I need to declutter in the New Year.
I am not yet a hoarder, but have definitely began exhibiting hoarding tendencies in my mid-forties, purchasing far more books than can be comfortably accommodated in our +/- 1,500 square foot home and many other items that my family and I have acquired through gifts, inheritances, and continual purchases both online and at stores.
I have wanted to declutter my belongings for a while and am making it one of my New Year’s resolutions. That is a given and an easy decision. Not so easy for me is grappling with a certain number of items to move out of my life, how to count things in general, the concept of what is mine, and overcoming my fear of wanting or needing the very thing that I gave away, sold or discarded at some future date.
I am the husband/father/breadwinner of a middle class family in the northwest suburbs of Chicago, thus my family is not going to jump on the minimalism bandwagon. Certain accoutrements of our middle class lifestyle are “required” in this day and age, like iPads, musical instruments, smart phones, a large amount of clothing, pet supplies and quite a few treasured items given to us by loved ones who are no longer with us.
But that does not mean that our stuff could not use some weeding out. Particularly clutter collected by Yours Truly Middle Class Guy.
The 100 Thing Challenge
The idea of decluttering has been in my mind for quite some time. My wife has been very understanding of me but has occasionally urged me and our children to pick a certain number of things that we can donate. With our children, she orders a number of things for them to add to the donation pile and with me she suggests it. She follows the Fly Lady and goes on a cleaning and organizing binge about once per month and it is best for me if I follow suit.
In my reading of dozens of blogs and magazines every week, I came across Dave Bruno’s 100 Thing Challenge. Mr. Bruno whittled his belongings to a mere 100 items and became a best-selling author while documenting it. I have no intention of getting down to a mere 100 items owned, but I certainly benefit by reading about it and embracing some of his philosophy.
I do not even intend to catalog the items that I own. Maybe I own 500 things and maybe it is only 250. I do not really care at this point, but I do want to reduce the items cluttering up my living and work areas, thus lessening my anxiety somewhat this coming year.
As the old saying goes, “You don’t own things, they own you” and I am getting sick and tired of feeling some misplaced loyalty to things that pile up in my house and office.
I first wanted to tie in my New Year’s resolution with the number 18 for 2018, but eliminating only eighteen things is far too few and our entire family probably does not own 2,108 items. Perhaps I will get rid of thirty-eight items, i.e., 20+18.
Thirty-eight also being too few, I have settled on my own challenge called The 50 Thing Challenge. Fifty is a nice round number and refers to the number of items that I would like to get rid of, not trying to get down to. Fifty-two would be better, but I will give myself two weeks off in 2018 from getting rid of an average of one thing per week.
I realize that ridding myself of fifty things is not the most compelling goal ever conceived of, but the way that I look at it, I have many other goals and resolutions for the upcoming year in addition to ridding myself of unnecessary possessions, and that number still represents fifty less things than I currently have and perhaps I will do that every year from here on out or even increase that number next year.
Things That Come to Mind
As an almost-forty-seven-year-old with a chronic ankle injury, now may be a good time for me to officially announce my retirement from competitive baseball. Note that I wrote baseball because most people assume that I mean softball.
I am one of a small percentage of guys who played competitive fast-pitch hardball following my college years. This hobby entailed the purchase of numerous fielding and batting gloves, uniform pants, cleats, helmets and baseballs.
I have not played for the past five-plus years, so why I maintain a collection of baseball items is beyond me. I suppose that were I ever able and willing to play again, it would not be the worst thing in the world to have to purchase uniform pants again.
I purchased a lacrosse stick for our son, who had expressed some interest in playing the sport in his freshman year of high school. He used it once, and it has now sat in our garage for the past five years without being used once. I can part with it and may even make a few bucks from it if I put it on Craigslist.
I still own many shirts from the late eighties. The funny thing is, I purchased these plaid shirts prior to the grunge era when they became popular and continued to wear them after that era passed. Now that I see hipster Millennials wearing them, I suppose that they are back in fashion. I do not really care if they are in fashion or not. I liked them when I was in my teens and I still like wearing them now that I am in my late forties. I will not be getting rid of these.
I own many nice sweaters, four of which I have worn in the past several years. Should I continue to keep the other seven or eight that permanently reside below those four in my bottom drawer? I suppose that it would not hurt to donate one or two of them.
Mostly, I am saddled with paper. Reports, articles that I found interesting and want to write about, event programs from dozens of concerts and recitals where our children performed and/or were featured, Of course, I would not count each paper item as one, but I could certainly count a folder full of fifty pages as getting rid of one item.
I also have ended up owning many tee-shirts through attending trade shows and events where they are given away. I keep many of them in a dresser in our laundry room and refer to them as my “throw away” tee-shirts, suitable for painting or yardwork or spilling things on them. At one point, I must have owned twenty-five of these “throw away” tee-shirts, many of which were given to me by a former business associate who managed a West Suburban Bank branch.
I recently donated quite a few of these redundant tee-shirts in a collection of items to be sent to victims of Hurricane Harvey. Since I was helping to promote the collection in my community, I thought it the right thing to do to donate items, myself. I also donated several pairs of new, unopened underpants that were purchased by my mother for my late father over five years ago and had been stored under one of our dressers since that time.
