Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Why to Shed Stuff (Benefits) (Part 1)

Part 1 (of 2):  Benefits of De-accessioning

For many people, downsizing, de-accessioning, and letting go  is emotionally difficult.  I think this has far less to do with discarding old clothes and far more to do with emotionally wrenching reasons that often prompt the work,   such as the death of a loved one, divorce,  ill health, loss of a job or income, or even “empty nest” syndrome.  Psychologists and doctors recommend NOT making major decisions at such times because it is so stressful (and because the resulting choices may be ill advised or regretted), but unfortunately, it is often those crises that REQUIRE rapid decision making by people who haven’t de-accessioned beforehand. 

When NOT coupled with such wrenching associations, shedding stuff can be liberating and energizing,  You may make money, free up time/money/space for activities you value, or discover that you can comfortably live within far fewer (and cheaper) square feet.

If you find the prospect of purging all those overstuffed rooms and closets daunting, this two part article can help.    

The first part lists several numerous benefits of de-accessioning.  The second part lists helpful hints for making the act of de-accessioning faster, easier, and even, potentially fun (there are hints in the first section, too).  Both have labeled sections for easy navigation and some real life examples. 

Good luck to you!  Any additional suggestions of your own?  Please let me know!     

Part 1:  The benefits of de-accessioning

Selfish self-fulfillment: 
I have moved 16 times as an adult.  One of the advantages of moving is reviewing what I value.  What do I own that I really like to wear, read, watch, listen to, and what just “isn’t me” anymore.  Don’t pack and move things that are “no longer you.”  Give them to friends, relatives, consignment shops or charities.  People can use and enjoy them!  By saying goodbye to “been there, done that” hobbies and life choices, you make physical, psychic, and financial room for what you really do like.  Sometimes you want lower expenses and less space.  Done.  Other times, you free up that hall closet for the accoutrements of your newest enthusiasm.  No more mini-skirts and high heels? -Gone.   Instead, roller blades.  No more costume balls?  No more seasonal decorating?  Instead, a travel budget.    One of the hidden joys of reviewing and selecting among what you have is rediscovering that favorite novel or CD previously hidden in a neglected pile.  Let others enjoy the rest. 

Make better use of existing space:
A year after two friends moved into new homes, one friend couldn’t even get into her office and another into her art studio, because those rooms had been stuffed to the gills with boxes of miscellaneous stuff.  The task seemed so monumental, that each woman felt stuck and then guilty about being stuck.  After we cleared out what didn’t belong, and organized the rooms for their intended purposes, both women reported feeling happier and more energized.   They became productive in those spaces.

Another woman had bought a larger and more expensive house than her husband and she needed due to the expectation of frequent visits by young adult children who rarely came.  Visiting that empty wing of the house triggered feelings of sadness and resentment.  So, we had two conversations.  One was about what she would do with the extra money if she sold the house and bought a smaller one.  Second, if she decided to stay, we talked about ways she could re-purpose those unused rooms and spaces.  One idea was a hobby room for her husband (which had the advantage of consolidating items strewn throughout the house), another was a “staging area” for items she planned to give away or sell on E-Bay and Craig’s List.  In these ways, she would empower the people who DID live in the house, not feel held hostage by those who didn’t visit.
My parents had so much stuff crammed into each kitchen drawer that some wouldn’t open all the way to reveal what they contained!  As a result, my mom would buy yet another left handed melon baller or whatever she couldn’t find.  I cleared out 7 - gallon bags of duplicates BEYOND two each (of can openers, whisks, vegetable peelers, kitchen scissors, etc).  I didn’t throw anything away, in case they really liked that fourth mushroom scrubber best, but I stored the bags of extras in the back hall closet.  Suddenly, the drawers are safer and more user friendly for any cook rummaging around for an appropriate tool.   (The bags have remained, untouched,  in the back hall for two years now).

My father-in-law had big, bulky "pseudo-antique, country" furniture that he was sure was valuable, but that he didn't use - they were in his basement and garage.  With a little encouragement, he schlepped a few to various consignment shops.  Reality check:  they didn't sell.  So he moved them to another shop.  finally, he gave them away.   I asked him how much he paid for one of them.  The price was $75, 50 years ago.  He surely spent far more than that moving these bulky pieces from garage to basement to garage! 
Get rid of bad karma:
 I felt great relief giving away attractive items that I didn’t use or wear because of negative associations I didn’t want to think of anymore, but did… every time I saw that item.  Maybe it reminded me of a person I didn’t like or a job I hated or a past event with a sadness attached.  Giving these nice items to others freed me from those reminders and also brought pleasure, without “bad karma,” to the recipient.

