottom”, but close enough.
I started putting everything I could find on Craigslist–I posted around 18 semi-large items in the first two days. I made a trip to the outdoor consignment store and gave them 16 significant items. I posted a bunch of books to sell on Amazon (152 to be exact). I dug through my garage and I found more items to put on consignment and more to put on Craigslist week. I’ll do more garage digging and I’m about to dig through my basement and see what I can rid myself of down in the basement storage.
The “Stop Shopping and Start Selling Challenge”
I decided it is time to stop the stuff from flowing into my house and start making it leave my house. Or at least I would stop my part of the flow in to the house and do what I can to help it flow out. I’m calling this the Stop Shopping and Start Selling Challenge.
The Challenge Rules
- Buy No New Stuff. Allowable Exceptions:
- Household consumables and health products (soap, paper towels, toothpaste, toothbrush, etc).
- Just about anything used (Goodwill and Craigslist is fine)
- Broken “essentials” can be replaced. Essentials are things like cars, furnace, oven, windows, etc.
- Replacements might be allowed. This is getting a little more into the gray region of the rules.
- Anything used (Garage sales, Goodwill, and Craigslist are allowed)
- Get Rid of Everything Not Currently Being Used
- If it hasn’t been used for several years, I get rid of it. I hopefully sell it but giving away or throwing out is fine too.
- No touching other people’s stuff. I do intend to start packing up a lot of the toys and take them to the basement after I get my stuff out of the basement.
These are not meant to be iron-clad rules. I do hope to follow the rules, or at least the spirit of them. The rules represent an ideal to strive toward. Renegotiation of the rules (with myself) is anticipated and accepted. The goal is to improve my life, not to beat myself up if I break a rule or have a lapse.
No need to rules-lawyer these rules. People regularly justify murder, I won’t have any trouble justifying breaking one of my rules. That said, here are some notes about what I’m planning.
The Challenge FAQ
- What about buying clothing?
No new stuff! Clothing counts.
- What about the kids?
Well, I don’t play to buy new stuff for them either. They will grow out of their clothes so I’m not going to be a real stickler for the rules if they need clothes or something like that. Used clothing and toys for kids is pretty easy to come by, so I suspect that the kids won’t mess things up too much.
- What about photographs?
There are many items in this category: photos, birthday gifts, journals, cards, kids’ art work, etc. One option might be to scan these in to the computer and then pitch the originals. This would lead to digital clutter but that’s another topic. I’m technically not using these but I’m not sure I can bear pitching them out.
- What about giving gifts?
I’m not really sure about this but my guess is that most people are similar to me and don’t really need any gifts anyway. If I really need to give a gift, maybe I can just give some of my “cool junk” that I thought was so great when I bought it. Or, I can find something used at a garage sale or Goodwill.
- What about receiving gifts?
This is trickier because this is about improving me, not controlling others. So, to start with, I plan to tell my family that I don’t want any new holiday or birthday gifts. None would be fine, homemade is fine, used is file. If I receive a gift, I plan to treat it like any other stuff in my house–evaluate its usefulness and either keep it or get rid of it. Unless it is a new car or something awesome like that. I’ll take a new car.
The Challenge Goals
The Challenge is supposed to be guiding principles that will take me to the life I want. I want to live uncluttered. I do not want to be a slave to my stuff. I want to look at wonderful, useful, entertaining, fun stuff and say, “boy, I’m glad I don’t have that cluttering up my life.” I’m certainly not at this point yet. I still want all that fun stuff. But, I am starting to realize that even if I want lots now, I don’t want everything I wanted a year ago and I certainly don’t want that stuff from a year cluttering up my life now.
This isn’t really about the clutter. That is just the first step. At least I hope it is only a first step. I found this quote at TheMinimalists.com:
It is possible to get rid of everything you own and still be utterly miserable, to come home to your empty house and sulk after removing all your pacifiers.
This is about building a more minimal life where I don’t actually want all this stuff. I want a life where I can be happy with very few things. Maybe I can even be happy with out a smartphone and tablet!
As I unclutter, maybe you want to buy some stuff from me! If no one buys it, maybe you’ll soon see my stuff at a Goodwill near you.