A big part of trying to simplify one’s life consists of owning less stuff. The less stuff you have, the less time you have to take maintaining it. The more you move away from accumulating stuff, the less money you are spending, and the less importance stuff is going to have in your life. This creates more space for the non-material good stuff, like inspiration, in your consciousness. It is just really good for the soul to remove as much oppressive clutter as possible.
I wouldn’t say that I am currently a very stuff-centric person. However, my lack of focus on it is still a relatively recent development. I’ve never been stuff-centric in a blatantly materialistic way. I’ve never been a huge shopper. I’ve never had a big tendency towards retail lust. But I have been, in my past, a bit of a pack rat. There were two prongs to the tendency for me: one was emotional attachment, the other was the fear that I would get rid of something, and then need it later.
On the emotional side of things, I always kept a ton of memorabilia. This started when I was about five. How weird, right? What five-year-old is worried about remembering being five when she’s old and gray? I have to say, that in some ways I kind of like that about myself. I’m a recorder. It’s a blessing and a curse. Part of the curse has been the actual physical baggage that my memory compulsion has created. Imagine being 25 years old and having kept every little thing with any kind of memory attached to it for 20 years. That’s a lot of crap.
Right around the age of 25 I started to get really sick of hauling all that crap around. By 25 I had moved six times in four years. My parents were sick of storing stuff for me. It was exhausting. I had also begun to realize that I never looked at any of my memorabilia, and yet I still had strong clear memories of everything that I wanted to remember. I became aware of my freakishly good memory. Seriously, my friends comment all the time on the type of detail my memories from years ago have. That realization made me start feeling O.K. about getting rid of some things.
At this point, my memorabilia is limited to one box of stuff (my grad tassels, articles, certificates, etc.), one box of journals (I journaled like a fiend from ages 7-22. I kind of wish I was still that dedicated!), and photo albums. That is a significant improvement! My emotional attachment to stuff is currently a little more affectionate. It is really hard for me to get rid of books, for example. I very rarely re-read anything, but I just love the fact of them.
One category of stuff that is particularly hard for me to get rid of is clothing. It’s hard because clothes have both an emotional significance and the possibility of future utility. I still have clothes from from sizes 8-14 (14 is my current size). On the plus side, I at least accepted that I will probably never be a size 4 or 6 again, and got rid of those clothes a few years ago. The emotional bit is tied to my body image issues. I really pine to be small again. I still do. The utilitarian bit is that I am hoping that one day I will be, and then I can use those size 8 clothes. Overall, though, keeping my skinny clothes usually just depresses and demotivates me when they catch my eye. So I guess they’ll have to go.
In general, the greater recent fear has been that I will regret getting rid of things once I get rid of them. What if I get rid of that serving tray (that I have never used once) and then need it to host a party some day? The answer is that I will serve the food on a regular plate. I’ve realized that a lot of that fear of need actually has to do with keeping up appearances. If it was something I really needed, I would use it more often. My “need” for a lot of these things actually adds up to my “desire” to look good.
There are a lot of layers to the process of de-cluttering one’s life. I’ll probably be writing a lot about it as I go along. So far I’ve significantly weeded out our book collection (ah yes, “our;” being part of a cohabiting couple adds yet another element!), and have picked out the low hanging fruit in my clothes closet (things that are worn and/or damaged, or that I just don’t like anymore). I’ll deal with the skinny clothes when I’m feeling a bit stronger about it. I’m not trying to cause psychological trauma to myself, either! Slow and steady…