We had two showings on Sunday to try and find a renter for our house for the next year while we're away. Since I am only a clean-what-people-see type of housekeeper, this means we spent all day Saturday cleaning everything else (bedrooms, closets, oh and my office – that alone took almost 4 hours!). Each kid was given a trash bag (for trash) and a bin for yard-sale-giveaway-donate (or rather, everything else). There is a “take to Nica” bin in the dining room that has (so far) stayed pretty empty.
Can I just tell you: My kids were amazing! I have seriously tried to get them to do this before, but apparently they needed me to tell them we were moving out of the country before they would actually agree. We carried bins and bins worth of stuff to the yard sale staging area (i.e., the basement). More was taken to the staging area then was left in their rooms! My youngest commented, “Mom, my room is almost empty and it feels GREAT!” You go girl!
A few days later, some friends came over to check out the eight (yes, 8!) bins of out-grown clothes I’ve been storing. As a foster parent, you never know when you’re going to get a kid who needs clothes, and since 90% of them come to you wearing only the clothes on their backs, I keep all my kids’ hand-me-downs for just such occasions. But it’s starting to get ridiculous. So I’m going to put it out with the yard sale and give the rest away. When we get back from Nicaragua, I can just check free-cycle and ask for new hand-me-downs for any kids who come to stay with us. My two friends each took a bin’s worth for their adopted kids… perfect.
All of this cleaning out has really got me thinking more about all the stuff we keep. I have never considered myself a candidate for the show Hoarders, and yet I will look at something I haven’t used in months and say, “Oh, maybe I’ll need that someday…” or “I paid a lot of money for that – I can’t just get rid of it!” Or worse, I think of some great craft project for which the item would just be *perfect*… and I throw it back into the closet/bin/drawer. (If I even did half of those projects you all would be pinning my amazing creations to your Pinterest boards like crazy fools, and I’d have my own TV show, and book contract, and…). Somehow those amazing creations are still in my brain and that stuff is still in the drawers and on the shelves.
BUT NOT ANYMORE!
It is hereby being evicted from my home, never (I hope!) to return!
I’ve done clean-outs before, a little bit at a time, but this is different. This time we are going to live… for a whole year… with only three bags per person (including a carry-on) to equal 12 bags worth of all this stuff (yes, that was twelve: also known as a dozen, or oh-my-gosh-this-is-not-enough-space-for-a-year!).
That is cause for a serious shift in thinking. I mean, I am just as selfish as the next person. I like my stuff (especially my computer, my phone, my pillow-top and ultra cushy bed, my iPad, my super-comfy Brooks tennis shoes, my favorite pair of Lucky Brand jeans, my Snorg tees, my… ooops, got a little sidetracked there)… a lot. We all like to fondly remember our kids’ first words, like mama or dada, when in truth, most of us are hard-wired to say mine before yours and gimme before let’s share. We’re all buried under mountains of stuff we might use… some day… but really don’t need.
And yet… I’m finding all of this so amazingly freeing! I have written about cleaning out and living with less before. But I really never thought I would feel like this about getting rid of so much. (Two years ago I would have thought you were doing some serious dubbage if you said I’d be permanently removing half a house worth of my stuff, let alone spending a year in the second poorest country in this hemisphere).
Now I know that most of you (OK, all of you except for my husband, Erinn and Jeff) aren’t preparing for a move to Managua, but maybe you could use my trip as the impetus to help pare down your own ridiculous mountains of stuff.
So my challenge to you is this: take this day (or week, or month) to go through at least one room in your house with a super critical eye. Pretend you are moving to a place where each person can only take three bags of stuff (no more than 50lbs each!) for a whole year. Be prepared with a trash bag, a “get rid of” bin, and a keep bin.
Every item in the room must go in one of the three places (trash, give away/sell, keep). No exceptions!
The goal is to keep the three bins as close to even as possible, or at least to ensure the keep bin isn’t exponentially higher than either of the other two bins. [Give it up, girls: are you really going to learn to/find time to scrapbook some day? If so, great! Sign up for the class now! But if you're the other 99%, pass the stuff along to someone who is actually already doing it or to a teacher who can use the stuff in her classroom. Let's stop planning for someday, in order to fully live today!]
It’s really hard. (Some rooms are harder than others) But it is oh-so-worth-it! We can’t take this stuff with us when we kick the bucket one day, and our families really don’t want to have to deal with it when we’re gone. Sure – hang on to a few personal mementos and keepsakes, but get rid of the rest of that junk clogging up our lives! [And then stop buying it just because it's on sale, or you're bored, or it's on mega-sale, or you're really bored...]
Who knows? Maybe you’ll want to move on to another room after tackling the first. Maybe you’ll end up sorting all the stuff in your whole house. Maybe you’ll stop buying stuff you don’t need, and end up with more money and time for the stuff (and people) you already have. Maybe you’ll even decide you could pack up the stuff that’s left, fit it into three bags per person, and move to another country where people live every day on three bags worth of stuff, and are actually happy. Crazier things have happened, you know… ;)
[Original posted at wendywillard.com on 4/19/12.]