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May 31, 2024  |  De-"stuff"-ing  |  273 hit(s)

The surest way to cast a critical eye on the amount of stuff that you have is to prepare for moving. The prospect of boxing up all that stuff and hauling it and finding a place to put it at the new domicile can lead a person to wonder why they even need all that. This is particularly true when you're downsizing from, say, a four-bedroom house with a double garage to, say, a two-bedroom condo with a single outdoor parking space.

We did this some years ago, which resulted in a huge yard sale and a sometimes-painful culling of all our stuff, especially books. But we did it, and in our little place we're a wee bit tight, but we manage.[1]

Chapter 2. Over this last winter, we spent about six months in San Francisco for my wife's work. During that time we lived in rentals. When we drove down, we took what we needed in one large suitcase and two small ones.[2] We bore in mind the sensible travel advice that you don't have to bring everything with you — your destination has drugstores and clothing stores (and for me, hardware stores, ha).[3] So while we were in SF, we made trips to Target and Daiso and other locales where we could fill in any missing stuff.

This worked well. Our rentals had laundry facilities, of course, so I was able to cycle through my limited wardrobe. And we were indeed able to get the additional things we needed — my wife needed some work clothes, for example.

But we bore in mind that these acquisitions were either temporary (to be left behind at the rentals or donated) or we'd have to haul them back with us. This mentality helped frame the question of whether to buy stuff: for everything that we acquired, what were we going to do with it when our stay in SF ended?

(One place where this kind of failed was with books — between visiting a gajillion bookstores and going to weekly library book sales, we acquired more books than we probably should have. I ended up shipping books back home via the mail before we left.)

Chapter 3. Back in Seattle! After unpacking the suitcases, I went to put away the wardrobe that had served me well during our extended leave. But when I opened my dresser drawers, I was kind of shocked: I have so much stuff. I had been living with a collection of, like, 9 or 10 shirts. But at home I have two full drawers full of neatly folded t-shirts. Why? Why would I need a month's worth of t-shirts? I had the same experience in my closet — why do I need all these shirts/pants/sweatshirts/coats?

Well, I don't.

So another culling has begun. These days, when I pull out a shirt, I might look at it, and say yeah, no, you go in the Goodwill pile. This process is not as concentrated as if we were moving again, but it's steady and I'm determined to keep at it until I'm down to a collection of clothing that I actually use. Ditto kitchen stuff, linens, office supplies, leftover project hardware, and all the other stuff that just accumulates. (Books, mmm, that one's hard.)

Taking a break from our stuff, and living adequately with less of it, has really helped us look at it again with a bit of a critical eye. I suppose "Do I really need this?" isn't exactly a question about "sparking joy", but I hope it will be just as effective.


[1] Full disclosure: we also rent a 5x10 storage unit.

[2] We took our cats, so there was some extra stuff also.

[3] Although one of our kids went to a destination wedding recently and reported that the resort/venue was charging outrageous prices for sunscreen.

Liz   02 Jun 24 - 6:15 AM

Thanks for this great post. We spend so much of our lives accumulating while being super busy working, only to realize much later - when we can think about things besides work - that we have much more than we thought we had, and much of it is unneeded.
We FINALLY got enough stuff out of our garage that we can actually park our cars in it; that feels sooo luxurious. When I look around the neighborhood, I see that most folks can't do that.
When I take things to Goodwill, I like to shout out that "the house just lost another 10 pounds."

Michael Vnuk   10 Jun 24 - 6:13 AM

'It's not hoarding if it's books,' is a ready-made excuse that is out there for anyone to use. I've culled some books at different times (eg not much fiction left, most university textbooks gone), but I'm going to have to be more ruthless. I just need the time to do it properly. Also, there are three people in my family, and some books would need more than one person's decision.