A Clean House, A Clear Mind, A Wealthy Life

(3 min read)

Since my university days I’ve managed to accumulate a pretty big pile of stuff.

With tremendous amounts of effort and a lot of help, I’ve somehow managed to hoist, drag and heave this hefty pile around with me from city to city, and apartment to apartment, until it landed in my parents’ basement where it’s stayed for the last 5 years while I’ve travelled and lived abroad.

The pile consists of the usual sorts of things that tend to accumulate. Coffee-makers. Tea pots. Curtains and curtain rods. Bedding, blankets and duvets. Irons and ironing boards. Artwork and books. Clothes. Coats. Shoes…

Somehow, every time I live in a new country, I also manage to accumulate things that I have to separate into “leave behind” and “take home” piles when it’s time to go home. I admit that I value collecting artwork and keep-sakes from each country that I visit, but I’m also cognizant of the fact that each time I go, I can’t fit everything into my suitcase.

This winter, I had a chance to spend some time at home, and when I arrived, I told myself that this would be the year that I would finally reduce that mountain in the basement into something resembling more of a molehill.

Even if it took hours, days, weeks, I would sort through it all until it was reduced. Significantly reduced. And you know what? I reduced it. Significantly reduced it. And, yes, it took hours, days, weeks…

You probably know what I’m talking about. I bet you have your own pile of things that’s been casting a shadow in your basement for some time to come. Or, an overflowing closet of old clothes. Or, a shed packed full of barely used garden equipment.

However, you keep it there, thinking, “one day it’ll come in handy for something.”

But, does it?

When’s the last time you used the curly fry-cutter? The electrical-stimulation ab belt? That you read the stack of books passed down to you from a neighbour back in the 1980s?…

…So, I’ve collected a lot of stuff.

And you’ve got a lot of stuff that you’ve collected, too.

But you know what? We don’t need all of that stuff.

That’s because having more stuff means more stuff on our minds, and more stuff to:

  • organize
  • keep track of
  • clean and maintain

And, it means more money spent.

This is a big contradiction. We think we’re getting a good deal by buying things on the discount rack, but if we weren’t going to buy it in the first place, it’s already cost us too much money.

We only need to buy things that we have a specific use for and that will help us in some way (will we really wear 12 pairs of high-heeled shoes?).

Everything else is an unnecessary cause of stress.

Imagine that I hand you a box full of miscellaneous things. Then I tell you that you should finance it (probably a couple hundred dollars), find a place to keep everything, and try to use everything as much as possible to get your money’s worth. You should also maintain and repair the things when they break.

And then in a few months from now, I give you another box.

And in a few more months, another…

You’d probably start to get a little annoyed with me.

“Don’t you realize I could have put that money towards my upcoming trip to Costa Rica?” you ask.

Soooo, why don’t we get annoyed when we do this to ourselves? Why don’t we see that it’s money we could have put towards travel, or new windows for the house, or for taking that photography class we’ve been thinking about taking for so long?

I think it would be best to get annoyed with ourselves.

At least, a little.

Here’s another scenario: I ask you to sit down in front of all of your piles of stuff and sort through them, getting rid of everything that’s either not useful or isn’t meaningful in some way. Yes, it’s going to cause a spike in your stress levels, but don’t worry, it’s only temporary. As you make progress, the stress starts to come down and naturally you’ll find that it returns to baseline.

Now, here’s a bonus for you: You soon find that your stress levels actually dip lower than they previously were. Suddenly, you’ve got a lot less stuff that you have to worry about. And, you’ve got space in your closet. You can see everything that’s in there, and you can see the back wall.

Seeing the back wall in your closet also means:

  • not feeling overwhelmed by too many options, thereby making it easier to pick one thing to use/wear
  • feeling happier with what you possess, because you only have things that you really like or that benefit you in some way
  • having a better sense of who you are, because you only have things that are meaningful to you
  • having more space, because your space isn’t all junked up
  • having more time, because you have less to maintain and you’re not spending time shopping for more unnecessary stuff
  • having more money, because you’re not spending it on unnecessary stuff

Basically, what this means is that you’ll have more time, more money, more self-satisfaction and less stress. All for the low cost of a temporary spike in stress and a (relatively) small amount of invested time (don’t worry, you’ll make up for this later with all of the time that you’ll save in the long-run).

Now this is a real good deal. One that’s actually worth investing in.

So the question now becomes, what will you do with all of these things? The truly valuable things in life, that money could never buy.

Maybe that sounds like a pretty overwhelming question to answer right now, but it’s a lot less overwhelming than the stress of owning so many possessions.

I’ll tell you what I did after I cleaned out my parents’ basement. It inspired me to organize my upstairs closet, too. And then, when I returned to Denmark, it inspired me to clean up my Danish closet. I can now fit my entire wardrobe in one dresser drawer and about 2/3 of a wardrobe. I still don’t even wear everything.

This isn’t to say that I won’t ever fall victim to the “get-it-while-it’s-hot” mentality of consumerism. I still find myself drawn to brightly coloured discounted-items signs. But, I’m also a lot more mindful of how much I actually buy.

“Do I need it?” I ask myself.

“Will it truly benefit my life in some way?” I ponder some more.

“Is this money better spend elsewhere?” is the final question that’s usually enough to deter me from excess spending.

I must say that my decision not to buy is often accompanied by a slight feeling of disappointment that I won’t have something shiny and new to marvel at when I go home, but just like the stress that proceeded my giant mountain downsize, the feeling is only temporary, and is followed shortly afterwards by much greater feelings of satisfaction.

And, it is this very feeling that wins, hands down, every time.

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