Francine Jay (Miss Minimalist) mentioned something in her book "The Joy of Less" that rattled me and will stick with me forever: she asked readers to imagine tying one end of a string an item you own, and then tie the other end to a part of your body. Imagine doing this for literally every single item. This includes every sock, every fork, every pen, every bathroom product, every DVD, everything packed in those boxes in your attic. Would you feel trapped and weighed down by your possessions? Jay's book goes on to explain in further detail how to pare down your stuff so you can help lift that burden. It's a short read and I highly recommend it for anyone anywhere who buys things (in short, everyone).Over the weekend, I severed a lot of those strings. Just in time for the season of "buying"--- the season of "giving" doesn't have to involve layaways and credit card payments, in my opinion--- I took an entire truckload of my possessions to Goodwill. I wrote down each item as I packed it so I could itemize the list for tax purposes later on. My mom was in town for a visit, so we loaded up her SUV to full capacity and drove it to the nearest donation center. It felt like a huge weight had been pulled off of me as I watched men haul away half a dozen garbage bags full of clothes. They lifted from me boxes of household items, outdoor gear, Christmas decorations, bedding, and DVDs. (I even saw someone donating a pair os skis! How cool is that?) I also have a box full of books, but I plan to donate them to my local library.
I came home, feeling great not just for giving someone else the opportunity to own and appreciate those items, I felt great for me... for my journey towards owning less and valuing what I do have.
Then I looked around my house and realized I'd only made a small dent in what I hope to eventually accomplish. Everywhere I looked, I started thinking "Do I really need that?" "I could get rid of that." "Could I sell that on eBay?"
Once I had parted with a fairly significant amount of stuff, I caught the bug. I wanted to have even fewer possessions. So I went through my closet again. I pulled another two garbage bags worth of shirts and dresses and pants to donate. I filtered through my shoes, throwing out my favorite pair of heels because they were so worn that they barely held together. I pulled boxes out of my basement storage and photographed more toys to post for auction online.
Still, it's not enough. I want to keep going. My first itemized donation was valued at over $700. That sounds great, but it also means I initially paid far more than that to own those things. The earth's resources were used to make those items. Energy was expended to make them, package them, ship them, clean them, fix them. And then there's the depreciation value of market price versus what they are worth upon donation. If I had been more discerning about my buying in the first place, I would have reduced my impact in all of those areas.
It is never too late to start freeing yourself from the cycle of spending, owning, and purging. In this upcoming holiday season, I challenge you to be very discerning of what you choose to buy. If you do make purchases, I recommend shopping at local establishments to help support community businesses. But don't feel compelled to buy just for the sake of it. Just because it is the popular thing to do this time of year doesn't mean it is mandatory, or even beneficial. Please consider giving homemade gifts or the gift of quality time over buying more stuff.
Remember, you could have more money in your bank account. You could have less clutter in your home. You could spend less time cleaning and fixing things, less time wrapping gifts, less time in the crowded store where you tempt the notion to buy even more than you really need. On a macro level, you could reduce the use of precious non-renewable resources. You could reduce your energy consumption and dependency on foreign oil used to power the factories that manufacture your purchases and the trucks that ship them to their destinations. You could reduce waste in landfills caused by throwing away packaging, or eventually even the items themselves when you're done with them.
(Even donating your goods doesn't necessarily mean those former purchases are going to be repurposed. Sometimes donation centers get overwhelmed and they need to sort through what they get, getting rid of some of it. And then where do you suppose it goes? That's right... the trash.)
My next donation pile is rapidly growing. I may have to undo a bit of what I've accumulated over the years, but now is as good of a time as any to reverse the process and continue my quest to minimalism.