What I learned from packing; a new life philosophy

The experience of packing for our approaching move has led me on a journey of discovery. It began on Pinterest, where I started (obsessively) looking for clever organization tricks. The apartment we are currently living in has a spare room in addition to extremely sizable kitchen, bedroom and living room. There is a lot of space in this place, and we've filled it all with stuff. I was desperate for ideas to fit four rooms worth of stuff into our new tiny one-bedroom apartment.

This led me to cleaning and organizing tips, mainly featuring advice on how to pare down possessions and deal with clutter. And that train of reading finally led me to the minimalist blogging niche. I spent hours perusing The Minimalist Mom, exploring her view on life and possessions. Minimalists have a very Zen philosophy: the more possessions you own, the more you are owned by them. Minimalism is effectively about living with the bare essentials. I read about folks who only own one plate. I read about folks who throw their children's toys in the garbage if they're left on the floor. I read about folks who have scanned and digitized their entire personal library. I read about folks who produced only a handful of trash in a year. Minimalism has a lot of offer a young couple who want to make a move easier - especially when said young couple is considering where they will end up in five years - but to be frank, it's intimidating in its extremes.

"The last thing I want is for someone else to have to throw away my junk! I'd rather leave only skills and memories behind"

The problem is, I like a lot of my stuff. The stuff I like has plenty of benefits, and my life would definitely not be better if I lived without it. Clothing and crafting is a creative outlet. Board games and video games gives us something fun to do with friends (and in this city, there isn't much else!), and having more than two place settings allows us to feed and water guests. Pet supplies keep our animals happy and healthy. I constantly re-read the books on our bookshelves. A desk covered in tools and fiddly electronic bits helps T get school work done, in addition to his personal hobbies. Take any of these things away, and our lives are noticeably more dull.

The typical reasons given for minimalism didn't resonate with me. We don't have children with which we want to spend more time. We don't spend so much time cleaning that it negatively impacts our life. The only debt we have is student loan debt - we don't have a car loan, credit card debt or house. Our standard of living is comfortable - just a little cluttered, is all!

Then, just before I became exasperated with the minimalist philosophy, I found the idea of optimalism. "Don't make due with the minimum amount," the optimalists say, "find the optimal amount. Yes, technically we could all make due with one pot and a wooden spoon, but if it makes your life harder or less enjoyable, don't do it! Aim to find the perfect amount, the perfect balance, of things in your life - not too few or too many. Don't be afraid to be aggressive. Remove the little things that frustrate you and replace them with things that you enjoy."

Ah! Finally, here is something I can get behind. With that in mind, I began sweeping through the apartment. I made a list of things I wanted to replace - a spatula that was hard to clean, a garbage can that took two hands to open (or - more frequently - a hand and foot while I desperately tried to balance on the other foot and hold whatever garbage I had in my other hand). I threw away/donated hundreds of items that we hadn't used or enjoyed in the four years we've lived here - books I knew I would never read again, CDs of outdated OS installs, dried up tubes of paint. It feels... good.

T has been a champ through the whole thing. He's a pack rat by nature, and it's very difficult for him to let things go. Some part of his brain just screams "But it used to be worth money! It still works, we could use it in the future! What if I want to look at it again and it's not there!" We've compromised by putting a bunch of stuff "in storage" (AKA at his parents' house). He still has a lot of clothing, and binders full of old school notes, but hey... one step at a time.

So here's my new philosophy: I'm not going to put up with "good enough" if I don't have to. Getting rid of things I don't use and love makes it easier for me to get at the things I DO love. And, of course, the most beneficial part of this is in acquiring new possessions. Even before now, I've made a conscious effort to stop buying things just because they're cheap. (You'd think it would be easier to resit a pair of shoes on sale for $5, especially if the heel is a little ugly, but you'd be wrong) So I'm going to continue to apply that philosophy even more... especially making sure to get rid of the original when replacing things. (Like the vacuum cleaner. And the laser printer. And the camera. *cough*) Then, we bring fewer things into the apartment in the first place, and so the need to eliminate and declutter eventually subsides.

Decluttering tips


So, with two weeks left, I haven't done any packing. What I have done is begun removing all the things we won't be wanting or needing in the new apartment. By next week, I hope to have nothing but the "good stuff" left behind, which I will then pack up in boxes. One great tip for this kind of paring down is to touch everything. I found that by removing everything from its container, drawer or closet, I was less tempted to leave it for "later." I forced myself to look at everything and evaluate it on the spot.

The second tip that really helped was not just to purge things I didn't want, but rather to set aside the things I really wanted to keep. If you only get rid of the things you definitely don't like, you're left with a sizable pile of things that you only kinda like; taking out the things you definitely want to keep will result in a smaller "keep" pile! (This is especially useful for clothing, jewelry and craft supplies!)

The last tip I read about was, don't purchase organization supplies until after you've done your organizing. You won't know until after your purge and re-organization what kind of storage you will need. If I had done all my supply shopping beforehand, I never would have realized that I really needed a CD box, a seal-able glass jar... and that I'd have ten empty bins, boxes and baskets.

I discovered the benefit of labeling everything. I borrowed a label maker and put something like ten labels on each plastic bin, listing what was inside. That way, if I wanted to know where, for example, I had stashed an extra jar of buttons, I didn't have to dig through three bins of things that came from the craft room.

Have you done a declutter, or just a move before? What things helped you the most?

7 things about

What I learned from packing; a new life philosophy
  1. Hardest thing I had to do when moving in with C was to get rid of "doubles". I LOVE my stuff. I saved to buy the bed I wanted. The PS3. Everything good we had two of. Right now I havee kept some of my stuff in the spare room, but passed on some to family and charity. Next move may find us in a small one bedroom, and I dread the purging we will have to do.

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    1. Yes, duplicates! Luckily, the only duplicates we have are books; we bought all our "big stuff" together (or borrowed it from his parents). Too bad long-term storage really isn't that cheap!

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  2. we're purging for our move to the DR right now. it sure feels good to get rid of stuff. i've never known that feeling before. i like it!

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    1. It really does feel good! And you find so many treasures, right? Things that you love but forgot you had, because they were hidden behind all the junk.

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  3. We DIDN'T purge/organize when we moved back in January, we just hurriedly shoved everything in boxes. So now... in May... we still have a bunch of intimidating boxes sitting around, waiting to get unpacked. I'm tempted to just not open them & drop them all off at a thrift store. I also just opened up every single link in this article into a new tab... going to come back to this tomorrow and "study."

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    1. I'm warning you, it's absolutely addictive! I've started reading Martha Stewart's website and taking it seriously. 0_o

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  4. YEAH MARTHA!!!!! She's my fave!! And only in a 15% ironic hipster way, the rest is totally geniune ; )

    I've got batshit insane "nesting hormones" going on and cleaned our apartment this whoooole freaking weekend. Your links are only fueling the fire. My full-time job ended today (YESYESYESYES) and I know what I'm going to be doing for the next 5 weeks. I don't know if I've ever been more excited about anything. Incredible timing, m'dear.

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