New underwear was one of the items that the person who coordinated our collection wrote was most needed. Talk about getting rid of some clutter, but it makes me glad to think that someone who needed those pairs more than I do is now wearing them. Whoever now owns it would have no idea from who or where they came from.
I mention giving away that stuff only because those five tee-shirts and new pairs of underwear were to be the beginnings of my 2018 decluttering, along with some other household items that my wife threw in. Oh well, that just means that the fifty things that I get rid of will not include those.
Struggle Getting Rid of My Kids’ Stuff
In another irony, I am the one who struggles with getting rid of our kids’ stuff. My wife has no qualms in getting rid of a favorite childhood toy or book that I read to our children a thousand times, but I do.
True, our son is now a bearded, long-haired jazz musician of college age and our daughter is on varsity poms and marching band and is taking all honors and AP courses in high school. So they are both done playing with childhood toys.
I realize that there is a psychological reason why I have a hard time donating their childhood toys. Every time we do, I am forced to admit that our children are not kids any more. They are young adults. Our daughter wants an iPhone, not a plastic pony. Our son wants another new trumpet, not a plastic dinosaur.
Perhaps I am the one who wants the plastic ponies, dinosaurs, Legos and whatnot, but I promise to assist in moving some or most of them along this coming year and will count those toward my goal of fifty items, although they are not technically mine.
Whose Stuff is it, Anyway?
There is also the issue of what belongs to who. If I want to get rid of some science books that I bought for my son when he still wanted to become a scientist, is it mine to get rid of?
If I move along a broken cheap clock that some friends of my wife’s and mine got us for our wedding, does that count too?
Of course, there are no hard and fast rules as to what constitutes getting rid of “a thing” or whether it is mine, theirs or ours. I would count the twenty or so baseballs that I still own as one thing, and I would count the broken wedding gift clock as one thing that I would get rid of, although my wife owns it as much as I do.
Considering that the four of us, plus our dog, have things that we could live without, I think that I will count any item that I donate, discard or sell as one out of the fifty.
Since books are things, and I will also be adding the resolution of getting rid of fifty more books than I acquire this coming year, I might as well go back to the good old number 100.
Considering that much of my clutter and disorganization could be attributed to the large amount of books that I have piled in every available space, I hereby add another fifty things to get rid of in the form of these books.
Again, I stipulate that I must rid myself of fifty more books than I acquire because I know that it is not possible for me to go an entire year without purchasing more books. Getting rid of seventy-five books while acquiring only twenty-five I can do in 2018, but getting rid of fifty while not acquiring any I cannot do. I’m being honest.
So my 100 Thing Challenge will differ from Dave Bruno’s and his many followers who have detailed their success at minimizing their belongings to that small amount.
My 100 Thing Challenge will be to get rid of a total of 100 things or more this coming year, fifty of those “things” being books, and those at a net minus amount to boot.
I realize that this whole thing sounds squishy to you because it does to me, too, But by the end of 2018, there will be fifty less things in my family’s and my possession and a reduction of at least fifty books out of the hundreds that I own.
Were I in a position to buy a beautiful, nicer and larger home, I would be excitedly planning on having custom bookshelves to house my impressive collection of books built, but that is not to be.
Instead, I must stick to my guns and will, of course, document my efforts at owning less things and creating more while consuming less.
I used to want more things than I do now, and I am learning to embrace the philosophy that Less is More. I would rather have more money in the bank or in my retirement account at this time in my life than more possessions strewn about my home.
I have often felt “stuck” with too much stuff and I have recognized in the past several years that my best days are spent with my family doing things together outdoors that require minimal consumer items.
Now I want less and intend to declutter our home somewhat, and help myself recognize what items are necessary, which items I love for sentimental reasons, and which items are not needed.
I know that I will feel better about myself once freed from the burden of unnecessary possessions. After all, I used to be a basically neat person and would like to return to being one again.
Moving along fifty more books than I acquire this coming year, and for a few years thereafter, would be steps in the right direction.
I Can’t Wait
Not that there is anything stopping me from beginning this endeavor immediately upon clicking on the “Publish” button, but I have long been and will remain a big believer in New Starts in New Years.
I have made resolutions in the past that have faded from memory by mid-February like most people have. I will be revisiting the resolutions that I made at the end of last year at the conclusion of this year to see where I stand with them.
You readers are the ones who will keep me on my toes with the goals and resolutions that I have been formulating both in my mind and in my idea notebook. One of them will certainly be this 100 Thing Challenge including moving along many books.
I can’t wait to get started on it in the New Year and I also can’t wait to report the results to you.
I was going to conclude this by writing “wish me luck,” but I realize that luck is not involved at all. Only determination will help me weed out those 100 unneeded things from my life this coming year.
A better conclusion to this is for us to both endeavor to let go of stuff and redirect our focus to more productive things. I desire clarity, satisfaction and time well spent with my family more than I want possessions and I look forward to the greater sense of contentment and freedom that this will bring.
One hundred things, I’m coming for you!