Last year, a friend of mine helped orchestrate his parents’ move from their house—the one my friend grew up in—to an apartment in a high rise. In the high rise, they would no longer be responsible for maintenance of their home, the cleaning would be reduced dramatically because the apartment they took was much smaller than their house, and very importantly, they wouldn’t have to worry about going up and down stairs.
One part of my friend’s story made a big impact on me—the hassle of packing up the old house and getting rid of an incredible collection of things that wouldn’t fit in the new apartment. What jumped out at me was when they realized how much they owned that they didn’t need.
That inspired me to do something I’ve been doing nearly every weekend since. For over a year now, I’ve been getting rid of things in my house. My goal was not to get rid of everything we don’t need, because surely we could live without some of what we enjoy having but don’t need to have. My goal was, and continues to be, to get rid of things there is no reason for us to have, which helps simplify my life.
I have been surprised at how much I have been able to shed—surprised because my wife and I have always been good about donating things we don’t use: the kids’ clothes, toys, and books as they outgrew them; our clothing we had stopped wearing; and books I didn’t want.
Here are some of the things I have donated (or, in some cases, thrown in the trash):
Electronics: We had a closet in the basement where we had been accumulating old electronics and parts. Many of the parts had no value. The items that could have been of value to someone, such as my kids’ CD players, we donated.
Books: I have given away a huge number of books over the years, but I have also kept quite a number of them. I haven’t counted them, but one thing this whole exercise did was make me realize I have far more books (and other things in my house) than I realized. I’m still keeping quite a few books, as I like how they look on the bookshelves, but I also gave away many I hadn’t previously considered giving away.
Burned CDs & CD Jewel cases: When my kids were young, I would burn copies of my CDs in order to introduce them to music I liked. As they got a bit older, I burned copies of CDs for them to take to sleepaway camp. Now, iPods and smartphones have changed everything. As a result, I found dozens of burned CDs, as well as empty cases that held those CDs, hiding away in my kids’ rooms, by my exercise equipment from when I used to listen to music while working out with weights, in my car, and in other places around the house. I threw out the burned CDs. I placed the plastic CD cases in our recycling bin.
Clothing: As I said, we have always done a good job with clothing. I kicked it up a notch during this past year. For a simple example, I found I owned three bathing suits. The one on the bottom of the pile I hadn’t worn in years. Now, it’s been donated.
Things in our Garage: Our garage has always been pretty well organized, and we have not kept a lot of unneeded items, but as with other parts of the house, I found things we never used in there as well.
Things in my Attic: The attic in the house I grew up in was the repository for an incredible collection of “stuff,” and it was not well organized, to say the least. I vowed to never have an attic like that. As a result, our attic has always been extremely well organized, and we don’t have a ton of things in it. But, I found quite a bit up there to dispose of as well: a typewriter case (no typewriter, just the case), old pieces of luggage we never use, pillows, and more.
VHS Tapes: It’s been years since I popped a VHS tape into my VHS player (I do still have a player, because my DVD player is a combination player of DVDs and VHS tapes). It was hard to part with the VHS tapes for a few reasons. First, I tended to only own tapes of movies I loved. While I never bought that many, and most of the ones I bought were purchased for next to nothing at garage sales, it’s hard to say goodbye to anything that is a favorite—even ones that were originally blank tapes with recordings of movies on TV. Second, my local library, which used to take donations of VHS tapes, has no interest in them. It seemed harsh to throw them in the trash, but that’s what they were. During this process, I realized I don’t even watch my DVDs. I don’t have that many, but because they are digital media, they are much more usable than the VHS tapes, so I’m not parting with them yet.
Audio Cassettes: I am keeping a bunch that contain irreplaceable recordings, like some interviews I did for articles I wrote in the 1980s, and some radio shows I did when I was in college. But the rest, most of which were copies of vinyl I made so I could listen to my LP records while driving, are of no use.
Kids’ Art Projects: Now that taking photos is virtually free, incredibly easy, and super convenient on our smartphones, taking photos of our kids’ art projects made it easy to finally throw them out. (They had been in storage in our attic.)
If you find it hard to part with things you don’t need, it might be helpful to realize that’s a very common situation. Psychologists and behavioral economists have studied the phenomenon and given it a name.
As its Wikipedia entry explains, “The Endowment Effect” is the hypothesis that people ascribe more value to things merely because they own them. I studies, people will tend to pay more to retain something they own than to obtain something they do not own—even when there is no difference in monetary value, and even if the item was only obtained minutes earlier. Similarly, people will also tend to hold onto something rather than trade it for something else. In one experiment, participants first given a Swiss chocolate bar were generally unwilling to trade it for a coffee mug, whereas participants first given the coffee mug were generally unwilling to trade it for the chocolate bar.
How have you been able to simplify your life by disposing of unneeded belongings taking up space or causing clutter? Please join the conversation with your comments…