Decluttering on Steroids

Alan and I plan to be bike traveling for several months, if not a year or more. A major problem to solve before leaving will be to figure out what to do about our house and all of our belongings. There are basically two scenarios that we’re entertaining. Sell the house or rent out the house. Regardless of which option we go with, however, we’re going to have to get rid of a lot of our stuff, downsizing and eliminating all but the essentials.

This fact is simultaneously liberating and terrifying.

I am one of those people who reads blogs like Rowdy Kittens and keeps a Pinterest page of tiny houses and thinks to herself, “that’s great! I want to live like that–with five pairs of underwear, two pairs of pants and one coffee mug!” But the truth is that I have yet to embrace the minimalist lifestyle. I am a collector. Old cameras. Fiesta Ware. Books. I enjoy the outdoors and for that, I have gear, and plenty of it. For most of my adult life I was a single girl on her own, with a household to match. So the idea of paring down, getting rid of things, and lightening up my load seems like a great idea that I haven’t really been able to own.

Now we’re planning to go on the road for an undefined amount of time, and although we’re coming back to Colorado and will return to less nomadic lives, we have the opportunity to seriously reduce our possessions, to lighten our load. What isn’t sold or donated will have to be stored–another expense to manage while we’re away. Real decisions about our belongings have to be made. And soon. Some stuff, I already know, is non-negotiable:  my Fiesta Ware, the camera collection, Grandma’s furniture. Things I can’t replace or don’t want to replace. But squirreled away on shelves and in drawers, under beds and in closest is the detritus of my life and now is the time to sweep some of that away.

This past weekend, I started with my books. I have three big bookcases full of books I’ve collected over the years. So many books. Books I haven’t read, but meant to. Books I loved, picture books my Grandpa collected. Book group-books. It was really hard at first. I reluctantly took a few books off a shelf and started to box them. There were tears. Yes, tears. But for what? Not the books. The tears were for me, my stuff. I don’t want to give up this stuff, I worked hard to get it, it’s mine, it’s me!


boxes of books

Off to the library

Except, they’re not me, none of this stuff is me. And this is the key lesson for me in all this. I am not my stuff; one ought not define herself by her possessions, not even her books. Which is easy to say, to understand and believe, but a hard lesson to take into your bones. Between Alan and myself, we filled several boxes that I delivered to Denver Public Library Saturday afternoon. I felt I had to follow through right away, commit to giving them away.

Sunday, Day Two of the great book purge, was surprisingly easier. I was ruthless. Almost. I felt light. All those paper backs saved for travel or lazy vacation reading? Goodbye! Organic chemistry text from 1989? So Long! The History of Russia? Seriously, I was never, ever, ever going to crack that. Adios! We filled Alan’s car with another dozen boxes for the library.

The shelves are not empty yet, and I think that the clutter will get worse before it gets better, but it’s satisfying thinking about being free of stuff. Whether you are traveling around the country or moving across town, thinking hard about all the things you own and your relationship with them is worth doing. And the public library loves donations!

6 thoughts on “Decluttering on Steroids

  1. A wise woman once suggested – as I struggled to pack up the home in which I’d done most of my child raising for 23 years – to savor the memories that all the stuff held… Seems you’re doing a great job and we also need to embrace the truth in ‘we are not our stuff’ and purge purge purge…

  2. Wow. I really enjoyed reading this. I could hear your voice in my head. I occasionally go on a purge but I have so much ‘stuff’ that I couldn’t part with. The most insidious thing is the occasion when you need some particular thing, and you can recall where it’s been stashed away for years. Intermittment positive reward that just reinforces that voice in your head, ‘keep it, you’ll need it again’.

    • Thanks so much, Joel! In my head, its “keep it, you’ll find a use for it.”

  3. Good read 🙂 and good to see you guys committing to a clean slate before the adventure starts. I think of that Seinfeld episode when shedding books. They are not trophies. What do you need it for after you read it. Yadda, yadda, yadda… I’m on board with Alan though. There’s always a need for more bikes.

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