Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Getting Rid Of

If you include moving to and from my freshman dorm (which should count considering it's a 500-mile journey even though I didn't have to lug the big things like a couch or a bed frame), I have moved 6 times in less than 5 years, with another move in 2 months. Moving that often really makes you pare down on what you own; and living in a small space where half of what you own is going to be in boxes anyway makes it imperative.

That's not to say I haven't horded a few things. Specifically, scarves and books. And I will continue to collect more. I have 14 scarves (and wear all of them!) and when my husband and I combined our stuff after the marriage, it was I who filled both bookcases. Yes, he has a shelf all to himself full of engineering references, and he provided half a shelf of sci-fi, classic lit, and plays. But I filled 6 and 1/2 shelves all on my own, organized elegantly by genre. Robert Jordan gets a shelf all to himself.

Everyone should have their hobby, and it's fun to have something to collect. Of course, if your hobby is shooting animals for sport and cutting their heads off, I suggest hanging your trophies in one room and not all over the house, for the sake of your spouse's/roommate's sanity. Books are a little more demure, and almost everyone likes books, at least to look at on a shelf, so I know no one will think I'm weird if I one day have a room with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves filled with books from wall to wall. My parents collect decks of cards from everywhere they travel, and having 20 decks floating around their house has proved more than beneficial for our game-loving family.

"Is that living simply?" you ask. Maybe not, but I don't think it necessarily has to run counter to a minimalist lifestyle, either. For me, I love libraries as much as I love books--libraries are book heaven!--and so I don't buy books indescriminately. I buy only the ones I will read over and over or that I want to have a hard copy of to read to my kids one day. (Since I have no idea when we'll be having kids, I don't know what will still be in print.)

In fact, I use the same paradigm for buying books that I use on getting rid of things in my house:

  1. Have you used it lately? Will you be using it again soon? (Are you sure???)
  2. Is it replaceable by/redundant with another item you have?
  3. Is it replaceable by/redundant with another item you want to get?
  4. Do you actually like it?

These are the core questions that help you simplify your life. Take your wardrobe for instance. Have you used that shirt lately, or do you just hang onto it in case you'll need it? Because if you haven't used it within the season it was meant to be worn, you probably don't need it. Only twice in an entire lifelong venture of getting rid of things regularly have I ever wished an item back. Both times it was an item of clothing. After second thought, I didn't regret it. So get rid of it!

If you have a problem with getting rid of things or aren't sure if you will need an item, put it in a box and store it away for 3 months. Chances are that like me, you'll forget what you put in the box after a few weeks. Even if you "need" the item, you'll forget that you have it and make do with something else. After 3 months, pull out the box again. Don't give into the temptation of, "oh look, new ___!" and keep it; give it away to someone who can actually use it.

If you have two redundant items, get rid of one of them. Redundant doesn't just mean you have two; it means you have two of what you will only ever need one of. For instance, it's okay to have several platters or serving bowls, because you may need several at a time when serving a meal. But you don't need 10, despite what all the ladies told me at my bridal shower. Luckily I only got three, and that's a perfect number for me. Even if you're serving food at some sort of potluck, just borrow from someone else. That's what neighbors are for. (Cue Mister Rogers...)

It gets a little trickier when it's an item that is replaceable by something you don't yet have but want. Often the reason I haven't bought the other item is because I already have the first, which does a "good enough" job. This happens with household items, but it happens especially in my wardrobe. I had 3 pairs of jeans that were all "adopted" (i.e. when a roommate was getting rid of them, I snagged them from the Goodwill pile; sorry, Goodwill) but none of them fit right and two had sprung holes from being so old. When we visited my folks at Christmas, I asked my mom to help me patch them (those iron-ons rarely work), and instead she suggested what should have been obvious: go get new jeans. I had WANTED new jeans, I just hadn't bought any because I had three pairs that sort of filled in. As soon as I bought a new pair that truly fit, I felt free to get rid of the other three. I haven't needed them.

This is something I've been learning from my husband, because too often I settle for something that does the job well enough, instead of investing in something that will do the job great and last for a long time. In some ways, living minimally gets easier when you decide to go for the one good item instead of the two or five or ten meh items. I like to live cheaply as well as minimally, but I've been learning to watch for good deals, always find coupons online, and wait til things go on clearance. You can get what you need, get rid of a dozen things you don't need, and not spend too much money, every dollar of which is worth it for greatly improving your quality of life. It often saves more money in the long run, too.

The final question is, do you actually like it? Do you really? That dress makes you look dumpy and you know it; go throw it away and shop the thrift stores to find another, or if you have the money, go to a real store. Invest in something that makes you look attractive like you are, makes you feel good about yourself, and will last a long time.

Or learn to live without. There are an amazing number of things I have lived without, such as a good winter coat. We just don't get winter here, even in Northern California. I still get cold, of course, but I layer sweaters and hand-me-down jackets and wear one of my scarves. My husband is slightly appalled, and I promised him I'd get a real coat if we move somewhere cold. I didn't even have a dressy jacket until this last winter. It's amazing what you can do without. You can even do without a swim suit, and for both guys and girls there are ways to get around it. Or who needs a hand mixer/beater? Build up your arm strength. Who needs a car? In Davis and many other towns you can get around with just a bike or public transit.*

Getting rid of things slowly is the final key to making your life easier. Over the last few years I've accumulated some new things, but I've also gotten rid of many things. But I didn't do it all at once; every few months I got rid of more things that I noticed were going unused, etc. Go slowly and you won't be so worried. If you're minimizing for the first time, going slowly, month by month, will help you not freak out so much! The change will be gradual. It will also mean that you won't have to spend days going through all your stuff; just go through it in small sections.

As you get into a pattern of minimizing, you will begin to see the things you don't need, but also the things you do. I have a jar collection which I have time and again decided to recycle before stopping myself with the reminder that there is no pressing need to get rid of stuff right now and that those jars have come in handy as bug catchers, flower vases, moving containers, etc. And they look nice lined up on top of the kitchen cabinets. I collect other random things that I've found come in handy, like spiral-notebook spirals. As a student, I used up several every quarter, and most of the time I recycled all my notes at the end of those ten weeks.** But the wire spirals I saved have been used to prop things up, hold candles in place, and any number of odd jobs.

Life is about getting rid of the gunk that gets in the way and holding onto the good stuff and the useful stuff that helps make life easier. Every family is different. My question to you is, what do you routinely get rid of, and what random things do you hold onto for future use?

Reduce! Reuse! Recycle! And reduce some more!

* That said, I'm so grateful for my graduation gift two summers ago: a brand new Honda Fit. I can get places when it's raining or boiling without arriving dripping wet (in both cases), and I can get my way to nearby cities without bumming rides off of people. My husband still commutes to work/school via bike, and I always walk to the library.
** Even here, though, I didn't minimize completely. I kept notes from the key lectures on syntax, plant biology, and others of my interests, as well as the whole notebook from a child development class that I expect will come in very handy when we have a family.