Posted by: draknor | December 20, 2011

Getting Rid of Stuff

Last week was a pretty great week — my girlfriend & I had a “staycation” (which I mentioned in my last post).  I really didn’t focus at all on photography or martial arts stuff; instead we spent a lot of time organizing the apartment and getting rid of stuff.

You see, we worked it out so that each of us gets a room in our 3 bedroom place to call our own, where we each get to decide how that room is decorated, organized, and used.  My room has a couple of desks, my computer(s), storage bins, etc.  It has lots of lamps with bright white CFLs, because I like lots of bright light.  Within the next couple of weeks, I plan on painting the walls a nice neutral gray (instead of this hideous yellow).  After the organization last week, I can actually see my floor AND the tops of both of my desks! Amazing!

In fact, that’s part of what I wanted to write about today — its such a great feeling to purge yourself of material stuff that you don’t use / don’t need.  The author at No More Harvard Debt blog recently wrote about hedonistic adaptation, which is basically saying that you adapt to your material comfort level.  So buying more stuff doesn’t make you permanently more happy — its just a temporary high.  And likewise, getting rid of stuff doesn’t make you permanently depressed, just a temporary low.  But in my case, getting rid of “junk” makes me feel great! I haven’t really gotten rid of anything “meaningful” yet, but even just clearing up my desk, filing papers, organizing stuff in boxes in the closet — they make me feel good and put me on that critical first step towards reducing my ownership of “stuff”.

Here’s something that always blew my mind — when I would travel for work or for leisure, I would take everything I needed in a backpack or laptop bag and a small roller suitcase.  And you know what? For those 3-4 days, I would have everything I needed.  I didn’t often desire something that had been left home; and usually if I was missing something critical (like cold meds or contact solution) it was trivial to go out & buy some; often as simple as walking to the convenience mart in the hotel lobby. Sure its pricey buying it there, but I didn’t have to go without.

And then after my travels, I’d come back home & wham — I’m back in my home filled with rooms & rooms of “stuff”.  NONE of which I had needed in the last 3-4 days.  MOST of which I don’t use on a weekly or even monthly basis.  That circular saw I have in the closet? Yeah, haven’t used that in…. 3 years?  I have a bookshelf full of books I haven’t read, an electronic keyboard I picked up at a garage sale with aspirations to learn to play, drawers & boxes & bins full of stuff I might use, might need, can’t-bear-to-part with.  The truth is, stuff you already own is not “free”.  It may not cost you any more dollars (although for stuff like cars, recreational vehicles, etc., just owning them costs money to keep licensed & insured), but everything takes up space & has a psychological “cost” of keeping.

Here’s one interesting exercise — think about how much you are paying per square foot to live in your home.  And if you are like most of us, you probably feel like you don’t quite have enough space for all your stuff — it feels cluttered & crowded.  For me, my rental cost is about $1.30 / sq ft.  So that means that my 14″ x 19″ file cabinet costs me $2.40 every month in living space.  Now, this isn’t a perfect tool because just because I get rid of my 1.8 sq ft file cabinet, doesn’t mean my rent goes down.  But it works on a bigger scale, because if you got rid of 300-500 sq ft of stuff, you could probably downsize your living space into something smaller and cheaper (or alternatively, smaller but better located for the same price you pay now).

And the less stuff you have, the less stuff you have to worry about. That can be a huge relief!  As I sit at my desk, I look around and see the pile of papers I need to do something with, the filing cabinet that is overstuffed & needs purging, the clothes I need to have cleaned or mended before I wear again, etc.  All of these “to-do’s” induced by stuff.

So my goal this week, now that I have base level of organization in my space, is to go through my stuff and try to get rid of even more.  I’ll start with the easy part — the overflowed  filing cabinet (+ bins of papers & files).  I don’t want to get rid of my filing cabinet, but if I can fit everything I need to have filed in those two drawers, that frees up my desk drawer & a couple of plastic bins. That would be huge!