Less stuff, more meaning

motorcycle on narrow road

It’s been almost six months and yes, I’ve lost a little steam, but no, I haven’t given up.

I’ve continued to whittle down my wardrobe to just five button-down shirts, two jackets, three pairs of jeans, four Smartwool shirts, and a handful of t-shirts. I went from almost a dozen pairs of Chuck Taylors down to three. I’ve still got a lot of work to do on my socks. I don’t know why, but I just can’t bring myself to go there, as if I might – or they might – run out on me.

I haven’t bought anything new since – no strike that. I haven’t bought any new clothing or shoes or socks or undergarments or hats or things to wear since January. But I did buy a new bike.

In my attempt to cut down on gasoline consumption coupled with my desire to ride a motorbike, after much debating, I finally purchased a little Honda Ruckus. However, I did sell all of of my other so called transportations possessions, with the exception of my little GTI, before I bought it, including two road long boards, a beautiful Specialized road bike, a skateboard, and did I mention all those shoes?

With the purchase of the scooter came a few other possessions, mainly a helmet, faux leather jacket and gloves, all for safety. Because my closet was cleaner and more austere than ever, it was easy to find a spot for each. The helmet looks badass on the shelf where once upon a time too many pairs of mom-jeans sat folded and unused.

On the whole, I feel good about the new possessions because every time I get on that bike, I smile. I feel alive and happy. I have fun. Most people who ride a motorbike will tell you there is something wonderfully therapeutic about the experience. It’s inexplainable but palpable and real. One day we might want to swap Xanax or Zoloft or Prozac or Percocet for a an hour or just thirty minutes on a bike to see the results. Imagine the possibilities.

But back to the acquisition of the bike. It’s made my commute so much more fun and in some ways meaningful. It’s a strange paradox. By getting rid of so much clutter, so many other possessions, I had space to think and feel and figure out that I truly wanted a bike. Then take the action to go get one.

I wanted to reduce my petrol consumption and usage and increase fun and meaningful life experiences. Now, I get to do all of it while doing something that was once mundane, like commuting to and from work. My commute is mundane no more. It’s an adventure.

As the summer progresses, I’ll continue to reduce my possessions as promised in my New Years resolution. Those socks – at least thirty or forty pairs – need a little thinning out to start with. And while I’m doing that, who knows what other epiphanies or grand adventures await.


 


A minimalist three weeks in

My New Year’s resolution is to go minimalist. I know what you’re thinking resolutions are silly, senseless, and seriously ineffective. But I’m not trying to be a minimalist forever, you know, just for a year. Forever seems impossible, but a year is finite. I mean I can do anything for a year.

Over the past few months, I’ve read several books on minimalism and started decluttering as a way to test the waters. I put a few possessions on three resale websites: letgo.com, eBay and Craigslist and wrote about it. The short story is if you price it right, it’ll sell. I also recalled a terribly vivid dream I had many years ago, and now I can’t shake it.

Three weeks ago as part of my New Years resolution kickoff, I started an inventory of my possessions. And I’m still working on it. The amount of stuff I’ve accumulated and stored in various drawers, closets, shelves, nooks, crannies, plastic bins, and storage boxes is staggering. It’s not simply the number of like items I own – how many pairs of running socks or Saucony shoes or copies of Into the Wild does a person really need. But also the sheer quantity of total possessions. I must have thousands and thousands of things.

Overall, I’m a fairly non-materialistic person. Expensive cars, clothes, and shoes don’t really do it for me. I wear almost the same getup every day. I put on the same Arc’teryx hoody, same Levi’s jeans, same puffy vest, and same SmartWool shirt only in a different color most days. When I feel like really mixing it up, I sport a button down shirt under a Uniqlo sweater. I don’t think there is a person more boring than I am when it comes to clothing. Even though I don’t wear a ton of variety, I still have a lot of clothing, shoes, belts, hoodies, etc. taking up space.

