We have now been in the new apartment for a year. We moved because we needed more space with the baby starting to walk (and getting into literally everything), plus there was no room whatsoever outside in a yard that we could take her to play. There was also an incident with the upstairs neighbor’s water heater flooding our place and leaving behind mold–which they tried to cover up with a thin layer of white paint over half of it… and then their new water heater leaked, and we got another dose of mold. No thank you. So we were looking for a new place, a place with more square footage for the baby to roam with a yard or outside space. Bonus if it was in the country and quiet.
Then we found the new place: nearly double the square footage, huge windows, high ceilings, in the country on 4 acres and a grand total of six apartments in the building so it’s super quiet. It also affords us sunsets like this:
However, there was one thing that I didn’t like about having to move: hauling all the crap from one place to another. I didn’t realize just how much stuff we had accumulated. Frankly, I was embarrassed by how much stuff we had to move, and all the boxes and the stuff that just kept coming. By having the baby we gained a third person to our happy home and all of the stuff that comes with adding a third person to our family… but it was still way too much, and it just kept coming. Babies have a way of making anyone and everyone super generous, which can be nice, but can also add up quickly.
So here we have been, in this new spacious apartment… and it’s got two closets. Not even a coat closet. So lots of stuff got pushed into the closet space we did have.
And then came the third year of medical school with work hours and patient logs and call days with 30+ hour shifts on top of studying and assignments. I kept thinking that I needed to “go through stuff”when I finally got a day off or on post-call. Well…. guess what. When I did get time off, the last thing I wanted to do was go through stuff and sort out piles of trash, donate, sell, or return to owner. Ever so slowly, those piles did form and items started to disappear. The problem was, there was still…. stuff. Everywhere.
I kept having thoughts roll around in my mind about how to best get rid of the excess we had accumulated. Little by little those same piles started to reform. If I did find myself with some free time and if something was bugging me, I’d settle into a heated, angry, cleaning frenzy (hello cluttered sink that drove me nuts for months…).
In November I came up with an idea for a donation project. I worked through my school to set up a donation drive for the local refugee center, which was a huge hit! We wound up taking over 13 carloads of household goods to the local centers. So not only did we do some good for the local community, but I also got to donate a ton of men’s, women’s and children’s clothing that needed to find a good home.
And even then… we still had excess. And it was driving me nuts. How on earth did just three people accumulate so much stuff? We’re not hoarders by any means, but my goodness, there is just stuff everywhere. When I helped with the dropoffs for the donation drive, I can’t even begin to tell you how much of a relief it was to give away bags and bags worth of stuff that could find new life in a new home. I felt a huge weight lifted from my shoulders, and a lot of the stuff I dropped off was NOT mine/ours.
I had no idea just how much mental weight all of that stuff was putting onto me.
Months later, my husband preordered us tickets to a limited-screening documentary held here in town: Minimalism: A Documentary about the Important Things. That is the kind of people we are: we preorder tickets to documentaries. I was so happy he did this–not only because it meant a weeknight date night after a busy clinic day, but also because sometimes my husband just gets me, and it feeds my soul.
I gotta say, I love this documentary. What Joshua and Ryan say is simple and clean, and made so much sense to me. Stuff and consumerism isn’t what makes us happy. How much of the stuff that we have we bought or kept because we thought we had to, or we thought that it held the memories or was the source of our happiness? And it was then that I realized that…. it wasn’t.
Let me tell you about the stuff that I have that is weighing me down. I still have clothes in my closet from high school, back when I was a muscular, slender athlete with big dreams for what was to come. Add in the grad school weight, the married life happy weight, the baby weight… I have a closet full of clothes that I am keeping for the day when I slim down and I hope my old favorites can fit again. It’s massive. My favorite jeans, shirts, even a couple dresses. The thought of letting most of it go makes me uneasy. My closet is full of stuff that I cannot wear. But… having seen the documentary, and having thought about it for months while I finish up the third year of medical school, the time had come to clean it all out.
The closet was actually one of the last things to be tackled. First was the bookshelves. I love my books. I still have some old textbooks from college, but over the years I have been so happy to use the Amazon Trade-In program to give back some of my textbooks in exchange for funds for the next batch of books I need for school (thank goodness I am entering the last year of school and the textbooks will slow down–maybe–for a bit). Books that I didn’t want/need anymore that Amazon wouldn’t take were donated to libraries or children’s programs. Also, when I’ve been published, the publisher sends me multiple copies of the journal. Do I really need four copies of the exact same issue of the journal?? No. Away they went.
Then we tackled the movie collection. When we got married, we had so many duplicate movies. I thought we had gone through them all and found the duplicates, but I found a few more. Then there was a pile that we haven’t watched since the first viewing. Out they went. Then went (some) of the movies that are unopened (like the entire Saturday Night Live collection still pristine, wrapped in plastic).
The next thing we tackled: all the old paperwork we have kept for a rainy day or just in case. I went through it all and majorly cleaned out all that paper clutter, shredding what needed to be shredded and recycling what I could. Then out went the magazines, after one more time of reading them. Bye bye, paper clutter.
One more thing we found: at my favorite local coffee shop, there was an advertisement for a shoe collection/donation that went to making playgrounds for schools and providing clean water in resource-limited areas. After going through all of our shoes, we donated seven pairs of tennis shoes to that program.
Out went the bags of trash. Out went the bags of donations. Out went the paper and the clothes with holes and all the things that we kept that every time I looked at it I thought, I hate you. Why do I still have you?
One of the things that we do for fun in the summer is go to local home shows. I love seeing how different homes are set up as I daydream about our future home. But what I think I like most about touring this homes is just how crisp, clean and decluttered they are. I know it’s all staging and set up to be that way, but what draws me to that style is the minimalism of it all.
After the first round of attempting to be minimalists, we still had a lot of stuff. But, we have much less. I feel like a huge weight has been lifted. When we end up moving early next year after I match into a residency program, I don’t want to have that same anxiety-provoking, overwhelming nightmare occur when we move for the (hopefully) final time.
An unexpected way we’ve been able to minimize: using up what we already have. I haven’t been to Bath & Body Works in over a year. I’ve been gifted so much that I do not need anything from there until I use up what I have.
Which means my pocketbook is happier too. I collect Starbucks mugs in their Cities collection from all of our trips. Lately, on two of our trips, I have intended to buy a mug but left without them. And I’m not remorseful about it. They’d just be collecting dust until they have their own home once we move into a house next year. For now, they’d just be clutter. And who needs that? Why organize so much when you can downsize? Less stuff = no need to organize. That makes me so much more…. free…. now that I have let go of so much stuff and the need to have so much stuff.
This weekend, we tackled the most dreaded of all tasks… the baby’s room. Holy moly, so much stuff.
We are far from done with cleaning out and adjusting to be minimalists. I still have plenty of books, as they are my first love. I still have some old jeans that I hope to once again wear. Because minimalism isn’t about never having any materialistic thing, but about knowing that things and stuff do not bring happiness. We have a long way to go, but we are trying.