My decluttering story, or how I went to the edge and back.
I have gotten quite a few requests for my own decluttering story and how I got down to living less than 100 personal items. It actually took me a bit of thinking to remember how it all happened, because it was a process. I think it is very important to recognize that, for most people, getting rid of your stuff is a process, both mentally and physically. The nice part is it is quite easy to turn it into a game, which I would probably name Consumer Candyland. Here is how my game has gone thus far…
Age 16: Got kicked out of house. Move into grandma’s. Lose all possessions that don’t fit into backpack.
Later that year: Get first job. Learn to appreciate things I buy myself. Remain very frugal. Start accumulating a few nice things.
Age 17: Grandma moves away. Move in with best friend to finish my senior year. We combine our things. I don’t buy much, because we don’t have much space. However, between the two of us, we do have a chunk of useless decorative crap. Live surrounded by too much stuff, further aggravating our tense friendship.
Age 18: Get married. Move into apartment. Receive MASSIVE amount of crap from well-wishers. Enough to more than fill tiny apartment. Live this way for a year. Not so great memories from this period.
Age 19: Husband joins Army. I decide to move to San Antonio to be with him. Toss/donate/ditch everything that doesn’t fit into two, large suitcases. Spend the next 9 months living in minimalist bliss. Decide I enjoy living with nothing.
Age 20: Husband discharged. Move back to OR. Find out I’m pregnant. Start accumulating crap all over again because people keep telling me I need things for the baby.
Later that year: Have baby. Realize most of the stuff I got for the baby is useless. Decide electric breast pump would have been a much better investment. Given one later by some miracle.
Age 21: Conquered lizard brain and get a divorce. Love my life. Get rid of anything we co-owned. Move down the street. Get rid of the most useless of the junk. Enjoy the freedom.
Later that year: Get together with best friend. Help him get rid of his useless crap (Papers from high school? Really?) Get evicted from apartment for reasons not my fault. Leave the stuff we don’t need behind. Move all stuff, baby, boyfriend, and self into 11×11 room. Ditch lots of crap out of desire for simplicity’s sake.
Age 22: Move into a room in boyfriend’s mom’s so she doesn’t lose her house, because she can’t pay her mortgage. Live in one 10×13 room with a divider in the middle. Start paring down further. Make the tiny place a haven. Realize not much more than this is all the space we truly need.
This summer was when the magic happened. After spending a term in an upper level course on environmental economics, my concentration for college, I realized I hated it, because the very principles of economic theory refuted something inside me I felt very strongly. I couldn’t quite pinpoint what or why I disliked about it exactly.
The summer progressed, and I had a couple of major things get thrown at me I wasn’t expecting or prepared for, including not being able to move from where I was living. The living situation has grown unbearable, and I’ll be honest, I did not handle these events well. In fact, I handled it so poorly, I had a total breakdown. I wish that were an exaggeration. We couldn’t move, because we were broke due to an unexpected event, so I picked up a job at Starbucks.
Maybe working there would be the answer. Hell, they even wanted to hire me on as a manager! But, would managing at Starbucks make me happiest over time? Could I go to school still? Well, maybe I should pick a solid, steady career to pursue, since I don’t know where environmental studies will land me. Being a lawyer! That’s a great idea. I’ll start as a paralegal, and then pay my way through law school! You know what else would be cool? Working for myself. I have so many goals and things I want to do. Ugh, I’m a failure. I can’t commit. I can’t do anything. Failure is going to get me. Settling now will alleviate more suffering later. Evie deserves better than this, I can’t handle the pressures of motherhood and a career. My boyfriend deserves better than me. How can I possibly keep him happy when I can’t keep myself happy? Why am I so lost? What is wrong with me?!
That was my summer. I plunged into depression at a breakneck speed. Sometimes, it would occur to me how easy it would be to walk in front of a speeding bus and just end this pain. This awful daily pain that I couldn’t cope with, because I didn’t know how.
I wanted to kill myself.
For any of you who haven’t experience what it is like to want to kill yourself, the tunnel vision that happens when you finally get to that point is utterly overwhelming, and I got as far as picking up the knife. Then, Evie started calling “Mama” from the other room. It was the only thing that stopped me.
That was when I got help. I went to a therapist for a few weeks, and she helped me realize what was going on. By confronting some deep seated issues I had for a long time, we discussed why they resurfaced in this way and how it caused me to ask in a way completely uncharacteristic for me. I had never believed in depression. Suicide was a sign of weakness. Going through this was a vital point for me learning how to understand myself and others, and I will never again deny the grief of another human being. It became a turning point for me, because nothing I experienced after that terrible feeling could be scarier or worse.
Therapists don’t give direct instructions or advice very often, but she told me I needed to move out of the place I was living as soon as I possibly could. She was right, and I knew it.
I did the unthinkable and moved back in with my mom for a couple of weeks, until I could save up money for my own apartment. I only packed what I absolutely wanted to take. Evie’s clothes and a few toys, my books, my clothes, and my file box came with me. There was no space at my mom’s incredibly cluttered house, so I couldn’t bring much. My partner moved the rest of our things into a 10×7 storage unit (for the free month), and we made it work. During this three week stay at my mom’s, living in the midst of clutter and the TV constantly blaring, working at Starbucks and realizing everyday I was handing a fake “answer” out the drive-thru window, going to therapy and finding out my values, it all finally clicked.
I went through my giant suitcase of clothes, and cut it down to 75 items. I filed all of my paperwork, making a promise to digitize it all as soon as I had the time and space. I made all of my belongings fit into my suitcase (except my bike and snowboard). All of the extra clothing went to my younger sister, who was thrilled. All of a sudden, I was living comfortably with my 100 items.
I started blogging. We got our apartment. The storage unit was quickly gone through, and I eliminated anything we didn’t use or need. If it didn’t belong, it didn’t come home. We still have a few boxes of stuff that have to go to Goodwill in the otherwise mostly empty front closet, but now we are each living with 100 items or less. Our family items include about 100 or so more things. It’s not perfect, but it is so nice.
My schedule has even changed to reflect my new mindset. I’ve never liked spending time at home until now. Now, I make being home a priority. I love the people I live with, and I want to make sure they know that.
Minimalism is a journey. Decluttering is a process. And everyone has a story.
Where will yours start?