I’ve spent the last 15 years living in small spaces. Two tiny rental cottages, a boat and now, a caravan.
They are experiences that have taught me many things, but right up there is what I’ve learned about ‘stuff’, and more specifically how it affects the way I live.
When my relationship broke up I left a lot of physical things behind. I’d had a workshop and a garage, shelves full of books, far too many clothes, the list goes on.
As I drove away from ‘home’ for the last time, my car was crammed to the roof. As far as I was concerned everything left behind could stay behind. I didn’t need it, I didn’t want it.
Looking back, there was still a lot in the car I didn’t need either. But at the time it felt like a huge deal.
In subsequent years I whittled my possessions down even more. I enjoyed the freedom of not being surrounded by stuff.
Unnecessary possessions are unnecessary burdens. If you have them, you have to take care of them, and that saps your energy.
To paraphrase Spider-Man “With great amounts of stuff comes great responsibility”. I didn’t want that responsibility.
When my partner Gail and I moved onto our boat to go sailing she was forced to leave a lot of her stuff behind. There was good reason to do that, she thought she might need it if she decided sailing wasn’t for her. But over the years, as she came to enjoy our liveaboard lifestyle she came to realise she didn’t. When I met her, she could have given Imelda Marcos a run for her money when it came to shoe ownership. By the time boat life had taken hold ownership was down to single figures (although I know she had a small secret stash somewhere).
Living on a boat forces you to be conservative. Space is limited, weight has to be controlled. Everything aboard had to ‘earn’ its right to remain. As a general rule we didn’t bring anything new onto the boat without getting rid of something else to make room for it.
As an experientialist I’ve learned to live with less. I realised long ago that consumerism and materialism are not only bad for us as individuals, but bad for the planet we live on.
So for folks like us, living an unconventional lifestyle, keeping possessions down to the minimum is easier. But what about those less fortunate ;)
What about those with multi-roomed houses full of closets and cupboards? Those with lofts and attics, sheds and garages? It’s all too easy to accumulate, all too easy to hoard.
“Originally, the cellar served primarily as a coal store. Today it holds the boiler, idle suitcases, out-of-season sporting equipment, and many sealed cardboard boxes that are almost never opened but are always carefully transferred from house to house with every move in the belief that one day someone might want some baby clothes that have been kept in a box for twenty-five years.”
― Bill Bryson, At Home: A Short History of Private Life
But even the space under your own roof may not be enough.
In the UK there are now over 1,500 self-storage sites offering some 44.6 million square feet of space.
In the U.S. there are some 60,000 sites offering a staggering 1.7 billion square feet.
Most of them are full of stuff folks aren’t using but can’t bear to get rid of.
And all this stuff doesn't just occupy physical space. It takes up space in your head too, forgotten about most of the time, but always there, always ready to nag and prick the conscience.
It is preoccupation with possessions, more than anything else, that prevents us from living freely and nobly — Bertrand Russell
You don’t have to read up on the subject to understand this. We know how short-lived the appreciation of material things can be. Think back to the last shiny, new, must-have item you bought. Where is it now? How important is it to you today?
It’s likely the joy it brought was temporary. It’s likely you don’t need it in your life any more. But it’s probably still around somewhere.
Getting rid of a lifetime’s worth of crap isn’t an easy task. It’ll take a lot of effort, but believe me, it’ll be worth it.
There's plenty of help out there if you need it. You have hundreds of books, videos, blogs and courses to choose from. If you want to ruthlessly throw out items that don’t 'spark joy’, Marie Kondo is there for you.
But the object of this exercise is to get rid of crap not to add more.
I’ll save you the trouble; here's my proven, guaranteed, foolproof, de-cluttering method. Just do this.
Sell/Donate/Ditch anything you haven’t used for 12 months — Put the rest where you can find it.
It really is that simple.
Simple but not easy, I know. It'll take time.
So, I'll leave you with this piece of advice. It's uncomplicated, you can do it right away and it'll change your life.
If you want to be happy, don’t buy things, do things.
I know you won't stuff it up.