Lesson One: Most Things I Owned Were Useless
After living in the same house for five years, I had a lot of shit. I had specialized, single-purpose kitchen utensils. I had books I’d never read again. I had records I’d never listen to. I had clothing for climates I no longer lived in. I had bike parts for bikes I didn’t even own anymore. I had furniture to hold all this stuff. I had storage to keep all this stuff around in case I needed it.
When I finally left Denver to Seattle a couple of years ago, I sold or gave away most of that stuff. My plan was to just replace the things I’d given away, because most of it was cheap and old anyway. But by the time I got to Seattle, I realized I didn’t need most of that stuff, and didn’t bother replacing most of the things I thought I would.
Lesson Two: I Only Buy What I’ll Use in the Future
When I’m shopping, it’s easy to get caught up in the “now.” I’ll look at something and want it because I can think of how I’ll use it right that second. We all know that’s the basis of impulse purchases, but over the last couple of years, I’ve changed my thinking to curb those purchases by asking myself, “how will I use this tomorrow?” If I can’t answer that question, I don’t need it. Plus, a lot of those times you only need to use something once, which is when renting is a better idea than buying.
This sounds self-explanatory, but it’s something many of us don’t think about. At one point I had a blender and a food processor. I rarely used either. Instead of blending food, the only purpose they served was wasting space in my house. When I got rid of the blender, I was perfectly happy with just the food processor. People with more culinary skills than I have can certainly have and utilize both, but that’s not the point here. It’s more about filling your home with items that you use and discarding the rest.
My uses are different than yours, which is why there’s no such thing as a universal set of tools. We don’t all need the same things, but I found I owned a lot of things because I thought Ishould, not because I actually needed them.
That was a pretty good sign that I could get rid of them.
Lesson Five: The Less I Own, the More Time I Spend with What I Like
We have an abundance of choices in how to spend our time. As a nerd, I’ve fancied myself a connoisseur of many things: comics, video games, bicycles, technology, novels, music, music production, writing, movies, and more. I can survive in my house for years without getting bored. But at some point, I realized I’d stretched myself too thin. I was into so many things, I didn’t spend enough time with any of them, and all the while they were cluttering up my apartment.
So I decided to cut down. As much as I love graphic novels, I gave myself a rule that I could only buy one at a time and I have to read it before I could buy another. The same goes for books, movies, games, and everything else. It’s not just about storage and moving, either. Most of this stuff is digital these days, but that only worsens the problem. If I’m not careful, I’ll forget I even own something because I’m not seeing it everyday, and I’ll have spent money on something I never used.
By tempering my entertainment purchases, I’ve learned to spend more time with the things I love. I’ll play and enjoy a single video game until I’ve finished it. I’ll take my time reading books because I’m not rushing onto the next one. I’m never bored, but I’m not overwhelmed with options either. I’ve played fewer games or read fewer comics, but I’ve appreciated those experiences so much more because I’ve spent more time with them.
Lesson Six: Cleanliness Is Easy When You Don’t Own Junk
Every time people came over to my apartment in Seattle, they’d ask if I cleaned up for them. I never did. Tidiness is just often confused for cleanliness.
Once I downsized to only owning what I needed, everything I owned had a place, so my apartment was always pretty tidy. And, because I use pretty much everything I own on a regular basis, things don’t get all that dusty.
The main lesson here is pretty simple: if I don’t have a place to put something, I don’t need it. This makes it super easy to keep a tidy house. There’s nothing quite like relaxing in a clean apartment, and when guests come by, I don’t have to do any work to prepare. It just looks fine all the time.
(However, I do need to remind myself to actually deep clean my house. It’s not always apparent at a glance, and I’ve definitely neglected cleaning at points because I won’t even realize how gross it gets when things look tidy from afar.)
My main takeaway from all this moving is really simple: I’ve learned to appreciate what I own and only buy what I’ll use. Because of this, I’ve nearly killed off clutter and kept my pocketbook full for spontaneous vacations (and moves halfway across the country).