Saturday, January 4, 2014

And If We Threw It All Away

Recent life events have influenced me to postpone indefinitely my plans for relocating to the East Coast. I have an abundance of professional and growth opportunities that I want to immerse myself with over the next few years, including completing certification programs at a local university, studying for and earning a Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM) certification, and taking my recent adventures in presentations and storytelling to the next level. There is unfinished business that I want to attend to. I have also realized that I have connections and friendships in the area that I want to cherish. My roots will continue to be in Portland indefinitely.

But there is one thing I want to do within the next six months, and that is to find a new apartment to live in. I have lived in the same place since I moved here on August 31, 1995, and the space does not suit or reflect my personality anymore. I have become extremely disenchanted with my living situation, especially since I no longer feel the need to “tough it out before moving away.” I want to move into a smaller space with reduced square footage and charm. I started the process of decluttering my apartment this week in preparation for the eventual relocation. Spending hours evaluating the things that will be part of my future and what will be left behind involved rethinking my material philosophy and the meaning of home as an engaging space, and expending sheer amount of mental energy on decision-making processes.

In the past year, I spent eight weeks living outside my home, at housesitting stints and out-of-town vacations and conferences. Those weeks of relying mainly on the contents of my suitcase and backpacks were liberating. I felt unencumbered with less stuff around me. I also became fascinated by the location-independent lifestyles of several people whom I had met at World Domination Summit 2013. Absolute minimalism is unlikely in my future, but it is always an inspiration to learn from those who value mobility.

Reading Gretchen Rubin’s Happier At Home inspired me to think about my relationship with possessions. During the decluttering process, I asked myself, “How—and how often—will I interact with this object?” I gave myself two rough guidelines for keep-or-toss criteria: six months for unopened pantry foodstuff, and three years for other material possessions. Since keeping stuff around that is rarely used is wasteful in context of lean thinking (clutter contributes to several components of muda—or waste—including Transport, Inventory, Motion, and Overproduction), I asked myself whether or not keeping something around would add value to my furnishings and life. It wasn’t long before I got rid of excess hair gels, backups to backup pants, tubs of unused jar candles, and other stuff that I had kept around the apartment for “just in case” scenarios. I got rid of a bag full of black socks, which I had set aside since last summer: my plans for making Gothic sock monkeys did not materialize, so out went the socks. My crafts night project of making bookmarks out of magazine pictures never happened, so out went the old magazines. I finally got rid of silverware that I had ganked from the college cafeteria in the early 1990s: I guess I never bothered to host a dinner party for twenty people at my place.

I also struggled with environmental concerns while throwing things away. I tossed almost dozen trash bags of stuff into the dumpster this week. I thought about how detrimental it was to the environment throwing away half-used things that still had some potential consumability, but my discontent caused by the clutter trumped my environmental concerns. What I want to do, however, is to critically think about usefulness of things at the stage when I obtain them—not five years later while decluttering the apartment. Will I find meaningful uses for a pen set within next three years in order for me to justify falling for the current 75 percent off sale price? Do I really need dozen containers of rice milk just because the carton pricing is at 25 percent discount? Perhaps reframing my thoughts about environmental impact of stuff will save lots of grief (and sore arms) when I am hauling bags of possessions to the dumpster.

Sorting through numerous possessions also resulted in decision fatigue. For every item that I was deciding its fate about, I asked myself, “Will I interact with this? Can this be replaced if I need it again in the future? Will someone else find this to be useful? Is it better for me to toss this away? Or take it to Goodwill? Or try to make money off it on eBay?” Repeating that numerous times during a purge session drained my mental energy, and left me with less energy to engage in other activities this week.

Seeing objects which reminded me of my former aspirations, ambitions, and priorities were weird. I purged piles of books and manuals on computer technology (the stuff that I thought I would eventually need to learn but never made time to do so), computer peripherals (stuff like backup docking station for an obsolete Palm Pilot) and excess cables, boxes of inkjet-compatible CD labels (did I really think I was going to become a CD demo-making empire?), and college textbooks. Perhaps they may be of interest to other people, but they are no longer in my life. I want to reinforce my shifting life priorities by evaluating my possessions on a frequent basis, instead of every few years.

I want my interactions with stuff to be meaningful. One of Gretchen Rubin’s commandments from The Happiness Project is to “spend out”that is, using and interacting with things instead of saving them for a rainy day, rejecting the hoarding mentality, and letting things go. Unused things can be almost as wasteful as throwing away good, usable stuff. I want to care about the stuff that I am interacting with: fixing loose buttons on favorite articles of clothing should not feel like a chore, but an opportunity to improve my happiness with them. And when they no longer add value, it’s time to get rid of them. I want to have a good idea of what my apartment inventory consists of. Unexpected surprises, such as finding a long-forgotten book, are nice from time to time, but I want those moments to become a rare exception.

For over a year, I have maintained a clutter-free and minimalist cubicle at work. I often get asked by peers if I plan on leaving my job, since I had purged crap out of my space. Now is the time for me to get rid of stuff at home: I want my home to be a place with things that I can be excited about interacting with.

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