 Some people retain clothes several sizes too small or exercise equipment they never use or other products with “should” messages attached (like “I should make homemade bread with that machine I bought”).  Why?  Keeping such things just makes them feel fat and slothful.  Give yourself a deadline.  Tape that date on those items.  If you don’t lose that weight or use that equipment by your designated date, give or sell them to others who will value them more than you obviously do.  You will feel relieved and gain space for other purposes. 

Planned obsolescence:
 If you have broken electronic items, stop saying, “I’ll get it fixed one day.”    Assess whether you even want that function anymore, and if so, whether you have other items which already perform it, too, like both a CD player and a computer that plays CDs.   Maybe the item is not even worth having anymore, much less repairing.  Check the cost of repairs vs. buying new.  You may save both space AND electricity.  I’m not a big fan of “planned obsolescence” but particularly for audio/visual devices, new prices have dropped even as quality has improved to such a point that many older items cost more to run and repair than to replace with something better.   My new notebook computer ($400) draws much less power, has much more memory, and has much better built in speakers, than previous laptops.  I bought a pair of mini-speakers (for the room) for about $29 and gave away the bigger ones.    Some contemporary devices render obsolete whole categories of furniture.  With small computers and big memories, maybe you don’t need that designated office in the basement for all those filing cabinets and prior bulky desktop computing equipment.  Now you can sit in your favorite chair or bed!  If you have a flat TV, you don’t need that armoire.  Maybe with a Kindle, you don’t need as many bookcases in your future.  Because of “planned obsolescence,” the Craig’s List prices of our non-razzle-dazzle color TVs were so low that we just gave them away to families who didn’t need the latest and greatest upgrade.  (We decided not to get another for ourselves at all).  Regarding other appliances, my father-in-law found a $99 chest freezer and a $69 printer/scanner to replace prior ones that no longer worked.   Now to dispose of those old items…

Save money for something you value more: 
Storage units in the US are doing a booming business, primarily, I think, because they enable people to postpone decision making … for a monthly fee.  How much is your indecisiveness worth to you?  $2000?  $10,000?   My husband paid $200/mo for five years before I put my foot down.  His boy scout uniform was in there, for goodness sake!  Rolls of 1970s upholstery fabric his mother never used.  I promise you, it is a lot more appealing to make decisions in your heated or air conditioned home with your favorite music playing than in a depressing, dark, corrugated building.  “Out of sight, out of mind” means “out of your pocketbook,” too.

Larger homes tend to cost more than small ones, sometimes to buy, and certainly to maintain and furnish.  How much of your home do you actually use? Do you spend 90% of your time in three rooms:  kitchen, bedroom, family room?  Do you always sit in one favorite chair, and wear three favorite shirts?  How many square feet do you really need?  Shedding stuff you don’t wear and don’t use can help you realize how much less you need. Have you ever noticed how cleverly organized boats and RVs are?  There is a lot you can do with a small, versatile space.  (See my blog articles on furnishing and storage in tiny homes).  How much is a home of that smaller size?  What might you do with money you free up in a smaller space?   

I realized recently that my friends who travel least have overwhelming mortgages.  Maybe they are homebodies or maybe they are held hostage by real estate costs.  By contrast, almost every poorly paid language teacher I ever knew, lived in an apartment during the school year and traveled abroad all summer.  Think about what you want to do with your time and money.  What makes you happy?      

Make Money (or not): 
Hopin’ ain’t Gettin’:  Most people assume that their furniture and collectibles are more valuable than others do.  Is an assumption of some relative’s sentiment or market value the reason you are holding on to stuff?  If so, it is time for a reality check.  Ask your relatives if they want the china set for 12 or the old milk jug you picture for their future.  If they don’t, consider selling them.  Check websites, stores, consignment shops, and auction houses that sell similar items.  You may be surprised by what people will buy, and what they won’t.  Armed with this knowledge, move some items along, for profit (or not). 

I realize that most readers are not contemplating as drastic a downsize as I undertook to move to our little cabin in the woods, but I can indeed claim to have “walked the walk” not just “talked the talk” in terms of proactively shedding stuff in advance of a major life change.      

I hope that this list of benefits helps you get started! Please let me know how you do!

 (See Part II, the helpful hints section, for websites and other info).

1 comment:

  1. The night I read your de-acquisitioning blog, I also thought about re-acquisitioning. By that I mean, I went up to attic, opened box with some wedding china. Original boxes!!! From 1993 marriage. I looked at it, again prompted by your blog, and thought "Man, this is absolutely gorgeous. If I had to choose it over again, I'd want exactly the same." Then I told myself, get this stuff out of the attic and start using it, you dummy. My breakthrough moment will bringing down one place setting. Maybe the next time I make myself a bagel, it'll be on Bernardaud china with an azur blue rim, gold trim and the most beautiful shade of white. - DSB Philadelphia, PA