Moving and Minimalism

This is my first blog post from my new home office here in the suburbs of Philly. The windows look out on the backyard, and since I haven’t unpacked much, the desk is shockingly bare. I don’t know how long that will last (my guess is not long at all) but it’s a bit like trying on a different personality for a day. What if I were the kind of person who always had a spotless desk?

Moving is always good for evaluating one’s relationship with stuff. I’d done quite a bit of purging and packing before the movers showed up at our apartment yesterday. It still took an incredible number of hours to pack and load everything in the truck, and then unload everything out here. My mother-and-law and I have spent much of the day unpacking, and we keep pulling out items like a set of 6 shot glasses, all individually wrapped. No one does shots in my house. If we ever did, I can’t imagine we’d need more than two shot glasses to meet the need. We have enough coffee mugs to serve coffee to a small army. I don’t even like many of the mugs. We keep them because they seem useful (we do drink a lot of coffee) But we probably don’t need them.

The issue with all this stuff is that it weighs you down. It becomes harder to move. You can’t find the stuff you do like or need in the clutter (one reason we spent the whole day unpacking is that I couldn’t find our coffee maker and coffee grounds, and after a bad first night here, I was in desperate need of them). We have more space now to store all this stuff, but I probably need to use the opportunity of putting things in their place to be even more ruthless about purging.

I’ve been thinking of this as I’ve been editing one of the chapters in All The Money In The World. I mention the story of Nina Yau, who writes the Castles in the Air blog. She has committed to the philosophy of “minimalism,” and as part of that, to own fewer than 100 things. When I first interviewed her, that was down to 34 things. She could move back and forth between Taiwan and the US pretty effortlessly. Moving somewhere for just a little while isn’t a problem if you don’t have much stuff. When I got in touch with her to fact-check the excerpt about her, she mentioned she was down to 30 things. I haven’t quite figured out the eating and drinking thing yet, but there weren’t any coffee mugs on that list.

How many things do you think you own?

15 thoughts on “Moving and Minimalism

  1. Congratulations on the new place!
    I am regularly shocked by the amount of things we own. Sometimes I think that it would be so much more efficient if our whole block could share things like a vacuum cleaner, lawnmower, camping items, or all the other things we own that we only pull out once every few weeks or once a year.

    1. Our family uses this idea.
      Our block chipped in for a snowblower that we all share. Since we have the biggest garage we also get to store it, the bonus being that our driveway is done first, either by us or the person who takes it.
      My family shares a 30 cup coffeepot and whoever is hosting the party can use it (once we figure out whose house it’s at from the last party.)

      1. @Denise:
        This is a great idea, a neighborhood lending library of stuff we need like once a year. Not only does it save money, it strengthens social ties — since you better get to know your neighbors if you’re going to be letting yourself into their garage to take their snowblower!

      2. Wow Denise. I LOVE that idea. We don’t own much (I have a habit of moving) and the items that I never seem to get around to buying are vacuums, and the like. I need a lawnmower now and keep thinking that all I need to do is borrow one instead of buying my own or paying someone to mow the yard for me. I’m about to send the kids out with scissors. lol
        I’ll have to look into this idea further. Seems to me like the kind of system that many neighborhoods could wrap themselves around.

  2. I know I certainly own more than 30 things, that’s for sure. I packed up 1/3 of our household in January as we got ready to put our house on the market. In all honesty, while there are several things I really and truly NEED from it (we didn’t think it would take this long to sell), there is also quite a bit we could do without. And as we pack up and FINALLY move in the next few weeks, trust me, I’ll be purging quite relentlessly. We’re moving into a significantly smaller home, and while it has twice the amount of storage of our current place, we just don’t need that much STUFF.

  3. 30 items is a little extreme, but good for her if it works.

    I understand your shot glass dilemma. I cleaned out my china closet one year and found that I had 22 of 24 unused crystal champagne flutes from my bridal shower (which was 10 years prior) in addition to the 12 I had from my ‘casual glassware’ set! I mentioned this to a few friends who took 2-4 each. I kept 4 for my family to toast with on New Year’s Eve. You don’t even want to know how many different brands of plastic storage containers I had.

    I used to be a saver and now I am a tosser. I keep the minimum that I can. I often move something out of the kitchen, label it with a date and put it in the attic. When I do my attic purge, anything that has a date more than 1 year old goes.

    I think this has come with having kids, as they have so much stuff. I want to pare down the clutter. I enjoy my living room so much more now that I have moved the toys to the basement, which we rotate or purge regularly. I realized how much mental stress the mess was causing me. Less stuff means less to clean, occupy your thoughts etc.

