A few years ago, I realized my fancy G2 pens kept disappearing at work. Most of my writing was done on the computer, but I would somehow need to buy a new pack of pens every few months. Even though I didn’t loan them out to people (I kept decoy Bic pens for that), I’d keep losing them. I’d leave one by the copier or put one in my purse with my grocery list, only to never ever see it again.
To prevent further attrition of my pen supplies, I decided to only keep one pen out at a time. Any time I couldn’t find my pen, I made myself spend time looking for it instead of just grabbing a new one from my supply drawer.
My strategy worked—I ended up using the same pen until it ran out of ink—because instead of looking for any pen, I had to look for my pen. I had started to view each one as a valuable, unique item because I was no longer treating my pens as expendable.
But it wasn’t just a pen problem. I had a similar issue with all of my possessions. I had dozens of scented candles and lotions, closets full of similar-looking outfits, and kitchen drawers bursting with spare utensils.
Paradoxically, I felt like I had too much junk, but I still wanted more. I would regularly go shopping to get duplicates of things I had at home—another wool coat, plaid scarf, or pair of boots—but I could only wear one of each at a time anyways. The extras would end up sitting in storage while I went out on another shopping spree.
I had more than anyone could ever need—so much “stuff” that the worth of a single item never stood out. The value of my possessions was diluted to the point that my things were all interchangeable to me. Why should I get excited about this pair of shoes when I had three similar ones in my closet? Who cares if this cardigan gets a hole in it? I have a another one just like it.
I needed to change something, so instead of buying a storage unit or turning the guest bedroom into a walk-in closet, I decided to do the same thing to my possessions that I had done with my pens.
I kept one of everything I actually needed and donated or threw out the rest. I never calculated the monetary value of what I was getting rid of, but I would imagine it would be in the hundreds of dollars.
I did keep duplicates of some items but I tried to limit exceptions as much as possible. Obviously, I kept multiples of things like socks and underwear. I kept a spare towel and an extra set of sheets so I could swap them out on laundry day.
I may have cheated a little bit in the fashion department too—I kept two pairs of jeans (one light and one dark) and three purses (each a different color)—but it’s significantly less than what I had before. For shoes, I kept a pair of sneakers, a pair of heavy snow boots, and then cheated horribly on the rest—three pairs of dress boots, three pairs of flats, and two pairs of sandals. I gave myself a pass on the shoes though because I work in an office and live in a climate with extremely varied weather.
I had much more success going through my box of smelly things. Between Christmas presents and Marshall’s clearance sales, I’ve been acquiring lotions, candles, and body sprays faster than I can use them. I used to store them in a giant box in the bathroom closet and would lug this box to each new apartment when I moved. It felt good to narrow my supply down to one of each and then get rid of the box completely.
After The Purge, I was left with only my favorite things—things that were useful or “sparked joy.” By dumping all of my superfluous belongings, I was able to focus on what was left. I still had one of everything I needed, but I no longer had any clutter obscuring it.
I was worried that after emptying my house, I would immediately start filling it back up, but now I’m wary of buying more. If I see a Yankee candle on sale at Marshall’s, I remind myself that I already own a candle. Where would I store this second one and why is the one I already have not sufficient?
Our society believes that more is always better—that we should have a TV in every room and shoes overflowing from our closets—but we need to challenge that notion. Instead of draining our bank accounts to fill up our lives, we should look at the utility of the individual items we own. We don’t need more things; we just need to see the value in what we already have.
How do you view your “stuff”? Leave your answer in the comments.