A few years ago we decided we would de-clutter our lives. It was a daunting task at first but eventually we both agreed that it would be a catharsis of sorts and relieve some of the inherent pressures that ownership entails. That’s not to say that we dumped everything we owned and resigned ourselves to live in my truck/tent, but that definitely crossed my mind, just not Donna’s. Another story altogether.
As we started, we decided to go through our house, room by room, and evaluate the necessity of every single thing we owned. And as we expected the first room was the hardest. Everything we owned, from the house itself to a tube of Chapstick had some sort of sentimental or at least some form of minimal tangible value. And obviously some things were easier to evaluate perceived “need”, while others proved more difficult than we imagined. However, once we got started, it scarily got easier and easier. So easy in fact that every once in a while we’d have to stop and take a breather so that we wouldn’t do something we later regretted. We even went through old printed photographs and tossed all those crappy images that we previously couldn’t part with. It was truly that detailed for everything in the house.
As we started accumulating a pile of downsized items in a spare bedroom, we were blown away at how much stuff we had identified as things we could part with. Before long, the room was so full that we couldn’t cram anything else in there…seriously. The next step was to have one of the very few garage sales we’ve ever had.
As we started moving things into the garage we came up with a steadfast rule. The rule stated that once an item crossed the threshold into the garage, it could never come back inside the house. Some things were super easy to take out, even physically throw out into the garage. Other things we really had to think about, even to the point of keeping them in the bedroom for further evaluation. Happily, even after thinking about it longer, everything we initially took to the room finally managed to find its way onto the “sales floor”.
When the big clearance sale day came, all the stuff strangely became nothing more than inventory and we had no problems watching all those things we “had to have” drive away in someone else’s car. As a matter of fact, those things we “had to have” were now only worth about $0.25 to us and we were more than happy to be rid of them. And when the sale was over, the remainder of the stuff was loaded into the Subaru and taken to Goodwill. NOTHING came back in the house!
I think that was by far the best demonstration and testament to just how silly accumulating so much crap really is. And to be fair, it’s not like we really had all that much stuff. A lot of it was things that seemed like a good idea at the time (gimmicky kitchen appliances for example) but really didn’t have any lasting use. The crazy and scary part of doing this was realizing how fast those little things add up. Before we knew it, we had clutter!
Jason, a really good friend of ours, has recently had me thinking more and more about another hard core downsizing. When we moved from our other house into our current house, we definitely did a large scale reduction. But since then, I know for sure we’ve let ourselves get a little cluttered again. Anyhow, Jason is currently executing a plan that I have dreamed of implementing for, well, let’s just say I’ve dreamed of doing this for just about forever.
He is an extremely well educated (has a PhD), well travelled and well experienced dude. He took his education very seriously, pursued a career as a forensic chemist with the Navy and once released from that duty, held a position in some sort of bio-research at the University of Colorado. Definitely not a slacker. For some, that would seem like the ultimate achievement in academics and career development. But if you really talk to Jason, you’ll discover that all the education and career experience is just a tiny, tiny fraction of who he really is.
Like many of us, he realized that all that stuff (intellectual and material) was meaningless without actually “living” life. Fortunately, I also discovered that important factoid in my early 30s!! Like Jason, we too dropped solid careers and chased a different life here in Colorado. However, he took a slightly different and arguably a little more aggressive path than we did.
He loves the mountains, adventure and possesses a deep spiritual love of embracing life’s experiences. So much so that he’s shelved his research/science career, shucked all his belongings (save for what will fit in his Honda Civic) and is chasing a lifelong dream of being a mountain guide. Again, five minutes into a conversation with him and you know how deep his love of the outdoors is and how sincerely he wants to share it with everyone in the form of teaching through outdoor experiences. Having climbed and adventured with him over the past few months I can attest to his extremely contagious enthusiasm.
To say that his decision to walk away from a “normal” career was probably difficult is likely the understatement of the century. It totally goes against the convention that we should follow the cookie cutter prescription for “success”. But what Jason, as a few others of us have discovered, is that the prescription for cookie cutter success oftentimes neglects the successes of the spirit and soul.
Over beers one night he was telling us that people have actually accused him of “giving up”. Douche bags. To me the only thing he’s actually given up is someone else’s restrictive parameters of life and is now doing it on his own terms. And how many of us can say that? I suspect not many at all. Giving up? Hardly. The awesome thing is that he’s pretty much downsized and upsized (SUPER-sized) his life all at the same time.
Since having that conversation, I’ve had some quality time to think about his new “life model”. It’s exactly what we were doing when we started shucking things a few years back, just not to that degree. It’s pulling up the materialistic anchors and sailing with more favorable winds on calmer seas. It’s so much easier when we’re not burdened with the weight of stuff and the responsibility that comes along with it. Not that “things” are always bad, it’s just that too many of them become a burden and don’t allow for certain freedoms.
So this week I’ve been on a tear around the house doing inventory of “things” and starting that wholesale culling of the clutter that has once again crept up without me really knowing it happened.
Some of what needs to happen is just organize things a little. My climbing, camping, snowboarding, etc. etc gear had sort of taken on a life of its own over the past few months. About the only word to describe it is as resembling a “blob”. In fact, I almost had a seizure this week when I went into the basement to pack for a trip and saw the mountain of stuff spread out all over the place. I honestly use it on a regular basis, it just needed to be organized. So I’ve been building storage/organizing systems to hold the essentials. The rest is going out.
I’m also in the process of packing up some of my books that I really, really like. This is probably the hardest thing for me to consider de-cluttering with. I know I’ll probably never read them again, but honestly they make me feel good to look at them — yet they’ve been in a box for two years. Now they’re going to the library where everyone can share in their treasures. I also have lots of coats and jackets, more than I can actually use. That makes me think of all the people who don’t even have one as a basic need for warmth. The extra coats are going to Coats for Colorado. I have nine, yes nine pair of used, but still usable running shoes. They aren’t ultra-distance trail running worthy anymore, but they’d certainly serve the purpose of warm, dry footwear for those who can’t afford shoes otherwise. So those are being donated to Goodwill, ARC or some other such organization. The list goes on and on and I can feel the de-materializing momentum building with each and every item culled.
It’s definitely come time for me to reduce again and start making my way back to having less and living more.
Oh yeah, Jason recently landed a guiding gig up in Alaska which pretty much validates his decision to quit his research job and chase his dreams. When we were having dinner the other night and he was breaking the news to us, you could actually see the overabundance of life oozing from every pore of his spirit — simply because there was too much to contain. I’d be willing to bet no one could ever ooze life by accumulating more crap and dropping more material anchors.