There are plenty of reasons to lie awake at night: The electric bill. The ecological disaster that is the Canadian tar sands. Freaky twists of fate. Mortality.
But the thing that wakes me in a cold sweat lately is both simpler and more chilling — stuff. Stuff as in the stuff you own, surround yourself with, construct your daily environment out of, one coffee cup at a time. You wake up in the morning and there it is. You can’t get out of bed without using it. You open the cupboard to ¿x the coffee, whatdya see? Right.
If you want to really see your stuff, move out of a place you’ve lived in for more than 10 years. You may believe you are a good editor of your space. You may pridefully toy with the notion that you’re a minimalist. No matter. Live in any one place for north of a decade, and the days in which it’s easier to pretend you don’t see the 15 cheap ¿oral shop vases on the closet shelf will start to outnumber you.
So, on the eve of a big move to a smaller space, I looked around and started feeling that my obsess.ing over the tar sands would have to wait. There were enough dutifully saved party supplies in my house to make my palms sweat. There were extra linens. Spare pillows. Stemware. Fear and loathing had come home to roost.
Luckily, I love getting rid of stuff almost as much as I love ¿nding new stuff to drag home. So I put a piece of paper on the kitchen counter. Then I wrote, “I’ve noticed we don’t really use the …” at the top. Fill in the blank, I told my two children. You see something that we never use, write
it here. Because when we leave this house, we are only going to take what we really use and what we really love.
Right away, our list started to grow. “We never use the wine glasses,” my daughter pointed out, and thus the stems were marked for deletion. The three non-stick pans? Hmm … how about one?
To test out what it’d be like with less stuff, we started setting things aside. We segregated our cookware, using only a few pans every night, to see if we could do without the rest. Sure enough.
My un-favorite set of sheets got the same treatment: I sidelined it in favor of the set that makes crawling into bed feel like sneaking into heaven. I didn’t miss it, even though changing the sheets suddenly meant laundering the sheets, immediately. It was an overrated convenience.
We walked our dog with the best leash. Wore the pairs of shoes we love the most. Used only the hair products that make our hair behave. There was an awkward bliss to it all.
As moving day drew closer, we started dumping the stuff we weren’t using into boxes and referring to it as “inventory.” Garage sale inventory, that is. Those extra placemats, mini muf¿n pans and old toys made excellent garage sale fodder, even though we ended up handing over the remains to a dude who cleans up after garage sales. (And clean up he does — you trade your stuff for the privilege of having someone else take it away. It’s best not to think too hard about this.)
Post-sale, the house got clearer, more focused. The move started to look less like climbing Everest with a broken leg, more like … climbing Everest with really annoying blisters. Even my two favorite sherpas, ¿ush from their toy sale (yep, they kept the money) were upbeat.
As it turned out, the new place we found wasn’t really all that tiny. But, once started, the paring down plan was too good to abandon. When do you ever have a true incentive to cast off your worldly goods and start fresh, with only what you love, only what works for you? So we pressed on, packing up our bests and favorites with care. There were a few snafus — we had to add a few plates to our remaining set when we realized we had ended up with only seven. I somehow failed to divest myself of enough coffee cups, and still have enough to serve coffee to 20. But the stemware? I think I’m done. The one-glass-¿ts-all approach works so well for us that I don’t anticipate ever longing for tall glasses again.
In the new place, we unpacked our things, and looked around. What we saw was a collection of stuff that looks like it belongs together, and belongs with us. Stuff we use, and want to use.
Less isn’t more, exactly. It’s just less distraction, less of what you don’t want, less waking in a cold sweat. If you don’t count the tar sands.