Once I had settled on a seven day cycle for removing extraneous items from my life I knew I would start on a Sunday. Not because of some belief that a new week is a special place to start. No, just because it will be easier to remember which day of the cycle I was at. It is already going to be challenging enough without adding unnecessary mental and emotional overhead.
With the extra time I wanted the item I chose to have some importance or meaning, even though I can’t really explain what that would entail. I just knew that it would be more than an old pair of socks. And this morning I figured out what that item was:
My massage table. Twenty years ago I studied to be a massage therapist. It was something I really enjoyed and would gladly have left my IT job to pursue it if I hadn’t hurt my wrist. But I kept the table. Kept it in a closet, in a storage unit, or under a bed. It has been used perhaps three times in twenty years. The only time it hasn’t been under a bed in the last seven years is when I switched bedrooms five years ago. It meant something to me in the past but it can go to someone who will use it.
But that’s not all. While I was pulling the table out from under the bed I found even more stuff that can go.
These are saddlebags for a motorcycle I had even before I studied massage therapy. I got rid of the bike and never got another one. I’ve used them to haul stuff from one place to another when I moved.
Dog coat and boots purchased in the winter of 2008-2009. It was so cold my dog could not stay on the driveway or street but the snow was too deep for her to walk through, much less go potty. Even though she hated these they kept her safe. They have been in the saddlebags ever since I moved here from Wisconsin.
And there they go. It’s amazing how deciding to remove one thing can lead to the discovery of other things that can go along with it. It is also amazing how removing that one thing can change how you see things – from where I’m sitting I can now see at least ten things taking up space that could make someone else’s life better.
It isn’t easy to change a habit. The ingrained autopilot routines can catch us when we’re not paying attention. Just grab the remote and start channel surfing; pop open the laptop and play games; pick up the phone and check social media.
We have to put stuff in the way of those easy paths if we wish to change. Not because those habits are bad but because they impede us from being who we want to be.
My biggest reminder at the moment is this:
That is a leather bound notebook of hand made paper. I bought it months ago, wrote in it once, then left it on a shelf. I would see it and think that I should write something. The notebook now resides on my laptop. I have to consciously acknowledge the notebook’s existence and purpose every time I turn on the laptop.
And in the past few days I have written more both in and out of that notebook than in the past year. Will I keep up this pace? Who knows. I will be getting back to other things in life that mean something to me.
And I’d rather choose between meaningful things than meaningless things.
Decluttering does not come naturally to me. I tried many times on my own under the thought of “I should do something about this”. But I get overwhelmed or bored so I stop. Or I make a bit of progress and then never start again because it was too much.
None of the methods I had heard about really seemed like they would work for me:
- KonMari – gathering everything in a category and then processing that single category required a lot of work just to set up – what categories to use, what things fit in which category, the process of gathering everything together – before you made any changes.
- Packing parties – getting friends to come over to help pack everything you own. Clothing, furniture, dishes, toiletries. Everything. Then you simply unpack things you use as you need them. After a period of time you see how few of your possessions you actually use and can remove things you don’t need. The issue here is personal – I get anxious in rooms full of moving boxes. I just don’t like it. I would end up unwrapping everything.
- Progressive removal – one item on day one, two on day two, etc. Go on for as long as you care or are able.
- Just doing it – just “suck it up” and clean. Also known as the “Val putters around for an hour or two” method.
The more I read and the more I think, though, the more I realize I need to do this in a way that is meaningful for me. So I decided to do a weekly cycle. On Sunday I will start a pile with one item, Monday I will add two items to the pile, until Saturday I add seven items. The next week I will start again at one and everything will go into a second pile. After the second week I will get rid of the first pile. This will allow me to reconsider whatever is in the first pile before I find it new homes.
Part of the process for me will be taking a picture each day of the items and coming to terms with what value those items brought to my life and accepting that they no longer do. If something comes out of a pile, it will be because I realize it still adds value.
One of the tools that the Minimalists speak of is a “Must List”. Their thought (like mine) is that people say they “should” do things but never get to it. They just took it further and realized that our goals must be reframed as something we “must” do. When we view our goals as something we “should” do then we give ourselves a way out.
With that in mind I have started working on my list of what I feel I must do to live the life I want.
Last summer Jules and I went to a bachelorette party for a friend. During dinner conversation someone asked Jules where she would like to live. Jules immediately said “I want to live in a tiny house.” My attention shifted back to that topic and I must have had quite a shocked look and tone because she immediately looked abashed, saying “Wait, haven’t I told you about that?”
I wasn’t upset that she hadn’t told me. My shock stemmed more from:
- Jules had a lot of stuff. I mean, A LOT. A spare room and a storage unit both crammed full of things.
- I had also wanted to live in a tiny house but felt I couldn’t because I also had too much stuff.
- I didn’t think I would have support in downsizing.
In the months since we have talked this through. We have both tried downsizing in fits and starts but nothing sustained. Things just weren’t clicking into place for me. Jules talks about using the KonMari method – which is basically grab an entire category of your stuff (such as books, clothes, or housewares) and pile them up in a room. Then take each item and see if it gives you a “spark of joy” – if not then get rid of it. That is just too overwhelming for me. So I did nothing much.
Then last night I started listening to the Minimalists podcast. And I checked their website a bit. And a path started to be revealed. This is the story of that intentional journey.