    One thing you may find, with more storage space, is that you will use things that you previously didn’t, because they are more accessible. In my first apartment the china was in a crawlspace, so I had to decide if I wanted to get in there and pull it out, unzip it, separate each piece from the little foam circle and wipe them down. Now that they are in the china closet next to the kitchen, they get used regularly and I enjoy them so much more.

  4. One of the problems of sharing is the “tragedy of the commons”. Who repairs the lawnmower, snowblower or vacuum cleaner when it breaks or replaces it when a neighborhood’s worth of use wears it out? Who does routine maintenance? We’ve found renting seldom-used items to be a good solution, but we use vacuum cleaners (even in my low maintenance household) and lawnmowers too often for that to be wise.

    1. We collect money every year for gas/maintenance. Since sadly, 3 of the 5 people who chipped in lost their husbands, my husband and the man next door bring it in for the yearly checkup and do the repairs (and most of the snowblowing too, but they think it’s fun)

  5. I just spent a glorious day going through my clothing. I’m a mom of two, and an entrepreneur — aka the most important thing I do is sales — and one of the most important parts of a good sales person is presentation. I hate shopping and after two kids I’ve been up and down 55 lbs in the last 3.5 years of kids — on the way back down now thanks to making that one of only 3 goals for the year 2011. This means lots of clothes and wardrobes — maternity clothes, clothes of various sizes etc. It feel great and is so important to be able to go into the closet and find clothes that work, especially for working women. Having kids just makes it doubly hard to keep those clothes cleaned. Thank god for dry cleaning delivery and the dry cleaner who is open on Sundays! I find that a lot of times we go shopping without evening knowing what we have or what works. My husband just called from his day with the kids and asked if I got a lot of work done. When i mentioned that I’d almost finished going through all my clothes he said, oh so no work done. But the work of managing one’s stuff toward a goal is work well done and time well spent. For me it is still a work in progress but I know have several outfits I know will work and a better sense of what I need — a white cardigan and what works and what doesn’t. I’m more careful about the length of my skirts in my 30s for example than I was in my 20s. I may even be able to spice up date night at the movies attire now that i actually know what is in my closet that works and have committed to throwing stuff to charity that doesn’t.

  6. Laura, congrats on your move!

    Moving is a great time to re-evaluate your stuff. As a professional organizer, I always advice my clients who are moving, “It doesn’t pay to move things you don’t want to keep.” I recommend starting the purging process as soon as you THINK you might be moving. If you’re working on your own, it can be a long process. (If you’re paying a professional organizer, you’ll move much more quickly!)

    Whenever a prospective client calls me, the first thing I ask is “How long have you lived in your home?” Gives me a general idea of how much excess stuff I might be dealing with.

    Even if you’re not moving, it can be very motivating to PRETEND that you are! Go through your house, room by room, and ask, “If I was moving, would I want/need that item in my new home?” You’ll be amazed what you notice when you look at your stuff with fresh eyes.

    I’ve been in my place 14 years. And while it’s (obviously!) well organized, I was recently kinda shocked to discover I had 4 collanders. How does that even happen?!

  7. One more moving tip – regarding the coffee. I always recommend creating an “Unpack Me First box”. Put the essentials (coffee, aspirin, toothpaste, TP, trash bags, box cutter, light bulbs …)in that box. Have the movers pack it on the truck last, so it will be unloaded first.

    1. @Lisa- good advice. We put a lot of the very important things in bags we carried with us in the car, but then I didn’t think too broadly about what was “essential.” I guess technically the coffee wasn’t, as I had a car and could have driven to Starbucks! Fish food would have been harder to track down, but we have a hardy goldfish. She (he?) could probably have made do with bread crumbs. Well, we survived the first few days!

  8. I’ve been getting rid of stuff over the past few years. Downsizing from a spacious 2-bedroom to a small 1-bedroom, and then moving into a smaller 1-bedroom with my boyfriend, it’s become a necessity. Nowhere near 30 items though.

  9. I keep thinking that if you own “30 things” – or <100 things – you're going to be doing laundry a lot! Or running out of clean underwear & sox.

    In our household we're burdened, right off the top, by having, um, 5000 books. And they ARE a burden.

    I've finishing up a 2½-week stint in a Residence Inn, a kind of enforced minimalism (tho' I have more than 30 things!), so your post hit hard. When I go home on Friday it's going to be tough to face a 1000-ft² house with 10,000 things in it.

    PS. Enjoyed 168 HOURS. Thought-provoking.

    1. @Richard- Thanks, glad you enjoyed the book! Yes, I seem to have at least 4-figures worth of books as well. Many of which I need to get rid of. The Kindle is helping with that, in that I can buy books I’m not sure I’ll care about, and while I still have to pay for them, at least they don’t take up space for eternity!

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