Updated: Sep 24, 2017
Stuff. To call the word itself "jam-packed" is to define it.
In the past year and a half my "stuff" has expanded and contracted from 750 sq feet...
(in my first apartment)
to 1350 sq feet...
(my first house, full of my the stuff from my old place, new stuff I collected for this place and stuff I bought since moving in - and some of my dad's tools)
and back down to 882 sq feet...
(just me holding up a pole for my ikea bed that I had already paid for a substitute replacement because I couldn't find it in the sea of "stuff")
I lived in these spaces completely alone until 9 months ago when my brand new husband moved his "stuff" in with mine. 1.5x the "stuff" in about 3/4 the space. Our first place together was basically on the brink of becoming an out-of-control mess at any second every waking hour of every day. Okay, okay, okay - this is a free stock-photo of a messy room... but it was basically getting to this point in some rooms.
I remember looking at a picture of the model-apartment, perfectly staged to show how large the space could be... and thinking that it's so beautiful... but so unrealistic.
So one night we see the Netflix Minimalism movie and both become completely wrapped up in what we decide will be our fairytale life, our escape, what we were born for: a tiny house. With many late-night discussions, mid-day planning sessions and far too many Saturday YouTube and tiny-house-blog/listing site marathons - we decide that we need about 6 months to make this leap. The only way to make that deadline real was to put it in writing... on our expiring lease.
Today, September 23rd, we are almost 1 month in and have released ourselves of about 1/4 of our possessions. We have Craigslisted, donated, recycled, repurposed or simply thrown away as much as we can handle parting with. In some ways it seems like we've gotten rid of nothing, in other ways it feels like we've lost 1/4 of our subconscious body weight. So far in this journey, I've noticed a few things. #1 - I had to change a few paradigms about why I "need" to keep things. #2 - I have literally felt happier with each day. #3 - making sure my house reflects the changes is necessary to the overall process. I'm starting this blog to chart our progress, share helpful things we've learned and hopefully inspire others who are as skeptical as I used to be.
#1 - There are so many reasons I use to justify holding on to something... but most of the time, it's all bull. I did myself a favor and sat down to reflect on why the stress of having so much stuff is somehow more comfortable than the benefits of letting it go. One of the findings is that I am so desperate to appear established that I'll buy stuff I don't even necessarily like just to keep up that appearance. When I was in school, I was younger than most of my friends and much shorter, so I always felt the need to prove that I was just as good at the other kids in my class. I am a normal height now but haven't quite let that complex go. Now that I understand that about myself, it makes it much easier to move past it.
I bought a knife set to show people what an adult kitchen I have. 15 knives and I use 3 consistently. Even worse, the 3 I use I have duplicates of from before I bought the knife set. So I take a moment to say "What is it about a knife set that makes me feel established?" It's the impression that I cook all these worldly, adult foods that require the use of those knives. Established people eat very well, and these knives say I do too. I just sold them on Craigslist for $20. I haven't even missed them. We still cook almost every night and our 3 knives serve us perfectly fine.
#2 - Every day that I push forward with my plans, I feel a sense of peace and freedom I didn't realize was possible. I'm not just freeing myself of the burden of keeping track of, worrying about and protecting my "stuff" - but of the near undetectable, yet overbearingly heavy weight of living up to the expectations that advertising tries to say exist over my head. I have opened my mind up to an entirely new set of life-possibilities. I seriously did not think I would be the kind of person who is able to do this... but it's real and it's happening. I'm also able to pinpoint my struggles.
For example: I can get rid of my life-time collection of yarn with almost no regrets because the yarn doesn't define me, the creativity that the yarn suggests does, and there are so many other ways that my creativity manifests in my life. However, I can't stomach donating or selling some pairs of ergonomic shoes I never wear. I'm still working on figuring out why. It's through cutting out the extra that I have a direct line of sight into issues I would otherwise completely avoid facing. It's too easy to surround myself with things that help build a protective wall against other people's impressions, my insecurities and my anxiety. When I start removing the "fluff" bricks and get down to the nitty-gritty, it allows me to face off with those problems and find peace, fulfillment and self-love.
#3 - No one chooses to hit rock bottom, but a vast majority of people who have hit it build their entire life story from that one point. Everyone wants the clean slate with the chance to build from the ground up - but people will go to great lengths to avoid being uncomfortable... and most of us are not going to deliberately throw ourselves into a rock bottom situation unless we have nothing to lose. So many movies are based on this idea. Usually something terrible happens to the main character - they lose something drastic - it could be anything from someone they love to something they have wrapped their identity up in working towards. They spend the rest of the movie dealing with all their "stuff" and then, the happy ending comes when they're fixed! Now I understand that I can have that happy ending without the painful beginning, Joel and I just have to set deadlines and be willing to suffer a little discomfort while going through the process. Being that we don't have a tragic catalyst, we give ourselves little hard-deadlines (like inviting someone over) and just work to those. At first it either looked like we didn't do anything at all or worse than before (due to all the stuff I pulled out but haven't sorted). It's a slow and steady process and one thing I've learned is that being able to see my progress makes all the difference. I chose a designated "clean" area and a designated "stuff on deck" area and I'm sticking to it for my own sanity. As I happily sit here in my minimalist-appearing living room, I get all the happies I deserve from all the hard work I've been doing without having to rush through the next room's Mt. Stuffmore I'm tackling tomorrow. I'm grateful for the mini breaks so that I can recharge and push forward. I just took a picture to compare to the model apartment... not too far off!
(my living room is on the left... I think the reason I was so interested in the staged apartment was because my furniture and decor was so similar).
Things that have greatly helped me to stop buying as much stuff while trying to get rid of stuff I already bought:
a. I watched Madmen and got inside the heads of advertisers so they can't get to me as easily. I saw how powerful, ugly and heartless it all truly is.
b. I always second guess if there's a way for me to solve whatever problems a new product will solve with resources I already have. I constantly watch lifehacks for fun and look for multi-use items.
c. I rid myself of accidental collections. wine corks, pillows, cups, cables, condiment packages, junk mail... It's a tiny step, but gets the ball rolling. It was a quick way to see how much stuff I could actually live without and how quickly those collections can re-grow if I'm not paying attention.
The TL;DR version of what I've learned so far: The process is as much physical as it is emotional, and the only way it works is to be reflective, be present and be deliberate - and never let any of those three consume more of your time than the other two.