As a woman in love with travel, I’ve often felt my belongings have weighed me down. Each time I move, including to and from Europe & two cross country moves in the U.S., I evaluate what I really need to continue to take with me. I’ve come a long way from the younger version of myself who moved to Poland with two giant bags bursting at the seams, worrying about all the things my mom warned me they didn’t have there. (FYI, she had been there at the height of the communist era, and now they *do* have everything there you would need in Poland, and more.)
In my most recent move back to the East Coast, I purged a lot of my belongings. I read a lot about minimalism, and I became a fan of many YouTubers who shared their ideas and inspiration on how to live life with less. Minimalism may mean whatever you need it to mean to live your life in the most meaningful way. At this point in my life, I’m striving for a less cluttered, lighter daily existence, so that I can achieve more of my life goals such as traveling more and saving money. I want to be free of belongings and debt that hold me to a traditional lifestyle. I have daydreams about living in a tiny house, or ditching my job to live on the road full time, only having the few items I truly love with my dog by my side as we explore North America together.
For those reasons and many more, I decided to really evaluate as many of my belongings as possible in the month of October. The first weekend of the month, I donated two giant garbage bags full of clothing to Goodwill. Then, on the fourth of October, I read about a challenge created by The Minimalists. For each day of the month, you let go of as many items as the number of the date of the month. For example, on the fourth day of the month you get rid of four things, the fifth day – five things, etc. Since I had already let go of many, many more than six items before I read about the challenge, I felt OK with starting on day four.
On most days, I felt that letting go of things was much easier than I expected. There were some challenging days, and the items I let go of on those days may not seem all that important, but I made sure I got to the number of items within my daily goal. Many of the things I let go of this month I re-homed or donated. It felt fabulous to give my mom’s guitar to my brother and his kids as I know they will actually use it, rather than me planning on learning how to play it every year and never dusting it off. I loved seeing my niece cuddle up with a quilt that my brother made years ago, that I kept rolled up in a box, never using. My youngest nephew got use out of some of my favorite childhood books, and my sister benefited from jewelry I culled from my collection. I donated tons of other household items, and recycled a lot of vagrant pieces of paper and receipts. Most days I felt like I could purge even more, and some days I did. I continued with the challenge with one major adjustment from the original post of The Minimalists – instead of making sure each item got out of my place by midnight, I allowed myself to make piles of things to give away – since most of my things made their way to other homes. I just made sure the things did leave within the week.
This was a challenging exercise in understanding my attachment to my belongings. It is very difficult for me to let go of sentimental items from my childhood, or things that are in some way tied to my family history. Evaluating that attachment alone helped me to understand myself and my family in new ways. By far, the hardest items for me to part with are the things that were tied to my parents or my own childhood. For many of those things, I just wasn’t ready to let go of them. So I didn’t. However, I really learned about how many items I keep just out of the guilt of keeping things that I am “supposed to hold onto,” and I’m working on letting go of the family items that do not bring me joy – I may be able to let go of them soon.Having just moved cross country for the second time this past winter, I asked myself why did I bring so many of these things along with me the first time? I want to explore that topic more in a future blog post. I did manage to re-home several items with sentimental value to my siblings. In all honesty, this was the only way I could let go of these items, knowing that the sentimental things remained within the family, and even then, it wasn’t easy to let go. This is something I will continue to work on.
There were a few clothing items that I found myself surprised at how difficult they were to part with.When I really considered that, I think I realized that many of those things represent a version of me that I would like to be- a thinner me, a more active me, a more casual me. I did keep a few clothing items that I do not wear on a regular basis, reasoning that keeping those things was along the lines of the KonMari method. Let’s just say these items are still sparking joy when I hold them and that is how I justify keeping them for the time being.
With fewer physical things, I find myself making more time to embrace that which is most important to me in my life: time with people I care about, time with my dog, and adventures around the country and the world. As an added bonus, I found that I used up things that were in my house before buying new things. This helped me to really evaluate my spending as well, and I justified buying a birthday plane ticket for a trip in January, as well as a four week rock climbing class instead of purchasing things I didn’t need for myself and my apartment. This exercise helped me to live the mantra I admire – invest in experiences, not things.
The biggest lesson that I learned this month, is that limiting the amount of items in your home is truly a practice in abundance. The more that left my space, the more my favorite things had room to shine. The more I talked with friends about the game, the more I valued what I chose to spend money on. The more I donated, the more I realized that I already had everything that I really need in my life. As I moved through each day with fewer things, that which made my life truly richer became much more abundant, and I realized how privileged I am to have this problem of wanting to live with less. For that, I am grateful.
Everything that left my home in October departed via the following means: re-homed items to siblings or their children or my friends; donations to charities; unusable items were tossed; many items were recycled.
Here are the items that I let go of in October, listed out by the day of the month:
- 1-3: Two giant bags of clothing donated to charity
- 4. Two unused gift cards, blazer, unused beauty product returned
- 5. Three pieces of unworn antique jewelry, favorite old red sunglasses past their prime, book about vocal pedagogy from college (I’ve now decided I won’t become a voice teacher any time soon)
- 6. Three books for nephew, three art books for my sister
- 7. Travel clock, mom’s guitar & pitch pipe, quilt my brother made, three books
- 8. Book, map of Warsaw, five items for niece & nephew, Elvis game no one can play but me!
