“The first task of the person who wishes to live wisely is to free himself or herself from the confines of self absorption.” The Art of Living Epictetus (Sharon Lebell).
One of the hardest things to learn, perhaps the hardest thing to adapt, was the ability to de-value all the material things in my life. I mean everything, from the smallest insignificant receipt to larger things like appliances to more sentimental things like old journals and photographs.
In my challenge to de-clutter my life I had to take a trailer home worth of stuff, that’s six rooms, and condense it down to only what would fit in the back of an SUV. It would have been an impossible task if I had not first looked at my material possessions in a different way.
The first thing I collected up to get rid of was all my office supplies. I had piles and piles of pens, tape, notepaper, notebooks, rulers, hole punches, calculators, the list goes on. I kept only what I needed to pursue work and occupancy in another place and the rest went into a box. I asked a neighbour of mine if they could use the supplies and they happily took them off my hands.
The household items were the easiest to part with because I didn’t know where I was going to be ending up so I really wouldn’t need two cheese graters for a while. Yes, that’s the first indication I had that I had too much junk in my life when I found two cheese graters in my kitchen drawer. You might be wondering why this is so significant? I mean, everyone has a cheese grater these days and by chance I happened to have two, big deal. Well, you see, the thing is, I don’t cook. I mean sure I’ll throw bags of vegetables and a roast into a slow cooker now and then but I don’t compile ingredients and mix them up into a conglomeration that will hopefully transform into something edible. In addition to the fact that I don’t cook is the fact that I have grated cheese in years. I think I might have grated it once about ten years ago, and only because someone told me to at the time. So, the fact that here, in my kitchen cupboard drawer, were not one but two cheese graters was a clear indication that I bought things for the sake of owning them and that habit needed to change.
And it wasn’t just cheese graters in that drawer, I had an entire collection of spatulas, graters, ladles, knives and enough utensils to serve a gathering of a dozen. I’m single, live thousands of kilometres from family and I rarely had anyone over to my house let alone a dozen people and I only have one mouth. The kitchen items were easy to part with and except for a few of the essentials I boxed everything up and put it in the pile to donate.
I had a brand-new microwave I offered to sell to someone but they didn’t take me up on it so it, along with a crock pot and various other items were lumped into the donation pile. Someone somewhere just got a good deal on a three-month-old microwave.
All the cleaning supplies I had accumulated had to go. Dryer sheets, air fresheners, toilet bowl cleaners, hand soaps and cleaning cloths were all piled into one box and given to a neighbour. They ended up giving me $10 for it so that was cool.
Clothing was another easy one to part with. I had a lot of t-shirts, sweatshirts and other things that I never wore. I disposed of all my old underwear and socks, literally, and bought new ones. This not only allowed me to replace my current stock with fresh new un-holey pairs but allowed me to dictate just how many of each I would have in my wardrobe selection. I had several bulky coats and light zippered ponchos I never wore and were in very good to brand new condition. I put all of them into garbage bags and added them to the donation pile.
I sold them one of my televisions and even threw in a power bar for good measure so it meant that everything went in one trip. I made $50 off the whole pile and that would pay for over half a tank of gas so I was happy. I had recently purchased an acoustic guitar but just never found the time to learn to play it let alone even tune it so I gave it to a neighbour to give to a young relative of theirs. I didn’t ask for money, someone else was going to get use out of it and that’s all that really mattered to me.
I sold another television, yes, I owned three televisions, to a friend of mine. He paid $160 for it plus a Blu-ray and a DVD player with power bar also included.
I had a collection of over thirty “owl” related items, figurines, pictures, garden art and much more. All of it, along with a dozen or so other things around the house, were placed in the donation pile. It’s amazing how much crap you accumulate only to sit around your house, look at once in a blue moon, and collect dust constantly. Perhaps that’s on purpose, I mean if we didn’t have little things sitting around the house collecting dust we might never be reminded that there is dust that needs to be cleaned. Yeah, I don’t believe that reasoning either. Donated.
