I honestly believe we have fallen prey to the world of commercialism and have been sold a huge bill of goods. We are advertised lifestyles that are mere snapshots of opulence that we should supposedly be working towards living. We have been taught through our consumer culture that possessions equal freedom. Looking back at my own childhood I think about being on the poorer end of the scale compared to my friends. We weren't dirt poor but it seemed that the things that would have made me feel "normal" compared to others were always just out of reach.
I have been on that roller coaster of striving for that idealized image of what is a "successful life". The road was paved with false ideas and false promises of happiness.
Now that I am older I now see the things that mattered in my youth for what they were, trivial consumerist thinking. With time and experience as my teacher I find myself drawn to the aesthetics of simplicity. To the value of time, quality and clarity. I want life to quit being so complicated and full of clutter.
Over the last few years now I have been working to minimize my lifestyle. The items that I had accumulated despite any actual need for them were both a virtual and literal weight on my life and psyche. Too often I had made the mistake of confusing the things I wanted for the things I needed. I see now that I like if ever stopped to ask the most important question. Why did I need anything that I thought I wanted?
Tenkara really has been a great teacher for me. It has helped me see that I could have as much if not more enjoyment with less gear and less thought given. I learned that having more than I needed was a burden Most of the stuff I was carrying was not needed. My fishing gear was actually taking up space that I could use better for things that would extend my day and make the whole experience better, easier and yes, more personally fulfilling. Tenkara and its elements of simplicity have become a practice that has imprinted itself on me and that I try to live into now with other parts of my life.
I want to give a few thoughts for you to consider as well as a few questions for you to throw at yourself regarding the things you own and have been holding on to. I am not an expert yet at this. I have been working for a few years now with leaps forward and slides backward to minimize my life and lifestyle. It is not easy to purge things from your life. Minimalism isn't for everyone and I am not suggesting everyone dive deep into it. I know though that for me it has been a great thing. It has served my life. Maybe you will find a few things that will help you change the way you think about your stuff. Here are a few questions to start you off.
Six questions about the stuff you own.
1. Think about the things you own and now ask how do I feel about getting rid of these things?
I keep looking at my things and looking at how I am emotionally tied to them. These emotions keep us from getting rid of things. For me sometimes, objects seems to have an invisible tag tied onto them. The things we own should really serve a specific and desired need. They should serve us as more than just items we can say we own. Often times they feel like they own us. By exploring our emotions surrounding items and being honest with ourselves we can examine why we are keeping things and better still, should we be?
2. If your house was on fire what would be the 5 things you would grab to save?
Let's pretend you have only 1 minute to grab those 5 things... (For the record, your family and pets are safe and not part of this list. We are talking about "things") You might be surprised at what things you do grab. Why those 5 things and not others? Most things can be replaced of course. What things we value most can give us a lot of insights into ourselves and our values.
3. How many places do you have that you put stuff to keep..."Just in case?"
I can easily bet that if you are reading this you have a junk drawer full of "tid-bits", a shed full of duplicate tools, a medicine cabinet with expired pills,a garage or storage unit with boxes of things you forgot existed, or maybe a box (or is it boxes?) of fly tying materials you will never use in a single lifetime. We keep a lot of stuff "just in case you need them". It would take you a lot longer than 20 minutes in some cases to find that one thing you are looking for. The reality is that if we really need something it can probably be gotten new in less than 20 minutes and replaced for less than $20. So what is the real benefit to keeping it?
4. What items are you keeping for no other reason than the memories associated with them?
When an item reminds us of a happy time or a person in our lives, that should and can be a good thing. But if we are really honest some of those things don't really recreate that moment and we really don't need that item to remember that event or person in our lives. Nostalgic items come in all shapes and sizes. From old concert ticket stubs to ratty baseball hats, etc. Certainly some items can be cherished and kept. But if the nostalgia is the only reason you are keeping something then you might be just be holding on to an item as a way to hold on to the past. What I have found is that only a few items ever make it to my "keep for nostalgia" box. Yes, a small cigar box can hold a great treasure that won't take up too much room.
