I can’t say that I have ever been a “pack rat.” But I am a sentimentalist and I am a realist. This means I was often saving things for a rainy day. You never know what curves life will throw you, so you should always be prepared.
It all started with books – I enjoy reading books, researching and studying. So I had kept all my books from high school, because I never knew when I would need them again.
Then I moved on to college and began saving all the papers I wrote for classes, because I might want to refer back to them at some point. I was getting prepared for the future.
Then there were the recipes I had cut out from magazines, newspapers and printed from the internet, plus all the wonderful cookbooks I had collected. I liked cooking and wanted to have a family some day, so I figured recipes would likely come in handy.
I also held onto clothes that I didn’t like, because they looked like something I could wear for a job someday. What job I didn’t know, but I was being prepared and practical
During college I moved frequently between my home state and the college town where I lived during the school year. I felt weighted down by all of this stuff I had accumulated, but I couldn’t get rid of my collection.
I was worried I would regret it someday when I needed that extra pair of shoes or the paper I wrote on child development sophomore year. Then, everything changed.
An Important Lesson
In junior year I went to the Navajo Reservation and spent six months living in the middle of the desert.
I brought with me only a sleeping bag and a backpack with two pairs of pants, several shirts, a week’s worth of underwear and socks, one pair of shoes, one wool sweater and a coat. I lived with a family who had very little in terms of material goods and I learned not to waste anything.
It was the most important lesson of my life.
I learned to prioritize. I learned that material goods do not bring happiness and I realized I did not need much to be happy. I brought those lessons back home with me and I began to de-clutter my life.
I got rid of things that I didn’t like – clothes, shoes, books, knick-knacks, pillows, blankets, sheets, whatever. I knew other people who needed these things more than I did. So why not give these things to them?
I looked at every possession I had with a critical eye. If I hesitated even for a second, it went to charity.
I began to feel lighter and freer. This opened up more options to me. If I wanted to move somewhere else, or had an opportunity to travel, it would be easy for me. I was no longer weighed down by all this stuff.
It became an addiction – I wanted to get rid of more and more. I weeded out the things I did like. I kept only truly sentimental pieces or things I could not imagine living without.
My goal was to be able to fit all of my belongings (minus furniture) into my car. I wanted to be mobile, flexible and adaptive. I would no longer be held down by my possessions. I wanted to free up my life and my money.
A Pound Of Cure?
I moved on to the next step: prevention. I adopted a buying policy – I pledged not to buy anything unless it was absolutely necessary. Nothing was bought on credit anymore. I only bought things I could pay on cash or debit.
This worked fine until I needed to have some repairs on my car. I charged it to my credit card and I felt trapped again, suffocating. So I thought about it for a long time.
My fiancée and I were planning a big move – from Vermont to Florida. He had a car and we didn’t need two as we were both planning to do freelance work, mostly from home.
So I sold my car, got rid of that big debt. He sold his house, another burden gone from our shoulders. Then we began the process of cleaning out his house, applying all my clutter policies to his belongings as well.
We donated to charity three quarters of our belongings. Many of the things we gave away we would not need in a warmer climate – heavy bedspreads, trunks of blankets, winter boots, goretex coats, gloves, hats and tools, lawnmowers, snow shovels and fertilizer spreaders.
Not only were we planning to downsize our possessions, we were downsizing our lives.
When you get rid of things you don’t need, it opens the door for the universe to give you what you really desire. We decided we needed to de-clutter our lives so we could make a new start.
But we wanted to take it even further – to lessen our dependence on the matrix of external control through money and debt. We want to get off the grid. We want control over our own lives.
Finding Your Freedom
Without debt and huge investments holding you down, your life is fluid. The less money you owe others, the more you can travel, help other people, move to another country, retire early, and more.
With this understanding, we made a joint decision to stop working for other people in favor of our own projects and dreams. We knew we would have to make sacrifices initially, but if we didn’t do something drastic…we would stay trapped.
We sat down, made a budget and figured out how long it would take to pay off our debt. And then how much we would need per month to live the kind of life we want – nothing extravagant, but comfortable.
In order to reach that goal we can’t spend money on things that are not part of this new life.
We would use our money towards getting rid of our debts and then for things we really want from life – things like traveling, organic healthier foods, quality clothes and equipment, and more time to helping others.
Now we are conscious of all we buy. We splurge on the occasional treat, but we are aware of it, plan for it and work around it. (Everyone needs a break once in a while).
This all started from my desire to release that heavy feeling I had when I got back from the Navajo Reservation, my desire to live a freer, less complicated life. That inner knowledge that I just didn’t need all of this stuff I was carrying around.
If you want to de-clutter you life, start by prioritizing your life. What do you want from life? Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Once you start you’ll realize this journey is a work in progress. You learn there is much more to clear away than you first thought. If you have clear goals in mind, it can make the work much easier, but realize there is no way around it.
I still have a long way to go. But at least each step feels lighter.