Now, with food I learned growing up the importance of keeping canned goods in reserves so I had a lot of that to pack up. I wasn’t about to donate it because I can eat it and it just saved me about $50 in grocery costs. So, I packed up my food, it took 3 file boxes to carry it all.
I had a massive DVD collection and a rather large book collection. I owned a used bookstore in the past and I can't walk through a mall even today without wandering through the bookstore. I think I had over 500 DVDs that were stored in big binders and maybe two dozen "reference" books on everything from the Celts to Cults and Poetry to Philosophy. I donated all of the books, except about 16 'classics' and a few Harry Potters to the local library. I went through all of the DVDs and kept aside all the ones that had special meaning to me - plus all of the John Cusack movies because, let's face it, he rocks. I ended up with about 48 DVDs in my personal 'keep' pile and binders worth to go. I donated all of the DVDs I didn't want to the Friends of the Library at a Library in the city. They were very happy to receive my large donation.
Paperwork and files was the hardest one to sort, at first, mostly because there was just so much of it. I had piles of old tax records that I’ve had to carry around year after year. I checked the Canada Revenue site and it said to keep them for six years (not seven) beyond the last date. Which was great news because about three quarters of it was from 2010 and before.
I had piles of journals covering everything from the weather to whatever thoughts I had drifting through my head at the time to various comments about work. I decided to keep only the one that I wrote during my drive out west back in 2013 and I manually shredded the rest. In total, it took about two days to go through and destroy all the old documents and pile them into three garbage bags. Next time I need to buy a shredder. And finally, old photographs. I don’t think I kept more than a dozen of them, mostly of my parents, and the rest I shredded along with the files.
In total, I think it took about a week to go through my entire trailer home and de-clutter my life. I took two truck loads to the donation, half a load to neighbours, and two loads to the dump.
When I was finished though I had 2 duffel bags of clothes, 3 boxes of food, 1 pack with camping and survival gear, 1 suitcase full of books, 1 carry-on bag full of paperwork and notebooks and my entire life fit in the back of my SUV. I can now, literally, pick up and go whenever I want if I want to.
Now I know you are probably asking how I de-valued the various things in my life in order to be able to get rid of them. Well, I'll try to explain. I used a number of factors to determine the "value" of things to me.
Firstly, I looked at whether or not I have actually used the item in the past six months or more. In some cases, like many kitchen utensils, I hadn't even bothered to take them out of the original store packaging. These were the easiest to identify and get rid of because clearly I'd never used them. Donated.
Second, I looked at their monetary value. A notebook that was never used still retained its value but since I had purchased it at the dollar store not only was its' value low but it could be easily and affordably replaced if I actually needed it in the future. As noted above I gave these all to a neighbour to use.
Third, was whether or not it was in a state of needing repair and if so was fixing it worth repairing it. An example of this would be, again, a dollar store flashlight. It was $2 for the flashlight and $1 for batteries. I never used the flashlight and while that's not technically in need of repair it was in need of batteries. I removed the old ones and tossed the flashlight into the donation bin.
Fourth, in the case of memorabilia, was what was its' value to me personally. I went through piles of photographs, many just of various scenes around Kincardine. I had kept them all because I'd converted them to black and white and had planned to, some day, frame them. Well, here it was almost seven years later and they were still sitting in a pile in a box. Shredded.
Fifth, was quantity. I believe I noted above that I only have one mouth so why did I need a dozen forks? I went through those things I had quantities of and decided just how many I would need personally to survive.
I think you have to imagine a scenario. The place you live in is going to be destroyed by a disaster tomorrow. You have one day to pack up everything you hold near and dear to your heart and everything you need to survive into one SUV or truck or van. What would you take? When you have decided what you would take you then look closer at all the things that did not make your list. What is their true value to you?
You see I wasn't de-cluttering with the intention of moving into another six room house and that's one factor that really helped in de-valuing items. I looked at my possessions from the view of "what can I fit in my SUV and take with me if I had to live in it and survive".
It really gives one a new perspective of the true value of things.
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