We wouldn't call ourselves hoarders and we certainly don't come close to what might qualify. However, in 2015 we were challenged to discover what was necessary to keep and what was excess. We were moving from a three bedroom house with a loft into a 2 bedroom apartment with less than half the square footage. This would be a temporary move and only last for about about twelve months. Clearly, all of our stuff that we had collected throughout the years would not fit into the apartment. We had a choice to make. We could either rent a garage at the new apartment complex, rent a storage unit offsite, or reduce the amount of stuff we owned. We considered what we could do without, what might need to be replaced, what would need to be purchased again at some point in the future, and the financial cost of renting additional space to store our stuff. It was a decision that we wrestled with, but we decided to reduce.
Here are a five principles we learned along the way.
- We can be a slave to our stuff. Stuff, what ever it may be (cars, decorations, books, clothes, toys, collections, etc.), demands our time and attention. It's difficult to take the time necessary to care for your stuff, keep your stuff in working order, and find ways to maintain it as well as spend the time you desire or need with your family, friends, and yourself. In scripture, there is a moment when Jesus is preaching and says "no one can serve two masters" as he referred to money and stuff. At no other point did we find this to be more true in our own lives. Even more-so, some bigger ticket items like cars, a mortgage, and credit card payments (that list goes on), actually demand your finances. They demand your paycheck. You become the middle man in a hand-off of money. Working for someone else to collect your check. This is exactly how people from all financial backgrounds fin themselves living from paycheck to paycheck. There is an idea that with more money we can have more stuff. And that is true. With more stuff we are likely to become enslaved to the paying bills and caring for what we have rather than having time for the people we are with.
- Reducing is hard. If you've collected stuff along the way, are storing items in case you need it later, or have given into the idea that having more stuff and bigger stuff raises your status in society, then reducing will be hard. There is another story in the new testament about a young ruler who wanted to follow Jesus. In order to do so, he was told that he would need to give up of all his belongings. He turns away sad. He would be sad to get rid of his stuff or sad that he could not do what he truly desired to do. We don't what happened next, but we are presented with the same challenge today. Having too much stuff is a burden and deciding what to get rid is even harder. First, to the point above, if all of your stuff demands your time it will be difficult to do the things you truly want to do or feel called to. Living paycheck to paycheck to pay for stuff, will not lead to financial freedom. Nor will it lead to living a fulfilled life... actually just the opposite. Second, all of what you've collected at some point had a purpose, meaning, and/or sentimental value that led you to keep it. For us, we agreed that we would not pay for keeping stuff that we would not use for at least the next twelve months. This was the deciding point. As a result, we got rid of a table, a desk, a futon, decorations, lawn equipment, computer parts, tools, clothes, a grill, exercise equipment, and more. Getting rid of items you own might mean saying goodbye to memories and reminders of past experiences, or you may have to buy that thing again (you probably won't) in the future. This can be extremely tough to do. However, one piece at a time each those decisions can be made. Difficult as it may be, it is worthwhile.
- Keeping stuff "just in case" is a burden. Here's a secret we found to be true during this move. Anything that we had kept "just in case" we needed it at another time, we could get rid of. To take it even further, we figured if could replace for $25 and it hadn't been used in the past three to six months, it was an automatic elimination from our stuff. What surprised us following the move, was that we did not re-purchase a single item that fell into this category. In other words, the "just in case" scenario was more imaginative than reality. And now three years down the road, I can't even tell you what those items were.
- Less stuff equals more freedom. It would seem that once we've grasped on to the first principle, that this would also be assumed. Although they are connected they are not the same. Understanding how we are enslaved to our stuff, is not the same as knowing the freedom that comes with less stuff. When we're burdened by our stuff it may look like a guest room that is so full that we have no room for guests, a credit card bill that continues to increase rather than go down, a paycheck that disproportionately goes to cover bills rather than to a retirement fund or a vacation we've always dreamed of. When we find ourselves in this position, we lose the ability to truly live into the life we hope for. We fail to be fulfilled. For some, being ruled by stuff might be normal. But on the other side there is freedom to take the vacation you dream of, to invest time and energy into your family and friends, living without worry or concern of having enough or competing with your neighbors. Rather we begin to recognize that what we have is sufficient, is enough, and more than we need. We eliminate the desire for more and delight in satisfaction of plenty. We find fulfillment. When that resonates deep within our souls, we discover the true freedom that comes from having less.
- The garage is one step away from the trash bin. My wife and I agreed that our garage would not be our storage space. Rather, the garage would always be available to park our cars in. Crazy, I know! That simple goal, resulted in realizing that the items that found their way out of our house and into our garage are ones that we no longer have a use for. Of course, our tools and some other supplies are kept in the garage. That is their home. But when the items that we once used in the house and now don't know what to do with are placed in the garage, then those are items we no longer need to keep. Often these are all those things that we'd keep "just in case" a time would arise when we need it. Remember that "just in case" events are rare. Rather, we decided that any items that are good candidates for the garage are even greater candidates to be donated, given away, sold in a garage sale or simply tossed into the trash.
There are many other principles, tactics, and guidelines to reduce the clutter that gets collected throughout life, but these have been key in reducing much of what we no longer need to be burden by. Takes what's useful and forget the rest.