Saturday, March 12, 2011

Stuff... and having less of it

It's been building up for years now, gradually, but recently more quickly: the desire to have less stuff. Of course, it's always competing with the desire to get more stuff: new cell phones, an e-reader, home decor items, kitchen gadgets, clothing, jewelry, craft supplies...the list of things I want to get is pretty much endless.

A bunch of things over the years, and a few things pretty recently, have kept the idea of living with less (and being happier as a result) in my mind, sometimes in the background, but more and more often coming to the forefront and presenting itself as quite possibly the best and first solution to being a happier, healthier, less stressed and more financially stable person.

A few years ago, I heard about my cousin's brother-in-law giving away a lot of his stuff. I also heard about Tiny Houses for the first time, and they've been popping up from various sources ever since, including just today when a blog post linked me to the Tiny House Blog and this recently hand-built trailer that just looks so, so cool to me. I wish I was the kind of person who had the desire and the discipline to simplify my life so much that I could live in a tiny house, but I know I am not that person, and I never will be; however, I think I am the kind of person who can learn to recognize what stuff I want to get that will actually improve my life and bring me joy, and what stuff will just take up space in my home and in my brain and add stress to my life, taking more than it is giving.

In addition to my recent reminder of tiny houses, a bunch of other things have me contemplating all my stuff and how much of it I don't need or want, including but not limited to:
  • My very good friend @kellypens is giving one thing to charity for every day of Lent this year.  If this beautiful mom of 2 who is also in school full-time, in campus housing with her family of 4, living on one income (her hubby's) can give 40 things to charity, how much could I give away?
  • Paul started working on the "finished" half of the basement yesterday, ripping up (old, hideously orange) carpet and scraping up the bits of padding stuck to the cement.  We need to drylock the walls, fix a crack in the cement floor, and paint the floor so that it can eventually be a cozy office/TV/playroom.  This has me thinking about the boxes and boxes of stuff stacked in the unfinished half of the basement, full of things that haven't seen the light of day in years.  Some of them have moved with me from college to Virginia, back to PA to our apartment in New Cumberland, and now to our house that we own and plan to live in for the next 5 to 10 years; some of it has lived in my parents' basement until we bought this house, at which point my dad dropped it off on our carport, and we dumped it unceremoniously in our basement.  Yes, a lot of this stuff has years of nostalgia attached to it, stretching back to my childhood...but it's in a box. In my basement. Taking up space. If I don't do something now, its most likely future is to continue to take up space in a box until we move to another house, where it will then continue to take up space in a box until I grow old and die and my offspring are forced to pay some robot from the year 2075 to haul it to the landfill on the dark side of the moon.  With a future like that, what good is nostalgia doing me?
  • On a related note, I have been thinking quite a lot lately about my future offspring, as you are almost certainly aware if you have ever met me.  One thing that has occurred to me, and keeps occurring to me, is that the rate of growth of the amount of stuff we own is going to increase exponentially once we have a baby.  I've seen it happen to my friends and cousin:  when you have a baby, people give you stuff.  LOTS of stuff.  So if I figure I could get rid of half the stuff currently sitting in my basement, but I don't do it now, then it seems to me that a year from now (at which point I am really hoping to have a baby, or at least be anticipating the arrival of one) my job will be, like, twenty times more difficult, and by 5 years from now it will be so insurmountable that I'll never be able to do it.  So basically, these last few months before I'm expecting are my last chance to learn the art of keeping my stuff in check.
  • My wonderful and talented sister got a job.  She will be moving into her first solo apartment, and since she's the younger sister and I did the whole living-on-my-own-for-the-first-time thing back in 2005, guess what?  I got a lot of the extra stuff my parents had to give me.  Well, now she needs it, which means Paul and I need to dig through some of the aforementioned boxes in the basement and collect all the extra things that she now needs to eat off of and cook with and sit on in her new apartment.  And if I'm going to be doing all that work anyway, and getting rid of some stuff in the bargain, I might as well keep going and get rid of more things than just the stuff Hannah will need!
  • I also have had a few semi-related experiences surrounding church, Camp Nawakwa, and my tenure on Trinity's senior pastor call committee that have really gotten me thinking about stewardship, not just in terms of me giving money to the church or camp, but in terms of how I manage my own possessions because of how that impacts my ability to give my time and money to the church over the course of the rest of my life.  I need to get my stewardship of myself and my house in order so that I can be a better steward in the world.
Part of succeeding in my goal of not owning anything that doesn't make my life better is thinking all these things and coming to these conclusions about what I want to do, but an even bigger part is holding on to the motivation all these thoughts have given me, and being able to re-motivate myself day after day over the many weeks and months it's going to take to actually get rid of all my extraneous stuff.  It's hard work!  I told Paul what I wanted to start this weekend, and that my two main areas of focus were going to be the basement and the office (our 3rd bedroom, the smallest, is currently an office, but has actually become more of a dumping ground for papers and random items that aren't suitable for basement storage but aren't in daily use that we want to keep out of the way.  It's basically a disaster zone of mess in here.), and Paul suggested (and I agreed) that the basement was the best place to start.  But then Paul made plans to go hang out with our friend Matt tonight, and while I didn't want to waste my current level of motivation, I also didn't fancy the idea of being alone in the cold, dimly-lit basement on a Friday night, so I decided to unleash my energy on the office instead, where I could at least play some The Daily Show reruns from the last week on the computer while I worked.  Well, aside from writing this blog post, I spent the entire evening (about three and a half hours) going through boxes and shelves and desks in the office, and it's still pretty much a disaster zone.  That might have de-motivated me a bit, except that I produced two small boxes of stuff to get rid of, a medium-sized bag of trash, and a medium-large bag of recycleables.  I freed up space in multiple storage boxes, including three plastic boxes that I can now use to organize our messy linen closet (it is nearly impossible to keep all those pill bottles, band-aid boxes, cleaners, and hygiene products organized!!)  I also found our missing safe deposit box key!  We had one of the two, which is all you need to access your stuff, but we haven't been able to close out our box in New Cumberland and move it to the bank near our house because we only had one of the two keys.  Now we can make the move!

