How did we let go of our things?

I’ve been asked this so many times I decided I should share. Here is the story with tips if you care to downsize, or just purge the space you have (take it or leave it) at the end!

First of all, I spent my entire childhood and teenage years collecting furniture, dishes and other things for when I was a “grown-up”. I had two dressers and a nice sized closet to myself. Not to mention the fact that my bedroom was half the attic of my parents’ house! I had space and I filled it. Everything I had stashed away for “someday” had great meaning to me. When my grandmother moved into a nursing home I was able to find space for a few more items that I knew were her favorites including a hutch, a large side table, dishes, chairs, etc. I collected, collected, and collected.

Then the moving day came and we could hardly fit all my stuff in a carefully packed U-haul that was 20 some feet long! I was 21 years old and had basically collected enough to furnish a two bedroom house before moving out of my parents. I also had porcelain dolls, music boxes, special lamps, etc to put everywhere. Looking back, it was over the top and not especially healthy as I was  very emotionally attached to the things. A year and a half later, when my beloved cat not so carefully ran across a windowsill and caused a trinket (I honestly don’t even remember at this point what it was) that I loved to crash and be destroyed on the floor, I cried. I still remember the feeling of loss I felt, even now, which shows how powerful our emotions are.

“You are what you think.” –Grandmaster Lu

Fast forward through three houses (the townhouse, the two story condo and the large ranch) and 10 years later. We were living in a four bedroom, three bathroom ranch style house we meticulously renovated ourselves. We had an enormous bedroom with a whole section full of IKEA armoirs for all the cloths, shoes, and accessories we owned. I won’t even get into all the other furniture and what not we owned in this house that was fully furnished and nearly 2,000 square feet. It was towards the end of the renovations, I was 31 years old, and SO SICK. Many doctor visits, tests, specialists but no information to explain my debilitating symptoms. Finally, I found a functional health doctor who told me I was allergic to a long list of things including gluten, cats (we had two), dogs (we had one), and on and on. She also told me I had adrenal fatigue and deficiencies of vitamins, good gut bacteria, etc. In hindsight, I was actually suffering from stress, overworking, not enjoying life and generally not listening to my body to slow down and enjoy! I didn’t realize that stress could cause me to become sick. Our culture rewards being busy… you seem important when you’re busy.  At the time, the best I knew to do was get more into yoga, and eat a mostly plant based diet, so I did. Between the doctor and yoga I saw some health improvements, my arthritis improved, my fatigue lessened, and I was able to control the extreme emotions I was feeling a little more easily. By using my yoga mat as a mirror (this was a Baptist philosophy I found quite helpful) I could see how angry I was, how competitive, stressed… through the yoga instructor program I completed I started to see my lifestyle, including our house and all the things in it, as too much. I wanted to let things go.

I decided to start with the things in the basement. The precious items from my childhood in the boxes. I had moved all the dolls, stuffed toys, etc from my childhood-home to house to house to house! Three times!! I never looked in these boxes, so I decided to donate them without even opening them. I took most of it to work for the “thrift sale” we have during the Fall Festival to raise money for the school. It felt good to do good for the kids and the school. Don’t get me wrong, I was feeling emotional and physical angst in my stomach and shoulders as I carried the stuff into the school and drove away. By the next day, all the stuff (many of my things sold very well I’m told) and the emotions disappeared! I decided I could do more. I began letting go of clothing I had not worn in 5 or more years, then some dishes that we really didn’t need because we had two other sets already. It just got easier to let things go and feel good about it.

The second largest purge to date was prompted by the move to the house we built in Arlington. This was the fifth place we lived in, as I count the tiny condo we rented for ten months as the fourth. We went through the process of selecting a building plan, building company, etc. and were lucky enough to have friends let us crash for a couple months and then live in the condo while the house was being built. The items we didn’t expect to need for a long while went into a storage pod. The week of the pod-move we were both sick with the flu. We were beyond tired and not careful or strategic about packing items into the pod. We quickly ran out of space! We were over the stuff and called friends, Vietnam Vets, and posted on freecycle for the items that didn’t make it into the pod to be taken away! Then, we lived with our two cats and dog, with two chairs, an armoire, a bed and minimal cloths in 500 square feet (a cute one bedroom apartment that a friend, I met through yoga, was nice enough to rent to us… Thank you, Suzie (she is the creator and owner of Honest Soul Yoga in VA)! We didn’t have most of our cloths, dishes, etc. Guess what? We LOVED it! When we moved into our new house we emptied the pod, and I can honestly say, we did miss our sofa… but that’s it! We no longer felt a connection to our stuff and the reason we missed the sofa was we like to lounge together, so that was a very different feeling than missing an item just for the memories it seems to hold.

Once in the house I really got into purging. The house had no basement or attic by our design and had an open floor plan. Anything that was sitting out could be seen from everywhere else! So that was a huge motivator to clean out! I started selling some of my favorite things on craigslist. I wanted grandma’s hutch, and some other sentimental things to go to a good home. I figured if people were willing to spend $50 or $100 and come get it, they really wanted it. I cannot tell you the joy I felt when a lovely elderly couple came to buy the hutch. The wife was so excited because it matched her kitchen cupboards! Meant to be!

Fast forward to today. I now know I was ill for so long because we were on the bigger, better, more rat race. We were never happy with the way things were and I was always putting stress on myself. Stressing about how the house and yard looked, work, higher education, THINGS. I was hardly allowing myself time to sleep and eat let alone enjoy the THINGS I owned as I worked to earn a master degree, National Board Teaching Certification, renovated an entire home, remade the entire yard into a garden full of plants and flowers, spent money on keeping up with the neighbors and all the people on TV that had such nice THINGS. It took getting sick, really sick, to finally see that I had to change. Once I was ready to be different I found the Dragon’s Way®, a fabulous instructor, a group of women I call sister-friends, and a new way of life.