5. When you buy things do you buy in bulk?
A short while back I found realized I owned more fly tying materials than I would ever need. More thread spools, feathers, dubbing material, hooks and even duplicate fly tying tools. These things all accumulated because frankly they were sold in large quantities. Add to that I wanted to have a large variety of materials to tie with. So I decided to take out just what I would use and to put the rest in a box. The box was there and if I needed something I could go to the box and get it. Truth be told, I never opened the box. After a year I made the leap and was able to donate my gear to a friend's son who was taking up fly tying. The biggest reward was that my fly tying bench became much easier to use. Quite often when we buy things we are purchasing them because we don't want to be without.
6. Have you told yourself that having variety makes you more creative, saves you time or even money?
Why do you feel this way and is that really the truth? I have found that having fewer choices is the best way to find true creativity and focus in my life. Whenever I have too many choices it becomes much harder to make a choice. Things become more difficult to store and manage. Having too many choices in front of us can actually be a block in our progress and in our creativity. Remember that it is necessity that is the mother of invention not variety.
The Art of Letting Go.
Letting go of things we don't use or need is actually a very bold and brave action to take. Physically speaking, it can really open up our storage spaces, clear our cluttered shelves, closets and garages. Practically speaking it can open our lives up to great things too. Things like more time, more money or mental health. We see very quickly that our lives are not measured by the things we own. Our lives are measured by the experiences we have and the people in our lives. There are many benefits to working towards a minimalist lifestyle. You cannot expect though to just jump into these changes. You have to take intentional steps. You have to look at items you own and decide what importance they have in your life. How do they enrich your life and when was the last time you used that item? I am taking steps currently to see that the things in my life are things that I have intentionally said yes to owning. The process is incredibly therapeutic and humbling. There is a freedom that comes with letting "things" go. There is absolutely an art to it. A process that changes your outlook and perspective.
Seven Small Steps (okay 8)
1. Find one room in your house. Perhaps a very personal room to you that has mostly if not all of just your things in it. Examine what is in this room. What belongs there? What is just being stored there? What things are cluttering the space?
2. Get yourself 4 boxes. One box is for stuff you want to donate, one is for stuff you need to move to another place in your home, one is a small box marked "just in case" and the last one is just a garbage.
3. Try to fill each of the boxes. Save the "just in case box" for items you think you might need later and aren't ready to get rid of.
4. Make decisions quickly and without second guessing yourself.
5. Remove the boxes from the room. Put the stuff away that needed to be in a different location. Put the garbage into the waste bin outside, take the charity donation away. Put the sealed up, "Just in case box" into a closet, under your bed or if need be on a shelf in your garage. Mark the box with a date of up to 6 months. Whatever you haven't removed from the box after that date should be tossed or donated.
6. Now come back to the recently cleared room space and begin to tidy and reorganize what you have left.
7. Once you have done these steps you can then appreciate your new found space and the feeling it gives you. Think about the things you kept and why you kept them.
8. Wait a day or so and then find your next space or room to tackle.
Some final words
Letting go of stuff feels good, clears up your space from clutter and can be a psychological weight lifted off of your shoulders. Letting go with intent makes room in your life for easier living and has a holistic effect on your overall thinking. The real trick is to establish a new way of thinking about stuff. Establish a new mindset, think differently about the things you purchase and do your best not to over-consume. Sure things will find their way into your life again. As items do come into your possession just ask your self "do I really need this?" "Do I find value enough in this thing to keep it?" I wish you the best in your process of downsizing, minimizing your possessions and understanding your relationship to your stuff.
Dennis Vander Houwen lives in Colorado with his patient and supportive wife, talented artist son, a smart older dog, a new river puppy, and a very lucky cat.