I’m throwing away one thing every day

“What if you remove one material possession — just one — from your life each day for a month? What would happen?”

That’s what Joshua Fields Millburn, one of the bloggers at The Minimalists asked himself one day. So he got rid of one thing every day for a month. “I unloaded way more than thirty items in the first thirty days,” he recounts in his book Everything That Remains. “It became a kind of personal challenge, discovering what I could get rid of.”

I read this book over a year ago and, like most of the books I read, promptly forgot about it. (Books are like relationships: You have to go through meh ones to find good ones.) I picked it up the other day because it was in my process pile — I don’t consider a book finished until I go through and write down any quotes I marked — and it was thin and I like doing easy things. That’s when I re-found the month-long challenge.

The Burden of Things

The idea resonated with me because the day before I rediscovered it — New Year’s Day — I had gone through my clothes. It turns out that a single guy who hates buying clothing (and almost never does) can accumulate a disturbing amount of the stuff. I had things I hadn’t worn in years, things I’d never worn at all, things I should never, ever, under any circumstance, wear. The old band shirt from high school with holes in the armpits. The baggy sweatshirt that’s soft but makes me look like a homeless clown. The sweatpants that are a little tight in the front and make Victorian women faint. You know, most of my closet.

“The less I needed, the better I felt.” — Charles Bukowski

And it wasn’t just clothing. It was everything. I realized I was spending a tremendous amount of my life cleaning, organizing, storing, and maintaining stuff. Tyler Durden was right: The things I used to own, now own me. Which led me to write this on Facebook:

Things are burdens. They require organization, maintenance, space, thought, moving. The space they take is not only physical but mental. There are certain essentials and luxuries I love (like this iPhone) but I could do without so many things that take my attention. This year I’d like to simplify, simplify.

“Simplify, simplify,” said Thoreau.

“One simplify would have sufficed,” replied Emerson.

The Clutter Monster

When I was in college, some friends and I spent the night at my friend Andy’s mother’s house. She lived in the Appalachian mountains and I remember three distinct things about the visit: (1) she had a driveway that needed a four wheeler and chains to get up in the winter (2) she had a WebTV, which was the world’s worst invention and (3) her house was filled with clutter… yet everything still seemed in the right place. That’s one way to keep the stuff you own from owning you, but I have no idea how to do it. In my house, clutter is suffocating. Just being around it stresses me out.

“Outer order contributes to inner calm,” says Gretchen Rubin. And I’ve found that to be true. When I come home to a clean kitchen, I feel good. When I come home to one that looks like 20 frat bros live in it, I feel anxious and awful.

And it’s a lot easier to keep outer order when we have fewer things.

The Value Question

Time is our most precious commodity and we have less of it every minute. “The trouble is, you think you have time,” said Buddha (who didn’t actually say that, but like so many good quotes, we attribute it to the famous to sound more profound). I don’t want to spend my fleeting amount of time on organizing and maintaining things. I want to spend it on relationships, exploring new places, creating things, and making memories. I want to live, not own.

Which is why I’m getting rid of something every day this month (I’ll donate or sell it, of course, not just toss it… except for maybe my sweatshirt, unless there’s a homeless clown in need?) And I’m going to decide what to keep or get rid of with this one simple question:

Does it add value to my life?

I can think of three ways something can add value:

  1. It can be useful.
  2. It can bring me joy.
  3. It can be beautiful.
“Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.” — William Morris

The perfect possession fits all three. Take the computer I’m writing on. It’s extremely useful, arguably the most useful thing I own. It brings me joy to use, at least when it’s not making me want to smash it into a thousand little microparts. And it’s beautiful aesthetically as well as functionally.

If only my cats were more like my laptop. (Don’t worry, Nugget, I’m not getting rid of you… this month.)

An Uncluttered Mind

As I purge, I’ll have more time and mental space on my hands, and hopefully you will too. From you doing it, that is, not from me.

All this new time is playdough in our hands. I could fill this new space checking Facebook, sending Snapchats, scrolling through Instagram, or playing some dumb iPhone game that tempts me to buy credits to “save time.” These things are easy, fun, and passive. But they don’t create lasting happiness or value — they just leave me empty and bored.

“Happiness is not having more; happiness is wanting what I have.” — Gretchen Rubin

That’s not what I want. Here are five things I plan on focusing my newfound energy on instead:

1. Relationships.

If a relationship isn’t growing, it’s dying. I want to spend more time with those who are important to me and make sure they know they are a priority in my life.

2. Business Vision & Processes.

We’re reaching over 100 million people a month through our various channels on 22 Words and with that comes hiring more people (looking for a job?). We’re at 15 or so team members right now — probably more by the time you read this — and by the end of 2016 we expect to be close to 30. The only way this can happen is if I provide a compelling vision and effective processes. God help us.

3. Experiences, Not Things.

Tom Haverford famously said, “Love fades, but things… things are forever.” That’s hilarious, but we all know that really it’s experiences that make us happy and give us lasting memories… especially when those experiences are with those we love. I want to buy less stuff and spend the extra on adventures.

4. Better Myself.

“Everyone thinks of changing humanity,” said Tolstoy, “but no one thinks of changing himself.” In every area of my life, I can be better and less wrong. I can’t change other people; I can only change myself. I plan to spend solid amounts of time reading and learning things that make me a better person.

5. Live in the Now.

This is my main goal for 2016, vague and perhaps cliche as it may sound. To learn to be completely present in the present moment. Sometimes I don’t even remember what I had for lunch because I was on a conference call and all I did was mindlessly stuff food into my face while talking into a warm rectangle. I want to savor, remember, and be grateful for my meals. It’s like what the Vietnamese Buddhist Monk Thich Nhat Hanh (what a name) tells us: If, when we’re washing dishes, we only think of the cup of tea after, we don’t really experience washing dishes. And then when we finally get to the tea, we think of the next thing and don’t experience the tea either. Always living in the future, we never experience right now.

So that’s my plan for January: To part with something I own each day and make new mental space to focus on better things.

What about you? Who else wants to join me? And, if you do, what do you want to use your extra mental space for?