We have all heard that for many moving ranks between death of a loved one and divorce as one of the most stressful life events. Yet after countless relocations I have come to appreciate, even look forward to, the opportunities for rejuvenation that changing homes prompts. By allowing us to pare down and prioritize, every move is an opportunity to get essential.
I had to haul a lot of stuff around in my immediate post college life –across the country and back, out of the country and back and across the city and back– for these realizations to gradually emerge, until the day I had my Eureka moment.
My family had recently moved to Hong Kong. We were unpacking our household goods shipment when I came across four enormous wardrobes of clothes that I had been lugging around by habit and for purely sentimental and unmindful reasons for over 10 years. I pulled out a T-shirt from Freshman orientation, a pair of patched up 501 jeans and a hat I bought in Paris that had never fit my head. I had to laugh at my material folly, before crying at the waste of having sent these thrift store relics half way around the world.
By the end of that day I had pruned one quarter of my wardrobe. Afterwards I was so much lighter I felt like I had to hold onto my furniture to keep from levitating up to the ceiling. Over the next several years, in preparation for our eventual return to the US, I pruned our books, linens, kitchen items, health and beauty products, music collection, photos, spices and more clothes until regular “scan and toss” sessions just became part of ongoing household maintenance.
Every few weeks I would go to a different zone of our house and go through the stuff we had there. The one-year rule was a good starting point: had we used that omelet pan in the past year? Or worn those gold sandals? Next I applied the law of duplication: did we really need a Cuisinart and a blender? What about three black leather belts? Finally, I considered the sentimental value and balanced the weight of nostalgia over the buoyancy of freedom. Once I stopped to really consider the role of a given item in our lives it was easy to decide to keep it or give it the heave ho.
Our lovely apartment became an airy expanse of unencumbered space in one of the most densely populated cities in the world, the city that also happened to be 45 minutes from the factories where most of the junk we think we need is manufactured – the magnetic pull to purchase was epic. However the more items that left the house, the more the urge to purchase declined and the more mental clarity I felt. We actually returned from Hong Kong with a lighter load, despite acquiring a few new pieces of furniture, picking up artifacts from our travels and giving birth to another child during our stay.
When we settled back in New York and our items from storage were delivered, I had another opportunity to shake my head in despair and reactivate my finely honed removal skills. Boxes and boxes of paperbacks were unpacked and duly donated, winter clothes, scuba gear, extra luggage, dishes, outdated electronics, desk lamps from college and poorly made furniture all were ejected from our apartment like a bad case of bed bugs.
Managing clutter is truly exhausting and the act of dematerializing is incredibly liberating. It enabled our household to scale down to what we actually use and because we aren’t buried in all of the extra everything that so defines contemporary living in the developed world, we can keep what we have well organized and well maintained.
We no longer need our belongings to keep us company when they cease to serve any functional or sentimental purpose. In fact, we feel better emotionally when we disencumber materially.
While a move stimulates the act of taking inventory of possessions, getting rid of excess can happen on a regular basis. For a variety of reasons it can be very hard to begin the process of letting go, so start slowly. Go a room at a time and touch everything. Put those things you think you can part with aside and see how you feel with them gone a few weeks later. If you didn’t miss them, bag them up for removal. You can maintain a dedicated transit station in your home for stuff you no longer use and make regular trips to charities to drop off that which can still be used by others. Higher value items you can give to friends or when there are no takers sell on Craigslist. You will soon appreciate how less really can be so much more.