“When the student is ready the teacher appears.” -Buddha

Getting really sick was my spark to realize that THINGS (including an unnecessary master degrees, fancy cars, cloths, sentimental items, and whatnot) are not what makes me happy. For me, I love being outside doing almost anything, spending quiet time alone, and time with loved ones and friends. Eating fresh foods, going to bed early, sleeping in and having the time and energy to walk my dogs to my favorite local coffee shop in the morning makes me happy and feel alive. So, now we have purged almost everything we ever owned. The last of it to a couple friends, the young couple that bought the house we built just a few years ago, and the “junk” to the Goodwill (we really didn’t try to get our friends to take “things” they were going to regret later). We live, full-time, in a 35′ RV… life has a calmness and simpleness to it. I make the bed everyday (it can be seen from the rest of the RV in the reflection of the mirror). I put away cloths and shoes after letting them air out. I mostly follow the ways of the book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying, as far as keeping my closets and drawers organized (thank you to my Dragon’s Way® participants for the book recommendation).  We probably still have more to purge. After living in the RV for about a full month I was able to go through the bathroom and some other odds and ends closets and purge two more bags. Andrew has purged a ton through this process, too. He had an entire three car garage full,  a basement, and closets to match mine when we lived in the third house. He has really taken on the philosophy of “letting go!” We are living with few extras… it feels great!! It also makes keeping the house clean super easy.

Current Home and Storage (I’m going to let you look inside the drawers and cabinets!)

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Ways I suggest you purge based on my experiences (if you’re interested):

  1. What do you have in your house, storage unit, garage, shed that you have not looked at in who knows how long? Can you give it up? How many spaces, closets, drawers, boxes do you have like this? Do you need every greeting card and letter your grandparents ever gave you? Can you toss them all? Maybe you keep just one to represent them all and frame it… be creative and feel good as you honor the stuff you decide to keep and let it go.
  2. After getting rid of things you do not see day to day, look at your cloths. There are lots of ways I’ve heard of people purging clothing… like turning the hangers backward and after wearing the item turn the hanger around. At the end of the season or year, all the hangers that are still backward contain clothing you didn’t even wear once! The book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying, I referenced earlier suggests not doing clothing in small chunks at a time. She actually says you should gather all the clothing, shoes, etc from the entire house and dumping it on the floor. She says you should hold each item and ask yourself, “does this bring me joy?’ I have not tried this method… but I know we still have clothing we don’t need and after living in the RV for another 6 months or so I plan to make my husband do this with me!

The way I purged cloths and shoes to get to our current state was by first removing all things I could not remember wearing as well as the things I remembered wearing and not feeling good in. I just pulled out the items and made a huge pile, bagged them up and took it to the Goodwill. Then I started to refine my purges. There were old t-shirts that I wore around the house. Did I really need “around the house shirts” to be different than what I would wear out? Nope. So those went. Oh, the shoes. Many never even broken in… gone, don’t wear ’em, don’t need ’em. How many pairs of jeans do I actually wear because I love the way they fit? The rest, gone. Do I wear slacks and skirts to work? In my case, I was a teacher and the answer was “NO! I sat on the floor everyday.” I decided a couple of each is more than enough. In the summer do I wear all those cute dresses? Nope, I love my jean shorts and tank tops. Good-bye to most of the dresses! This was done over a couple months. I’d feel the “purge bug” and jump up to do it! You may want to schedule time for yourself to go through your closets and home. You likely need to keep different cloths than I did. For you, you may keep only a couple pairs of jeans and leggings and more slacks. It all depends on your current job and lifestyle.
3. Look in the rooms of your house. Do you have furniture that seems to be a dumping ground for other things? I would suggest going through the piles and either find a system for the things to be put away immediately or get rid of the “stuff-collecting furniture” in your house. If you have no place to dump the mail and all the other random items you’re more likely to deal with the clutter. If your only flat space is the kitchen table where you eat, you are motivated to deal with the stuff often as you want to sit there!
4. Empty the junk drawer(s), get a drawer organizer or use inexpensive gift bags to organize by cutting off the top of the bag to the perfect depth (they come in all sizes and are inexpensive), and only put things you need in the drawer. Do you need five bottle openers? hundreds of pens? old earbuds and other random tech stuff? Will you ever use these things?
5. How many coats can you wear? How many suitcases can you carry? How many sets of dishes can you eat off of? Why are you eating off the mismatched set rather than the nicer set you really like? Get rid of the junk and use your nice things! Enjoy them! Yes, something may get broken (in our house, with four animals, a couple roommates, house sitters and Airbnb guests things got broken), so what?!? At least we and others enjoyed the THINGS we spent that money and storage space on!
6. Throw away all the partially used stuff you’ve not touched in three months or more including condiments, makeup, lotions, etc. If the last time you used that Chapstick was 6 months ago when you had the flu, or the last time you used the BBQ sauce you didn’t really like, why are you holding on!?!
7. STOP BUYING. Do not buy anything that you do not go to the store for. For example, I needed new flats to wear to work. I went shopping for new flats to wear to work. I saw purses that were SO cute, jeans that were on sale, and beautiful boots. I left with nothing because I went there for flats for work and they didn’t have what I wanted. In the moment I so badly wanted these other things. I really did, but I left without them. Guess what? The “want feeling” was gone by the time I got to the next store. The wanting went away.