It’s amazing how quickly we can devalue our material possessions, so that they become virtually meaningless to us, devoid of the emotional connection we once felt for them. Four years ago, when Julian and I were in the process of ridding ourselves of so many of our material possessions, we often faced tough choices about what to keep and what to get rid of. I like to say we rid ourselves of 90% of our belongings, but the truth is I don’t actually know.
We lived in a sizable house with a big garden shed and an outhouse. We owned a car. Julian had an office at work and, later, when we swapped roles, I had an office at work. Our possessions were spread amongst all those places. By the end of summer 2011 we had downsized from a three-bedroom house to a two-bedroom flat and by June 2012 we had moved aboard Carina and sold the car. With each move we downsized, ridding ourselves of more and more stuff – at car boot sales, on eBay and Freecycle and to charity shops. The first summer we lived aboard Carina we had far too much stuff and when we moved aboard for the second time in early summer 2013, we brought far less on board. We culled even more for the final and permanent move aboard in spring 2014. These days the sum of our worldly possessions fit aboard Carina, with an overflow of about twenty boxes in my father-in-law’s loft and a few items stored in cupboards at my mother-in-law’s house. It’s not a lot.
Yet in the past couple of weeks Julian and I have been de-cluttering even more. We’ve been sorting through the boxes in my father-in-law’s loft and have amassed another pile of items that we no longer desire to keep. Some things, such as a potty, children’s clothes, blinds for a car window, are no longer necessary. But other items are things we had previously put into storage because we had some emotional connection to them, but now we can’t remember what that emotional connection was. So we’ve sifted and culled and made a pile in one corner of the loft to take to a car boot sale in the next few weeks. Anything we don’t manage to sell we’ll take to a charity shop.
There are still many things that we love – gifts and books and photos to which we have a deep emotional connection – for now. That connection might fade over time.
This culling makes me realise how little we need in order to be happy and to find contentment, and how transient are our attachments to things, compared to our deep connections to the people who gave us those things. Our happiness does not reside in this material stuff and our lives are not diminished by not having that stuff in our lives. On the contrary, our lives are free of material clutter. I have moved nineteen times in the past twenty-five years. When I think back on all the packing and unpacking that accompanied many of those moves and all the stuff that only ever saw the light of day when it was moving from one house to another, I realise how much time, effort and money I squandered.
Our lives are not diminished by owning one corkscrew instead of four, one set of cutlery instead of three, one rolling pin instead of two. Our deep affection for family and friends is not diminished by not having in our possession the photo frames, candle holders and wind chimes they have given us over the years. We don’t need that stuff and in ridding ourselves of it we have lightened our load and can walk our path through life more freely and less encumbered.
These days we take greater care of the few possessions we do have and we treasure the few precious objects from loved ones that we have chosen to keep or the few objects that remind us of particular times or places in our lives. We have kept those because they are beautiful or quirky or unique objects, and we have kept a small selection of household items in case we one day want to move back into a house. But the less we have the less we need. And the less we need the less we want. And that feels good.
So, how would you de-clutter your life for the better? And what would you do with your unwanted stuff?