Have you read any of the Jack Reacher books by Lee Child?
I’m not talking about the movie with Tom Cruise; that’s like comparing Rocky the boxer with Rocky the flying squirrel.
In the books, Reacher is a former Army CID officer who has left the service and just wanders around the country. As is repeated often in the books, he has everything he needs and nothing he doesn’t. For him, this equates to a folding toothbrush he carries in his pocket. When his clothes get dirty or worn, he stops by an army surplus store or Goodwill, buys a new outfit, and trashes the old one, transferring his toothbrush to his new pocket.
Everything he needs and nothing he doesn’t.
I’m not asking you to get down to this level of minimalism, but I would like for you to spend some time looking around your home, your car, and your life and see all the stuff you don’t need. If you are like us, it’s probably somewhere in the vicinity of half.
Half? That can’t be right.
Well, take a look. Look through the cabinets and drawers in your kitchen. Look through all the cabinets and closets in your home. Go through the garage. Pay special attention to all those places you never go. The closet in the spare bedroom, the corner of the basement, the designated junk drawer in the kitchen.
Why are you keeping all that stuff?
Well, I might need it someday.
No. You won’t. You didn’t need it two houses ago when you bought it. You didn’t need it every time you paid someone to move it. You didn’t need it when you found a new out of sight, out of mind place to put it, and you don’t need it today. Just get rid of it.
If you get an uncontrollable urge for a Belgian waffle someday, I’m sure you can find a restaurant nearby that makes them. Or, admit that the Belgians don’t hold any magical waffle mojo and go to the Waffle House.
Every time you move, you make a half-hearted effort to get rid of the things you don’t need. But, you get sentimental, or tired, or just plain lazy. So, you throw your old letter jacket into another box, promising yourself you will get rid of it later.
But you never do.
So, how about don’t wait until you are moving again? Pick a random weekend once a month. Or, you could wait until you are stuck inside during some sort of global pandemic. But however you do it, put it on your calendar, once a month. A few hours, that’s all it will take.
Pick one closet, or a set of cabinets, or a column of drawers. Pull everything out of it. Don’t look at things and get all sentimental. Don’t try to rationalize why you bought it and why you are keeping it. Look at each item as if someone is trying to sell it to you. Right now. Hey, buddy, you want to buy this Belgian waffle maker? Fifty bucks. Would you buy it, or would you walk away? If it’s the latter, you know what to do. Get rid of it. Today. Now. Don’t just move it to a different closet full of things, “to get rid of someday.” Do it now. Put everything you wouldn’t buy today in the trunk of your car. When you finish with the exercise, drive to your favorite charity and give it to them. Saddle someone else with it.
Some places will be easy. The entire contents can go, and you’d never miss them. You know in the horror movies when the soon-to-be victim spots ‘the door’ and the violin music cranks up? It’s that one. You haven’t opened that door in a year. Why? Because you don’t need anything in it. Your old high school annuals? You hated high school, your picture looked like the dork you were, and you have long since forgotten everyone in it. Recycle bin. Those clothes that you can fit back into if you lose thirty pounds? Guess what? You are never going to lose that weight. And if you do, why would you want to celebrate the fact by putting on fifteen-year-old clothes? Donation pile in your trunk. That power tool that would make your life easier if you ever actually did that kind of work? You won’t. One of your neighbors loves that kind of crap. Give it to them.
You want to know how this article came to be? I was dusting off my desk yesterday, like I do every week. Or two. Or when I can see the tracks in the dust. I picked up the pencil cup and dusted under it, then put it back down. What? Pencils? Pens? I don’t use them. One pen will last me a year. Why would I ever need a cup full of them? Plus, half of them are out of ink. How many times have you done that? You want to write something down, so you grab a pen. Out of ink. What do you do? You put it right back in the pen cup and keep playing pen whack-a-mole until you find one that works. Or forget what you wanted to write. Here’s a thought. Pick up the entire cup full of dried up pens and pencils with no points. Deposit it in the trash. It’s what I did. But wait, your daughter made that cup at camp when she was four. So? She’s thirty-four now. See if she wants it. You already know the answer to that. Throw it away. One less thing to dust under.
We are hard-wired to accumulate things. We are also very hesitant about throwing things away. Perfectly good, we call them. It’s wasteful, we rationalize. No, it was wasteful when you bought it. You knew then you weren’t going to press your own tomatoes for sauce. Sauce comes in a jar. We want to keep it, because somebody might want it. Yeah, somebody might, but you don’t know them. Everybody you know has as much crap as you do. That’s how regifting was invented.
Clutter wears you down. It drags you down and weighs you down. Get rid of it. You don’t have to commit to the whole house right now. One drawer, that’s all I ask. Trust me; when you finish, you will feel lighter and freer.
Everything you need and nothing you don’t.