02 November 2011

Things That Are True - Burning Down the House

I am having that day; the day when I look around and feel like I'd be better off if I just burned it all down and started over. Picking through the embers and the ashes I'd find that which really matters to me, and just leave everything else behind.

Of course, the landlord might not be keen on me committing arson in or near his property.

It's a concrete building, but still.

A decade ago I was all about acquiring things. New furniture, designer clothes, a cool car; I was a good little consumer and diligently practiced acquisitiveness on a regular basis. Now, I would just as happily throw everything I own out the window (Except maybe my laptop. And one or two books. And the Armani suit I swear I'll fit back into some day.) as ever deal with any of it again. I feel like I'm constantly getting rid of things, and yet there's always too much stuff in my physical (and mental) space. It's like being at a rock concert that's just a little bit too loud (and that's how you know I'm getting old, as if a rock concert could be too loud, for the love of Mike) and not being able to leave.

It exhausts me, this stuff.

I am ever vigilant. The three of us live in 950 square feet. There is no room for excess, and yet it always feels like I'm not quite keeping up with the incoming tide. Toys are passed on the moment they're outgrown, books are read and given away, our clothes closets are purged regularly. I have foisted shoes on my friends, and traded a cast iron frying pan for waterproof cycling gloves. I have quietly divested myself of wedding gifts we don't use, appliances that take up more space than they're worth (how are you liking that juicer, Skot?) and been inching towards minimalism on several levels, but I still always feel like a wave of clutter is about to knock me on my ass.

So here's what I've been doing to strip away the things I don't want to deal with anymore:

  • I sold my car. I didn't use it often enough to justify the expense, and when HSWNBN bought a new-to-us car in June, we decided to take the plunge and become a one-car family. I now bicycle everywhere with The Imp towed in a trailer behind me.
  • I remove at least three items from my home daily that are never to return - even if it's just taking out the recycling, something leaves my house every day. I've put up photos on flickr and offered things free to the first taker on twitter. I've left stuff in the back alley behind our building - a guaranteed way to make it disappear in less than ten minutes. No way to change my mind and decide to keep things "just in case". 
  • Anything new that comes in the house is balanced by something leaving the house. New toy in, old one goes out. New book, furniture, clothing, bedding, towels: same deal. 

Digital clutter: look how tidy!
  • I'd been keeping old guitar, cooking, and crochet magazines because I might get to them someday. (Ah, the little lies we tell ourselves!) Instead of giving them valuable apartment real estate, I scanned the articles/projects I liked, and put the magazines down in my building's laundry room where they went on to find new homes. I now have digital clutter instead of physical clutter, but at least it's hidden away in a folder on a hard drive and not taking up space where I can actually see it.
Now I just need to figure out what to do with the detritus that somehow accumulates on flat surfaces. There is not a counter, table top, or cabinet that doesn't at some point fall prey to the migrating piles of paper that infest this house. It's like a plague or something. Or an STD. The piles just get passed from one flat surface to another and never really go away. How can I deal with this stuff? Someboday save me! I'm open to suggestion, people.

My goal, as I get older, is to have less and less physical stuff in my living space. I'd love to reduce what I own every year, so that by the time I die, my house is almost entirely empty except for the stacks of lush Persian carpets to gently break my final fall.

Sigh. A girl can dream.


  1. We are in a constant battle to pare down too. It is so hard. Now that the kids are bringing stuff home: art, books, toys I find that I'm losing the battle in a more obvious way.

    I have no suggestions, just commiseration.

  2. There are so many times that I feel like this as well. I have to fight my pack rat ways and I always feel much better when I get rid of things. I may actually try to tackle my bookshelves sometime soon. It would be nice to be able to see the tops again.

  3. This is exactly how I feel. About once a month, I say to my hubby, "I just want to throw it all away." He laughs because it is often when I am PMSing. But I am trying to be super diligent about getting rid of stuff. Big Brothers makes regular trips to our door. I am constantly culling my kids' toys. Although it never fails as soon as I give it away, they are looking for it. I am happy to hear I am not along in my battle against stuff.