Let’s talk about books. I love them. All of them. When we moved from Chicago to San Francisco, I gave away or sold over three hundred books I had collected since college. All of my hardback copies of Stephen King and first editions. All of my dog-eared paperbacks. Even the small collection of spiritual books that I read and reread almost annually. I took with me only a few of my absolute favorites and a couple of cookbooks that were too expensive (and never sold) for me to be able to part with them in good conscience. In the five years since, I’ve accumulated another hundred or so books. And another hundred plus live somewhere on Amazon’s cloud or downloaded to my iPad.

Little did I know back then in Chicago that selling or donating those old books would be my first taste of what it feels like to embrace minimalism. I recall feeling good to see people dropping a few bucks on my coffee table while smiling ear-to-ear in anticipation of reading the story inside the book tucked under an arm or placed in a bag. I don’t really know if that’s minimalism exactly, but I want to keep exploring it.

During my initial inventory sweep, I picked out and sold or donated over fifty of my possessions ranging from books (again) to fitness gear to shirts, shoes, and suits. And it’s felt good.

In fact, every time I remove an item that I no longer need or use, the physical space that opens up on a shelf or inside a closet also opens up a figurative space inside my head, heart, and lungs. Space in my head to organize my thoughts, space in my heart to be more open to others, and space in my lungs to take in life a little more fully. It’s the strangest thing, but I can’t complain about feeling better.

Experts say the third week in January is just about the time when New Years resolutions usually go to pot and old habits come roaring back. But I feel even more driven to stick with it. 2018 is my year of minimalism. Let’s see if I’m this optimistic when I have to declutter my camping gear.

In the meantime, onward and upward with a lot less stuff and clutter.


Take Only What You Love

Many years ago, I found myself in the driver’s seat of a little car like a Fiat or an older tiny Ford Escort hatchback. It was packed to the brim, incredibly cluttered and disorganized. Boxes, papers, toys, stuffed animals, and other unidentifiable items filled the car to the rooftop. I was driving the car. Confused about what I was doing driving a packed car, it dawned on me that this mess and this vehicle belonged to me. I couldn’t out any of the windows because they were blocked by all of the stuff. The car swerved and swayed as I attempted to get a handle on it. I felt like I was driving one of those cartoon trucks, think 101 Dalmatians the cartoon movie, all over the road. It was so difficult to concentrate on driving that I was undoubtedly headed for a crash.

Suddenly, I remembered there was a baby in the backseat. Oh no, a baby was buried somewhere under all this stuff. She’s buried and can’t breathe and I probably killed her. Oh God, please, baby, don’t be dead. I pulled the car over and ran around to the back driver’s side door, swung it open, and started pulling things out of the car. Like a dog kicking up sand, my arms moved swiftly as I unburied the baby in the backseat. First I saw a pink sleeve, then a small hand, and finally, there, under all my stuff, sat an unmoving baby with her eyes closed. Oh no, I killed her. She suffocated under all this stuff. I unbuckled her out of the carrier and pulled her to me. She was warm, but still unresponsive. Come on, baby, come on. I’m here. I’m sorry. You’re okay, I told her. I held her in my arms and talked to her, cuddled her, and felt her move. She squirmed a little and stretched. She was alive. She was going to be okay.

I woke up in a hot flash and lay still in bed trying to decide if any of that actually happened. I almost killed a baby with boxes and other useless stuff in my car. No, I thought, it was only a dream. I didn’t have a baby and I didn’t have that car. But what did it mean? I supposed it symbolized something. It felt so real that it must be the heavens sending me a wake up call. Think. You minored in psychology, try to remember, what did dreams mean?

I guessed that the vehicle in the dream represented my life or my body and mind. It was a container holding a mix of precious cargo and crap. There was way too much stuff I was carrying around. I was scattered and my small life, possibly small mind, was cluttered with mostly useless things. Under all of the junk, I had an amazing, valuable, beautiful baby. The baby represented the best part of my life, joy, happiness, potential – all the things a baby embodies and it was buried. I almost smothered it with the other useless junk in my life or mind.

After thinking through this, it wasn’t like I hopped out of bed that morning and got right down to cleaning out my crap. In fact, I did almost nothing. Not out of spite or disbelief but because I doubted myself and people have weird dreams all the time. I had a lot of work to do and bills to pay and I’m sure my subconscious hadn’t taken any of that into consideration. In fact, I wasn’t really sure exactly what the dream was telling me. And in a couple of days, I had forgotten all about it. Never said I was a quick study.

