Minimal Baggage

Minimalism is a worthy idea. I aspire to be minimal. Most of the time I think I am living a minimal, earth-friendly, small-footprint, getting-things-done kind of life.

Until I have to go somewhere. That’s when I realize how much my life revolves around stuff: having stuff, getting more stuff, fitting stuff in a suitcase small enough to fit in the overhead bin.

Getting packed for a lengthy trip makes me realize two things:

1) I can live without most of my stuff for two or three weeks. Ergo: I don’t need all this stuff.

2) There is a lot of small clutter in my life that takes up space in my suitcase. How much time am I spending each day on clutter?

Years ago I flew home at Christmas to see my parents. They lived in New York; I lived in Chicago at the time. In Chicago I was bumped onto a later flight. My two suitcases, already on the first plane, flew ahead of me. I was assured that in New York they would be safe until I arrived.

You already know what happened: when I arrived in New York, one of my suitcases had gone to visit someone else. It was the one we had nicknamed “Gigantor” – except that I think the real Gigantor had wheels, or rocket jets or something. Mine had to be carried. I never found out who carried Gigantor away, but I am sure that they imagined it was full of expensive gifts. The theives must have been disappointed when they cut the lock off: the only thing inside was my entire KMart wardrobe. (I was poor.)

I never got Gigantor back. I got a check from the airline, bought some new stuff, and went on with life.

Now, all these years later, do I remember anything specific that was in that suitcase? No.

Moral: Stuff is replaceable.

Application: Don’t keep stuff around, thinking that you’ll one day need it. You won’t. And even if you do, you’ll go out and buy a new one.

How to Eliminate Clutter and Minimalize Your Stress

I am an organized person. Not a neat-freak, but I dislike clutter. Even so, it accumulates. My living space, however, is fairly spartan. How do I manage this?

My De-cluttering System: 

1) Get a large shopping bag. Not a box. (You’re not trying to preserve this stuff for posterity; you’re trying to get rid of it.)

2) Put all the clutter in the bag. (Note: clutter is anything for which you do not have a specific, future use. Keep your receipts.)

3) Put the bag in a closet that you don’t use much.

4) Put a reminder on your calendar (six months is about right): Open the Bag!

5a) If six months go by and you have never pulled out that bag to find something you need, put it in the trash. Do not unpack it just to see if you might want to keep something. Do not think about having a garage sale. Throw the entire thing away, bag and all.

5b) If you have gone through that bag before six months were up, keep what you needed and throw the rest away.

Fortunately, most of my clutter these days is digital. Clutter that takes up no space is easier to deal with, but it still takes a lot of mental energy.

I was using my son’s computer for a while; mine was in the shop. All the files I needed were on my external hard drive — along with every word I’ve ever written. Since I was working on a specific project, I moved over just a few files I was using and forgot about rest of them.

After working this way for a week, I realized: I don’t need all the gigabytes of stored stuff I have carefully backed up over the years.

There is no reason not to keep it; it doesn’t take up space. Except in my brain. Curating all that information requires energy. I worry about it. How will I find what I’m looking for in this huge stash? What if my hypothetical grandchildren want to read all my unpublished novels? Will the next generation of technology will be able to read these files?

I am meticulous about backing up all my files. I have an external drive and a cloud service, plus a drawer full of floppy disks, CDs and flash drives. I have a PC that can read floppies, so if I ever need any of those ancient records —

Ask me how many times I have ever needed anything on those floppies or CDs. You are correct: never.

Moral: Having space doesn’t mean you should keep everything.

Application: Let it go. You won’t even miss it.

1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. theteachingwhore
    Jul 09, 2011 @ 16:07:41

    Reminds me of the beloved George Carlin and his take on STUFF. Also, Thoreau is my hero, so I definitely enjoyed this post.
    P.S. I decluttered a few rooms the other day. Still have a few more to go.


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