I have been cleaning and purging and giving away many of my accumulated belongings for about two months now. While I regularly purge and toss away many of my papers, clothes, and various knick-knacks, this most recent purge coupled with my MILK TEA EXCHANGE PROJECT has truly been an awakening exercise. Here are some of the things I have learned:
1) Cleaning out my belongings has truly given meaning to the song that goes, “So blessed I can’t contain it; so much I gotta give it away.” I used to think that was a metaphor of sorts, but in the weeks that I have been cleaning out and sorting through my stuff, I find that I have many things I can give away to people who truly have a need for them, since it seems I no longer do. I cannot believe how much stuff (and that really is the best term here) I have accumulated and how much money all these must have cost. Gotta give them away!
Bags packed and ready to give away!
2) I do not need multiples of everything. I was running out of space, that was clear. No matter how organized I try to be with my things (each has its proper place or bin), having multiples of things in excess meant that I do not get to see or use about 50% of those multiples: jackets, summer boleros, shoes, hair trinkets, earrings, English and language books, Bible study manuals…the list goes on. While I may still have multiples of most things, I have chosen to keep only those that get most use on a daily basis, or keep a few of those that are seasonal. The rest, I have given away or sold. Yay.
Multiples of magazines collected over the years, a decade, perhaps. And they all look brand new!
3) Stocking up on so many things was sort of, kind of a sign of selfishness.Okay, fine. It was selfish. It was like small-scale doomsday prepping. Having multiples in stock meant that someone else could have benefited from the things I had amassed if I had given them away. But I kept them, I hung on to them “in case” I would need them. Which rarely did happen, if at all. So yes, I had to decide to give away many of my books, some of my still wearable or almost unused clothes, accessories, etc. There was some of emotional attachment in collecting these things, but I had to be ruthless and practice the act of giving away on a larger, more personal scale. It was easier to give when I buy things from a store, but this practice of giving felt more real because I was giving from what had been mine.
Tine and her beautiful thank you card. I enjoyed our conversations so much during the two hours or so of exchange.
4) Time does indeed erase all manner of sin, at least from a human perspective. Going through my stuff, I was afraid of opening sealed boxes filled with letters from old loves, from people who used to be part of my life, from friends who were no longer part of my circle. I was afraid I might cry, break down, be sucked down a timewarp (just kidding). After years of storage though (some even decades), it was difficult to recall what exactly had hurt me then. Throwing away these letters, photos, and memorabilia from people who are no longer part of my life was so much easier than trying to recall what happened and who hurt who. Case closed.
Old friends from an old love. =)
5) “I am not my house, my car, my songs,” crooned Paula Cole. And she was so right. In storage I found certificates, medals, manuscripts, notebooks, doodlebooks, artwork, photographs (the black and white kind I used to take with my SLR and develop in a darkroom), report cards, drawings, old electronics, diplomas. They all seemed like a mass of time and age markers that brought me to where I am now. I cannot take any of them with me when I go (and I mean this metaphorically). “…they are only stops along my way.”
Tapes (does anyone else remember tapes?!) from my kindergarten musical concert.
6) The less stops, the faster you get to where you are headed. There is that cliche about letting go of baggage, right? Knowing that I have so many things and not knowing where to place them or store them in the event that I move out or leave the country was kind of a drag. It was also difficult to find the stuff I really need amidst EVERYTHING no matter how organized I am (I sort and label and store, yes) Many times, I wished I had less stuff, so I kept on purging, kept on cleaning. Now I have about thirty percent less stuff than I did before I did this purge. While I do not think I can further minimize my belongings at this point, I have resolved to purchase even less than what I already do. I like speed; I like swift decisions. Paring down my belongings will make it easier to find things, get dressed, work.
Some things I still need to sort through.
7) The act of purchasing has been wired into my brain, our brains, but we can change that. While I am not and was never an impulsive buyer (thank you, Mommy!), I still find that the act of purchasing is something that can be difficult to avoid. There are ads everywhere and even without ads, people, friends, acquaintances, and even my psyche is always asking, suggesting that I purchase something. Especially when I don’t need it. Purchasing has become something of a symbol for being part of this world, and no wonder. Puchases make the economy go round (at least that’s what I remember from ECONOMICS class under Solita Monsod; she was a great teacher). But I refuse to buy (pun not intended) into that concept any longer. I have to purchase only what is consumable, to avoid amassing things, stuff. Nowadays, I find myself going through my day thinking that I will not purchase a non-consumable object (unlike food or toiletries). I have done this exercise periodically, and when I do, I find that it is possible NOT to buy anything, something new for weeks, months on end. And I survive. Now I want it to be on a larger and more intentional scale. (Update: Aug. 27, 2014 I am thinking of scaling down this project and doing a similar one of my own: http://www.forbes.com/sites/laurashin/2014/08/20/the-buy-nothing-year-how-two-roommates-saved-more-than-55000/?utm_campaign=forbesfbsf&utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=social)
Comic by Stephan Pastis. How does this make you feel?
8) The more you let go of things, the better it feels. Who hasn’t felt that sweet release of purging? Everything just feels lighter, fresher, cleaner after a purge. Purging can be addictive. The past few weeks, I would find myself walking around my room, rummaging for more things to let go of. Because it just felt soooo good. And judging from the bags of trash that still come out of my room each week despite the giving away and cleaning up, there’s still a lot of letting go to do.
My thesis manuscript from 1997-1998. And a floppy disk. I finally let these go...I think.
9) When you give, it does come back to you. Not in the way you expect, perhaps, but there are surprisingly beautiful ways of giving coming back: a friend messaging you thanks over and over again, a cousin who so gleefully shows off her “new” clothes, dinner and tea with a friend, new friends, rekindled friendships. And this is just the beginning.
From my Milk Tea Exchange with Ate Miles and Sam. Bonding talk and lots of hugs from our baby girl!
10) While I am not my things, they do represent the person I was, I am. I have 5 (or six or seven) times as many books as I have clothes. I have virtually no makeup (except for the ones in my tiny makeup bag, which is just a handful), but I have lots of pots and tubes and bottles of skin and body goop, and most of my other stuff is in the form of letters, memorabilia, papers. When I wear my clothes, shoes, bags; when I read my books and refer to my sources; how much or how little makeup I put on, the kinds of clutter I tend to buy, and the kind of things that surround me says a lot about who I am (and the people who give me gifts). You might want to think of what your next purchase says about you next time you are tempted to buy something on the fly.
I want my things to represent me well.
Going through this purge has kept me thinking a lot about minimalism, and at first, I thought that minimalism was not for me. I have bins of papers, shelves and bags and chests of books, dolls and memorabilia; it would be tough being a minimalist. But after reading some people’s experiences on adapting a minimalist lifestyle, one of the things that stood out was this: minimalism can manifest differently in different people with different lifestyles. A single entrepreneur who travels with everything he owns will undoubtedly have a different minimalist experience compared to a minimalist who is raising five kids. What’s important is that if I wanted to embrace minimalism, I had to avoid amassing, purchasing, and storing things I didn’t need or things I think would need at a remote time in the future. While this can be a difficult mindset to overcome, I will try, I will keep trying. I will keep purging. On my own terms. Not from the minimalist perspective of some book or article, but on my own terms.
Cheers to less becoming more!