The past year or so for me has really been an attempt to leave my preconceived notions of comfort and necessity behind. As I progress, I notice that more and more of what goes on around us is cultural and consumer myth. Today, I want to talk about living with less stuff.
I have helped or seen a lot of people move lately, and of course I’ve moved myself. I really trimmed down my holdings (I had a lot of stuff from my grandparents and mother, too, so it was like three generations of stuff!), and I feel a lot better now. I have developed a few key principles in my quest to live with less.
1) If someone else could use it better, let it go.
I am leaving for France, and I won’t be able to take a lot of stuff with me. I have to keep everything I’m not taking in storage, so I evaluated possessions to either keep or donate. For the most part, I gave things away. For example, a set of kitchen utensils. I would assuredly use this set again someday, but is it really worth storing for a few years before this happens? I feel that it would be much better for these to have a new and worthy home.
Sure, my new (or gently used) utensils in the future will have to come from somewhere (energy), but that energy consumption needs to be weighed against the loss of utility in sitting in storage for a few years, or perhaps that the New Home of the utensils would have bought utensils new if they hadn’t found mine. I do not believe that you should hoard possessions once you decide that you don’t need them.
2) Really, it’s the Middle School Cafeteria Scenario.
The Middle School Cafeteria Scenario is the sensation of feeling all eyes on you, when in reality everyone is too self-absorbed to notice you. Basically, once you realize that this is merely a sensation and not fact, you are freed from the burden of trying to live up to others’ expectations.
I mentioned a while back that I only own two pairs of jeans. I realized that no one expected me to put on a fresh pair of jeans every day, and it allowed me to reduce my wardrobe. I take good care of my clothes and hang them up and fold them properly between wears, but yes – everything except for undies and some socks get at least two wears. Turns out, this has been great practice for France because I won’t have to spend a ton of time and money on laundering what would have been an enormous wardrobe.
3) Just Say No.
The best principle (and skill!) I’ve developed is to just say “no.” I shop off of a list for everything – clothes, food, household goods – and work to avoid impulse buys that would otherwise land me with junk. Here is a concrete example: I know that I want/need one pair of capris for France, and I want a khaki pair. I will walk into a store with the specifications “khaki capris” and ignore everything else. I also say no to handouts, programs from plays, etc. I used to hoard these, but I seriously don’t want to take anything that isn’t going to be useful for a long time.
These principles help me keep my number of possessions down, and the simplicity of my life up. I think that the biggest cultural myth that we face is that we need more things, newer things, or more expensive things. This is a myth employed to help companies take our money. Once you recognize cultural myths for what they are, you can begin to refute them and build your own principles.