I’ve always prided on myself as being someone who gets by on less stuff. I’ll credit my theater background: moving from month-to-month having to take theater gigs meant you could only possess what would fit in a suitcase or in your car. I managed to hold onto this minimalism for years until I bought my first home in the summer of 2013.

When you buy a house…people will start “gifting” you things to help “fill it up.” Sometimes it will be actual gifts and other times it will be things they can’t bear to donate or throw away. At first it felt good. After all, receiving gifts is awesome, and as a personal finance blogger who never wants to spend money I don’t have to, I love freebies as much as the next person.

But somewhere around the time I came home from NYC, and decided to sell my home, I began to feel suffocated by all my possessions. Literally, suffocated.

Feeling restless and in need of a change, I turned to the internet for help. So, I began to declutter my own life. Here’s what I learned.

Getting Rid of All Your Stuff: You May Need a Buffer Period

I listed my home rather quickly, but that time included a lot of projects on the house and sprucing up rooms to make them more attractive to buyers. Part of the listing process is intentionally taking down your possessions so that people can “imagine” their own items in your house.

Doing this spawned a full out purge throughout my home. Some things were easy to trash and give away. Others I felt torn about and so I remembered a trick I often do with my seasonal clothes and something Cait recently did with her move.

  1. I put everything I’m “on the fence” about keeping in my closet into a bag.
  2. I don’t touch it for six months (or roughly two seasons).
  3. When I take it back out, I instantly know if it is something I have missed and want to keep or if I can toss it. 98% of the time, I toss.

I started boxing up my own possessions and within a month I knew if I wanted to continue to keep them in my home. Sometimes you just need a little buffer period to release and let go.

“I May Need that One Day” is a Lame Excuse

I love my Mom, but she’s the Queen of, “But I may need that one day.” And 95% of the time, she’s right. If she holds onto it long enough, chances are she’ll need it again. It’s how we’ve furnished so many houses and apartments over the years. (Thanks Mom!)

I’ve always prided myself on being a purger. (See the time I spent as a professional organizer in college as proof!) I even have a “one in, one out” rule for my closet.

But just because I’m good at purging doesn’t mean I don’t hold on to more than I should.

Last weekend I went on a huge Fall shopping spree and bought 15 new items, which meant that 15 items currently in my closet had to go.  As I was putting my new clothes away, my hands fell on a bunch of my old “office clothes” I used to wear on a weekly basis back when I had a full time corporate job. I haven’t worn those items since, but I found myself repeating my mother’s mantra in my head.

“I may need these clothes just in case I decide to go back to work some day.”

And then I realized I was holding onto these clothes because maybe…sometimes…I don’t actually believe I’ll ever really be able to make it as my own boss.

It may sound a little dramatic to have such a big self-realization in a tiny closet, but it’s the God’s honest truth. The reality of it washed over me in waves: I’ll never actually be a success if I keep planning on failure.

And so went 15 of my snazziest office items to the “donate” pile.

Items Carry Emotional Baggage Too

During the purge I noticed a number of items reminded me of a time in my life I’d rather forget. And I have for the most part put that time behind me, but it’s hard to look at an item or piece of furniture and not think about where it comes from or what it meant.

Why was I holding onto these items? Because I’m cheap and didn’t want to replace. And I didn’t think it bothered me; but truthfully, getting rid of them felt better than cleaning out any of the other items.

Yes, it’ll cost money to replace these items, (I’m talking about a lot of furniture I bought/received when I first moved into this house) but at least when I do I’ll be able to pick out brand new things that I love and choose them on my own terms.

There’s Nothing Like the Unexpected….

I don’t want to go into too many details, but my brother and I recently lost a number of items we put into storage. Was it really upsetting? Not really, because most of the items were in storage for a reason; chief among them being that they weren’t being used.

We had to throw most of what was ruined away and no one shed a tear.  Once it all sat in trash bags, with the space around us so clean and tidy, we wondered why we even kept that stuff in the first place.

It Feels Good to Purge

I like to look at every item I’m giving away as one less thing I have to worry about.

Thanks to my great “summer” purge, I now have 226 less reasons to worry and am running 23% leaner. (Meaning I gave away 23% of my belongings) It felt freeing. Try it.

For now I feel comfortable with what I’ve done but would like to keep going: selling off the bulk of my furniture after I get rid of my house and no longer need those items for staging, continuing to phase out my “Corporate Lauren” clothing, and digitizing my files so I no longer need to keep stacks of paper copies.

I think it is important to yes, spend mindfully and consume less, but also become comfortable with using items for when you need them and they serve you, and then letting them go when those reasons no longer apply.

In the end it’s not so much what (or how much of it) you’re keeping, but why you’re keeping it.