- 9. Desk I don’t use, heels that are uncomfortable, chair, four magazines, container holding too many pens, antique pen/ink holder
- 10. Two pair of glasses from an old prescription (why was I keeping these? they just give me a headache!), two shells from the beach that seemed perfect at the time, two guitar books, purse, 3 pairs of earrings
- 11: Two pencils, necklace, another guitar book, three egg containers for sister’s egg producing chickens, 2 purses, 2 bracelets
- 12: Twelve bracelets (I’ve been a jewelry collector for a long time)
- 13: Sunglasses, ten bracelets (so many bracelets), glasses case, program from family member’s funeral (Some may see this as an odd thing to keep, macabre maybe. I miss her, and I held onto the memory of saying goodbye to her, but letting go of this item helped me to remember happier moments with her.)
- 14: Eight shower curtain rings, purse, returned pair of shoes, let go of prayer card from a family member’s funeral, sold purse on eBay, broach I don’t wear, pants
- 15: Jacket, necklace, Graceland magnet, wallet, vhs tape, pair of flip flops, umbrella, six pieces of jewelry, sold another bag on ebay, pants
- 16: Four more shower curtain rings (oops, missed them with the others), pair of earrings, headband, sweater, friends’ wedding invite (I got crafty and used it to create a card for the couple), rolling pin, CD rack, old phone that I got in 2003 when I moved to Poland (there were tons of old texts, important memories from a pivotal point in my life. I finally reached the point where I could let go of it, and it finally stopped working), old phone charger, purse, gown I used to sing in, not so great review of an opera I performed in from the Boston Globe (I saved it as it was cool to have the production mentioned in the Globe, not so cool to be reminded that they didn’t really like it.)
- 17: Nine books, 3 recipes I printed out, 2 giant receipts I saved on my fridge for some reason, 3 business cards
- 18: Two travel sized shampoos, four old loyalty cards from a state I don’t live in anymore, three bottles of nail polish, six toiletry items, ID card holder, dog tag from my dog’s adoption 6 years ago, pair of moisturizing gloves
- 19: Magazine, bunch of tissue paper, unnecessary part of employee handbook, small pouch, seven rhinestone barrettes, necklace, birthday card, three pens, two hats, shawl
- 20: Two purses, gloves, photograph, jeans, jacket, two birthday cards, my Netflix account! (this was HUGE for me. I’m a Netflix addict. But I want to live without feeling chained to this account. I am not saying I’ll never have it again, but I want to see how long I can do without), souvenir from a trip, sunglasses, glasses case, vase, four large envelopes, bracelet from an ex-boyfriend, old Beatles mirror, wallet
- 21: Forty nine photographs, three boxes, two travel toiletry bags, six place mats, three gift bags, Christmas ornament, three partner-less socks, two seed packets
- 22: Ten CDs, shirt, two hats, pair of shoes, two curtain sets, two dog toys, sweatshirt, jacket, unused oil bottle, towel
- 23: Set of fifteen seed starter pots (I’m letting go of hobbies I’m not good at. I have never, ever had a green thumb), cup & saucer, three towels, three antique plates
- 24: Set of fourteen Shakespeare books from late 1800’s (my brother will enjoy them more), six glasses, one candy dish, portrait of unknown relative, pair of shorts, mystery kitchen tool
- 25: Set of fourteen pieces of fiesta ware, ten glasses and the matching punch bowl
- 26: Expired soup, framed print from thrift store, two desk organizer containers, wallet, two giant receipts from IKEA, eye shadow, unused bumper sticker, two DVDs, toy dinosaur for nephew, sweater, dog toy, eight glasses, four headbands I no longer wear
- 27: I didn’t count the items today, but the giant pile of paper I sorted through and discarded resulted in many more than 29 items leaving my home today!
- 28: Two collapsible file organizers, unwanted gift card, five make up items, box, three expired sunscreens, magazine, skirt, two egg cartons for sister’s egg producing chickens, five pots for the roof garden I will never start, DVD, two pairs of knickers, expired jar of vitamins, four reusable shopping bags, credit card- I cut it up!
- 29: Thirty essays I wrote years ago-now scanned and paper recycled, twelve more simply recycled. (Interesting to read old essays and research papers, I kept these because I used to love to write, I did it often, and I was good at it long ago. So many of my interests are the same, many topics of interest still fascinate me. Many issues I still work on today, I wrote about years ago)
- 30: Broken mop head (why did I keep this under the sink?!), milk frother, small french press, returned beauty product, returned sweater, DVD, tupperware set I borrowed from a friend, two accessories for appliances, two CDs, pair of too small cleaning gloves, odd cleaning product left by the previous tenant, two piece bathing suit, sports bra, dog sweater, ten keys (keys to my mom’s house, my sister’s house, even my old apartments – why?!), four keychains, several postcards, yoga pants
- 31: A thirty piece set of bakelite flatware, and the box that holds it. I collected bakelite jewelry for a long time, and I coveted my brother’s flatware collection as a teen, and he gave them to me. As my life and priorities have changed, I just see my needs differently. I like using forks and knives that I don’t have to worry about. I don’t need to have collections anymore. I am returning this set to my brother, so that he can sell it on eBay, or keep it for himself. I did enjoy it while I had it, and I’m letting go so that I can enjoy more of the world instead of a set of cutlery that I no longer use.
Despite this giant list of items I no longer own, I didn’t get rid of everything in my place. This “game” helped me to really assess what I felt was the most important to keep, what I did not want to keep but couldn’t re-home yet, and why I traveled around the country twice with certain items. This month-long assessment has inspired me to continue to live with less, and believe it or not I have many more things I will soon be parting with.