The Art of Letting Go of Things

Several friends have mentioned how inspired they’ve been by our efforts to become unpossessed. A subset of friends have even been inspired enough to tackle one of their own closets. But almost everyone comments about how impossible they’d find reducing their possession on the scale we’ve been doing. Not sugar coating it. It is hard.

But it turns out that the more you de-accession, the easier it becomes. I’ve discovered that at a certain point it actually becomes, well, maybe not “fun” but certainly satisfying. And more importantly, just a different way of life once you’ve switched your perspective. Which is the point.

Reduced closet
Tony’s work clothes are reduced to just a few hangers’ worth

One example of how it got easier happened in the last days before we moved out of the house. I was working on reducing my work clothes down to what was “minimum, necessary and sufficient” (a phrase work colleagues will no doubt recognize). After several progressive cullings I had reduced my closet to just 23 dress shirts. That was still way more shirts than I needed for the final three months of work so I set myself a goal of 12 dress shirts to get me through ~60 final work days. I found myself stuck at 23. But then it occurred to me that I was thinking about “the loss” rather than “the need”. Once I flipped the process from thinking about whether I could give up a specific shirt to whether it was worthy of keeping  (and being “one of the chosen twelve”) I suddenly found the process much easier. I was quickly able to reduce 4 or 5 of the shirts. And then I stalled. I’d walk away for a bit, come back, look at each shirt and ask myself, “Is this really a keeper?” and find that I could eliminate another shirt or two. After several rounds, I was able to hit my target. Rather than being bummed that my huge walk in closet was reduced to six inches of shirts on hangers, I was actually feeling pretty good about the specific shirts I was keeping.

Building de-accessioning muscles

One of the things that’s made de-accessioning easier is that it’s something Joy and I have always done as a married couple – though not at this level. It also helped that Joy is much less emotionally attached to possessions than I am  — almost certainly because her family moved so much as a child. My parents, on the other hand, lived in the same house for 50 years so I grew up in a world where stuff came in but rarely trickled out. It was a well-feathered nest.

For me it helped that weaning started slowly, with a small level of movement, working around those items that had more emotional value than objective value. For example, I found it was much easier to donate nice dress shirts that were barely used than it was to let go of old tattered things where I could remember when/why I’d purchased them. One of the last t-shirts I gave up was my really tired Yosemite t-shirt that I bought to celebrate hiking from Yosemite valley to the top of Half Dome and back all in one day.

Fortunately, Joy started training me soon after we were married by working on my books. I’m not quoting her so much as creating a condensed summary of our interactions over the years:

“Do you really want to keep all these books? Just because you were an English major you don’t need to keep all the books you’ve ever read…. is this really all the books you’ve ever read? Are you seriously planning to read them again? Why wouldn’t you just check them out of the library? Yes, it’s a classic but this isn’t the world’s only copy.”

Originally, donating my books felt like I was somehow betraying the author. That I was abandoning them. So we started with the easy stuff — SciFi and fantasy paperbacks (not the hardcovers). Then my horror collection. By the time I got to real literature like Austen, Faulkner, and wcwilliams, I was much more sanguine about donating our books. At the very end, as we packed up the final few hundred books to donate to the Menlo Park library I barely got choked up at all.

 


5 thoughts on “The Art of Letting Go of Things

    1. You’re asking this of the person with 14 pairs of jeans? It turns out that I had dress shirts that specifically went with suits and sport coats. Dress shirts that were appropriate for cold weather, dress shirts that were more appropriate for summer months…

      Like

  1. “Originally, donating my books felt like I was somehow betraying the author. That I was abandoning them”
    That sounds very similar to comics/games and myself: “The artists put *so* much effort into drawing/creating those works of art and I’m just going to tell them that their efforts were for nothing if I don’t re-re-re-re-re-read/play them!” 🙂

    Like

  2. “Originally, donating my books felt like I was somehow betraying the author. That I was abandoning them”
    That sounds very similar to comics/games and myself: “The artists put *so* much effort into drawing/creating those works of art and I’m just going to tell them that their efforts were for nothing if I don’t re-re-re-re-re-read/play them!” 🙂

    Like

Let us know what you think

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s