 

getting rid of all your stuff

 

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  • Cashville Skyline

    I totally suffer from the “I may need that one day” mindset. And I’m looking forward to pursuing my own decluttering journey this winter. Congrats on getting rid of almost a fourth of your stuff 🙂

  • I also get trapped by “I might need that one day”. So much so that my closets are full to the brim and I can’t actually find the things I need when “one day” comes. I have gone so far as to repurchase items that I know I had and just couldn’t get to easily enough! Granted they were inexpensive items, but who wants to buy stuff they already own and rarely use?!? My wife and I started a decluttering phase right before the holidays last year, and unfortunately, it’s fallen by the wayside. Time to move it up on the priority list.

    • I think there is a huge emphasis in our culture on valuing the “free” and “cheap” and “easy” options like keeping things we rarely/never use instead of focusing on what is going to help us live better lives. I’m glad you have a purging partner in your wife!

  • I’m definitely guilty of the “Well, I used that once before so I might need it again”. I’m in the middle of a big basement cleanup and I’ve gotten rid of a lot of things when I’ve forced myself to dismiss that logic as a reason to keep something. So far, out of everything I’ve thrown or given away, I’ve missed exactly zero items.

    • Exactly. Out of site, out of mind. Sometimes I can get carried away with my purges and purge an item or two I really wish I hadn’t thrown out, but that’s okay. Part of the process.

  • Cait Flanders

    Oh yes, the work clothes… I’d been holding onto a few pairs of work pants + many shirts/sweaters, even though I hadn’t sat at a corporate-type of desk job since August 2012! I’m glad you found it in you to get rid of some of that stuff. 226 less reasons to worry is right! That’s also 226 less things to tidy up, organize and clean <– think about that!

    • Thanks Cait! So glad I’m getting the chance to catch up with you here at #FinCon15 🙂

  • I’m in the process of beginning a big purge. I have been getting rid of things for the past year and every time I get rid of something I feel so FREE!! I think that I have a lot of things that hold energy from the past that I don’t want to hold onto anymore.

    • Where does it all fit in the hobbit shire?

      • I actually don’t have a ton of stuff so it fits…but, I want to do Scandinavian levels of minimalism tehe!

  • Kendal

    Oh man, I love a good decluttering! I was also incredibly inspired by The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up and Cait’s posts about minimalism. I purged my closet and books, but have since taken an unexpected hiatus. I plan to purchase the book in paperback form (if I love it and value it, it’s not clutter, right?) and read it again to get re-inspired. 226 items is a feat – well done!

    • Thank you. Keeping a list of what I was getting rid of was an important part of the process as well. I got rid of that much stuff and it didn’t feel like anything at all…and I was like, man I have a LOT of stuff.

  • Tre

    Sometimes it’s hard to get rid of the stuff you are emotionally attached to, even though you know there is no logical reason to keep it.

    • I am having a hard time purging some of my childhood possessions I never ever look at , or even use, but still want to hold onto for sentimental reasons.

      • Rt

        Stuff like that, find the right lock box…..stow it in your closet and hand it down to your kids.

  • Dia

    Love this Lauren. I am moving in November and started purging my closet this weekend. I am bad about, “I might need it one day,” but I had to realize I won’t need my t-shirt from high school or that jean jumper I wore when I dressed up as a safari guide for a party in college.So far I have purged 5 donation bags and 1 resell bag. I worked at Macy’s for 3 years so that has not helped my closet problem. It is refreshing just knowing that I’ll have less to move and less clutter when trying to find the pieces I actually wear. I’m also hoping I might make a few bucks on the nicer things I’m grown out of (physically and emotionally).

    • I have a smaller closet now, but I wear my items more. Also helps me put together outfits better. I’m all for a small closet!

  • I too have been inspired by Cait and I’ve been slowly purging things all summer. It’s been a journey as I tackle different things and I think I’m getting better at realizing what I really enjoy and value. It’s also been about acceptance as I accept things like, “I don’t like wearing skinny jeans, and that’s ok.”

    • I think sometimes we buy things as an experiment (which is totally Okay) but we need to accept when that experiment fails and moves on. I love your mentality!

  • Amy @ a h u s e t

    For me this is the epitome of living in a space that is larger than I need for basic survival. Now, I’m always going to be living in a space bigger than that because this is modern life, but its just a reminder to re-evaluate often to ensure the level of ‘stuff’ isn’t expanding to fill the space just because it can.

    On another note, I’m excited to follow your house selling journey!

  • Having a bunch of material possessions (or, let’s say, clutter) actually affects your subconscious. While we do experience pain when we give something away, the pain of having a bunch of stuff that occupies mental space is much greater. The fewer things we have, in general, the happier we are. Plus, selling stuff gives us money to spend on experiences, which will make us happier overall.

    There is one caveat to the stuff = unhappiness formula: if you have a possession that is tied to a mental experience, than having that possession will help you trigger those memories, which will make you happier. It’s not the possession itself, per se, which makes you happier, but, rather, the mental association to the experience that made you happy in the first place.

    If you want to read more, Lifehacker has an excellent article on how clutter clutters your mind: http://lifehacker.com/how-clutter-affects-your-brain-and-what-you-can-do-abo-662647035