Musings on Purging
My large family just moved into a small house. Maybe our family isn’t huge with five people, but that is twice as large as the average American household. And while our home isn’t as small as the ‘tiny houses’ that people like to talk about these days, at 750 square feet, it is less than a third of the average American single family house these days.** My husband and I have chatted about building a tiny house for our family (he’s drafted a number of plans for us, with great detail). And last year when we sold our townhouse and travelled back east to live closer to family for a while, we mused about buying a bus to convert into an awesome RV for ourselves. But moving into this house kind of just happened. We piled all of our stuff into a moving truck, leaving mostly just seasonal clothes, tools, and craft supplies, in the storage unit. With boxes piled from floor to ceiling, I have spent the last week trying to make sense of things. With very little storage space, I’ve really had to ask myself with each object I unpack: do we really need this?
In a way, it was helpful to have packed most of it up a year ago when we headed east. We left almost everything in storage, only taking what could fit in our minivan with the five of us, our two dogs, and one rabbit. So we had time to really see what ‘stuff’ we missed. When we came back and opened up our boxes, it was like Christmas for my kids as they reunited with all their toys. But that only lasted for a couple of weeks and then most of the toys were back to just taking up space.
Space: having grown up in a large family myself, I considered myself very good at using up space. You can still have lots of stuff in a small space, if you are just very good at organizing it! But as a parent now, and as an adult, I seek peace and simplicity. A clean counter, a shelf with a few books and a photograph, a wall with just one piece of artwork – I appreciate here things so much more now than I used to! I have to intentionally create those spaces (and attempt to keep them that way!).
I’m not a pack rat. Having grown up with a grandmother that struggled through the Great Depression made me super aware of what that means! (Example: She was in the habit of buying toilet paper whenever she found it on sale. After she passed, we discovered a stash of toilet paper in the basement; enough to last our family of six a full year!) And while I love the concept of being a minimalist, I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that it is not in my nature. I love books and while I’ve learned to let go of the ones I once loved but don’t read anymore, I still dream of having my own library one day – perhaps a ‘tiny house’ with floor to ceiling bookshelves! And I am a creator – painting, knitting, sewing, wood burning; all things that give me joy. I need to have materials nearby! My children have all inherited my love of books and crafting, so we can’t get rid of those!
I’m also more of a messy professor than a neat freak. (I recently heard about a study that says that messy desks are a sign of intelligence and creativity and I’m just going to take that to heart because I can’t seem to do anything about it.) But chaos and stuff everywhere also make me anxious and twitchy. So I have to find balance. I’ve read books about keeping a tidy house, I’ve read blogs about minimalist living, and I’ve learned about the KonMari method of purging. And I’ve learned that taking other people’s advice about all of that just drives me crazy and makes me feel inadequate. So here I am, just figuring it out on my own, probably the hard way (seems to be my M.O.). I just ask myself about each thing, as I try to find it a place in our new home: do we really need it? Does it give us pleasure on a regular basis? Did we miss it when it was packed away? If I get rid of it, will we want to go out and buy another one next week? And it’s working! I’ve already brought six boxes of stuff to second-hand stores.
I think I was always worried that if I got rid of a lot of stuff, it would just make me more of a consumer because I would feel the need to fill the void of stuff. But it’s not working that way. It has been so satisfying to let go of things that I had convinced myself had meaning and needed to be kept. By convincing myself that this stuff is just… stuff, I am letting go of it’s importance. And rather than that making me want more, instead I feel more satisfied with what I have. It makes sense but I never *felt* that sense until now. And it is now that feeling that I want more of!