Tomorrow evening and Sunday afternoon I plan to continue with my purge and re-organization, moving to the basement as soon as the office is slightly more tidy.  I feel like the motivation is here to stay, for a while at least, and I am hoping that my friends and family will read this post and talk about it with me, which will help me stay motivated as well.  And that brings me to the final and most important part of achieving this goal, to own only good things:  YOU.  If you are reading this, I need you to support me!  That means telling me when you hear stories about other people who are doing similar things, stories about things you might be doing, tips of people who need the kind of stuff I am getting rid of, and just general encouragement.  And it means one more really BIG thing: NOT giving us any more stuff.  Ever, for any reason.  At least, not until it's stuff related to our impending parenthood, since I doubt anything could prevent my mom, sister, aunts, or in-laws from buying stuff for their future grandbaby/niecephew.  This means when I turn 28 at the end of May, I do not want any birthday presents.  When our anniversary rolls around in September, nothing then either!  If you are walking through a really awesome flea market and something totally unique and wonderful catches your eye and you think, wow, Paul and Mer would really love that, I am asking you to just share it with us in words, but not give it to us.  If you are at some store's going out of business sale, and you see the most amazing deal on an item that you think we could use, remind yourself that a $10 item that we are currently living perfectly happily without, even if it originally cost $90, does not make it any less true that we do not need that item, and NOT buying it will cost even less--ZERO dollars!  Plus it will take up zero space in our house!  In this same spirit, I am planning to extend our Christmas gift-giving strategy to the rest of this year and beyond: we will be giving homemade food or other homemade items only when there is any occasion to give a gift.  The only other thing I can think of that fits the bill is a charitable donation in honor of the giftee; my favorite charity pick at this time would be to Camp Nawakwa to help pay off the land they purchased in 2008, and I hope you all will share your favorite charity causes with me.

All of this doesn't mean we won't be buying any material goods for ourselves.  I am planning to purchase a new purse soon, because my current one is falling apart after 18 months of continuous use; Paul and I are also considering purchasing an internet-capable bluray player in the fall so that we can cancel our Netflix subscription and get our streaming video via Amazon Prime.  If Paul can sell his motorcycle for a high enough price this Spring, we might use that money to buy a new MacBook, since we haven't had a truly up-to-date computer in the house in years.  The idea is to get rid of more things than we're purchasing, so that we have a net decrease in the amount of stuff we own; to purchase fewer things going forward; and to learn to only purchase items that we know will make our lives better, whether through practicality, functionality, or just plain enjoyment, but not things that we will relegate to a messy corner of the office or a box in the basement within a few weeks once the novelty wears off.  And if we can learn to do this and keep doing it, eventually we will now own any things beyond what we need to be the happiest versions of ourselves.  Can you imagine life without that nagging stress of knowing you really need to clean out the basement and re-organize the office and the kitchen??  Wouldn't that be awesome?

And that's the story of my latest, dearest ambition.