Eventually, I connected the dream back to my life, and it reinforced my thinking and actions when I had already started the process of decluttering. It wasn’t until I had had the mind shift and discovered what I didn’t know then but now has the name, minimalism, that I could point back to that dream and say, there, that’s when deep down I knew even though at the time it wasn’t in my waking consciousness, something needed to change.

Today I’ve only just started figuring out what minimalism means in my own life, but it feels a lot like what my grandmother told me many years ago when I was a just a teenager. She said, “Take only what you love from your life and leave everything else behind. Make yourself a beautiful life.”

It was the best advice I’ve ever received.


Favorite apps for decluttering

Adventure doesn’t always need to be about travel, cage diving with great white sharks, or trekking to Everest. Recently, I’ve taken on a new exploit spurred by the minimalist movement. Decluttering.

A couple of years ago, I read the New York Times bestselling book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. It interested me, and the idea of items sparking joy in order to stay in the house made me smile. I never thought about my stuff sparking joy, but it’s a charming way to think about the things we own. Or, depending on your view, the things that own us. Much of the rest of Kondo’s book I found a little out there. However, I took one big life-changing tip from it: folding clothing sideways so t-shirts look like books inside drawers. This little gem has been super helpful in both creating space and finding folded clothing quickly. Outside of that, I kind of forgot about the book until I came upon a newer book called Goodbye, Things: The New Japanese Minimalism by Fumio Sasaki.

In this quick read, the author shares his own experience going from an unhappy, somewhat of a drunk “maximalist” to a happier, healthier minimalist. I can’t say I feel unhappy with the things I own, but I do feel scattered. There is so much vying for our attention including our things, it’s hard to really focus on just one at a time. Even while reading the book, I found myself doing other things trying to stay productive while consuming information, as if reading a book isn’t enough to do at one single time.

Anyway, applying a few of his recommendations, namely leveraging auction and resale apps or websites to sell some of the things that no longer sparked joy, I tried letgo, eBay, and the old standby Craigslist to get rid of stuff. Here’s what I found:

It seemed like all the cool kids were on letgo, so I tried it for myself by posting a ruggedized camera. It was easy to take a picture from the app, post it for sale, pop in a dollar amount and bam, wait for the offers to roll in. But that’s where things got a little iffy. No offers or chats rolled in. I got one message asking if the camera was in good condition, in which I responded promptly. Yes, it is, only used once, never dropped or submerged in water. Then, nothing. She never responded back and no one else bothered. Overall, I think this is a great place to get rid of free stuff or simple, straightforward items quickly, the kind that don’t need a lot of explanation, like an article of clothing, baseball card, or dresser.

eBay worked best for reaching a large audience and shipping smaller, easily packed items. I put the same camera mentioned above on eBay’s auction site and it was bid on in the first seventy-two hours. Unlike letgo, there’s ample amount of space to put in details for the product, it even has a search engine that helps you find your item and makes a suggestion on how much to sell it for based on what’s sold in the recent past. In my opinion, eBay is where you can make the most money, if that’s your goal and you’re willing to take the time and energy to pack your stuff securely, make a trip to the post office, and understand/be comfortable with eBay taking a cut of the sale.

Craigslist worked wonders for me when I lived in Chicago. There are so many people near you in the city, the odds are someone is looking for what you’re selling. Over the years, I sold multiple bikes, a snowboard, even a Kitchen Aid, and had great success. Living on the peninsula in the suburbs outside San Jose, I didn’t quite have the same success. The bicycle I posted has been on the site for many weeks, me faithfully renewing each week, bringing the price down with every passing week without a nibble. And it’s not the price, it’s listed for a little more than half of what I paid for it only four months ago – and it’s been for sale for one of those months. But I have had success with cheaper items that I didn’t want to ship like a couple of skateboards. They were also dirt cheap, but this is a skateboard kinda town.

There are other websites and apps that can help you get rid of the stuff that doesn’t spark joy, of which, I didn’t test out. Going wider than three apps seemed like a maximalist thing to do. But if you’ve got a success story on a different app or website, let’s hear about it in the comments.