You can’t reach for anything new if your hands are still full of yesterday’s junk.
In late 2015, I came to Ireland with a suitcase and a laptop bag. By summer 2018, when my husband and I moved house for the third time, we had to hire a van and two extra pairs of hands just to move everything we owned from one part of Dublin to another. This was after at least two rounds of decluttering across one year, and twenty-something bags of stuff we’d sold, donated, or thrown away. Even so, our old living room looked like a hurricane had blown through a Walmart and then dumped everything in a box.
Something wasn’t working.
It wasn’t just because we were buying more stuff (even though we were), it was holding on to things that “might” be useful, were still usable (kinda), or we’d brought over from our country of birth and kept for their sentimental value. All of this added up to a truckful of boxes and an assortment of various other things stacked in suitcases, wrapped in blankets, or stuffed into plastic bags. I asked myself, more than once, “How in the name of f*ck did we end up with so much crap?!”
I decided, there and then, that things would change. Our new apartment was unfurnished, and in that I saw the perfect metaphor for a clean slate. As soon as we were settled in, I added one simple habit to my day-to-day: every single day, I’d find one thing I no longer needed – and chuck it out. I promised myself I’d do this every day, without fail, for at least a month. Here’s how it went.
This post was inspired by a similar experiment you can read about @ BudgetsAreSexy.com. And yes, budgets are sexy.
- On day 1, I grabbed a handful of scrunchies I didn’t need anymore (I’d never used them, even when I had long hair).
- On day 9, I sold my custom gaming rig for €1000 and moved back to working, gaming and designing on a laptop. I also backed everything up in the cloud.
- On day 25, I sold my keyboard to a piano student for half the price of a new one. I still make music digitally, but I don’t need a keyboard to do it.
- On day 41, I threw away an unopened sketchbook I’d bought two years ago and finally stopped feeling guilty that I never found time to draw.
- On day 5, I gave up my old gym notebook. I then looked in the mirror and realized clutter wasn’t the only thing I had to get rid of.
- On day 17, I threw away a gift from a friend I don’t talk to anymore. It was tacky and had always lived in the back of my closet, so I was glad to be rid of it. (The gift, not the friend.)
- On day 22, someone I’d met on freecycle.org failed to show up yet again. I threw away the things they wanted. It felt liberating, but also a bit sad.
- On day 35, I got rid of some old pencil portraits I’d drawn years ago. I wasn’t good at it back then and I probably never will be, but that’s what Fiverr is for.
1. “Someday” never comes.
There were so many things we were saving for “someday”: jeans I’d fit into “someday”, a guitar I’d definitely learn to play, four books I’d use to teach myself Spanish – yep, you guessed it – “someday”. Except that day never came and, as the stuff piled up, so did the weight of all those failed expectations. Getting rid of the stuff also eased the guilt I felt whenever I saw these little reminders of who I (thought I) wanted to be.
Which brings us to…
2. Forget about sunk costs.
If you’re not familiar with the sunk costs fallacy, now’s a good time as any to read up on it. You might feel bad about throwing something away because you spent lots of money on it. Don’t. You can recoup some of the cost if you sell it, but even if you chuck it straight down the garbage chute, the freedom you’ll have earned will be worth it. (That said, it’s always a good idea to see if someone else wants it first, whether it’s a necklace or your auntie’s old armoire.)
3. It takes ~28 days to get into the habit of discarding…
…but once you get into it, getting rid of unwanted stuff becomes natural and you wonder how you could live without doing it up until now. I’ve come to a point where, if I spot something that’s outlived its usefulness, I throw it away there and then. This has also made me conscious of how much waste my household generates.
4. You’ll think twice before buying things you don’t need.
Confession time: I used to do the fast-fashion shop crawl every time there was a sale, and fill my closet to the brim with €5 t-shirts from Zara or €15 sweaters from Stradivarius. I usually wore them once or twice, washed them, then chucked whatever wasn’t already ruined into the donation bin and went back to shopping. It wasn’t good for my wallet or my sanity (also, fast fashion is seriously bad for the environment). These days, I only buy quality, eco-friendly stuff.
On day 65, I looked around the place and realized there was nothing left to throw away. Everything I had served a purpose.
It felt nice.
If anyone’s curious, here’s the list of stuff I got rid of:
- Old rags for pet cage
- Posters / Used toothbrush
- Jewelry (3 necklaces, 3 pairs of earrings)
- Old gym notebook
- 4 x nail polish / Pen from an old job
- Star Wars notebook
- Mindfulness journal I never filled out
- Gaming PC (sold for €1000) / Another toothbrush / Broken backpack
- Book (StarCraft: Queen of Blades)
- Small pedal bin
- FitBit Alta (given to colleague whose FitBit was stolen)
- T-shirt x 2 / Jewelry and accessories
- FL studio manual / Old mouse pad
- Book (How to Survive Romania 2) (given as gift)
- Book (Starcraft: I, Mengsk)
- Decorative sign
- Audio adapter cable
- Unread magazine / Box
- Old clothes / Towel
- Black tank top
- Speakers (sold for €40)
- Kitchen jars
- Old webcam
- Keyboard (sold for €100)
- Book (That One) / Old frozen food
- Old medicine tube
- Guitar (sold for €75) / Unused earbuds
- Freezer bags
- T-shirt x 2 / Old prescription glasses
- Tweezers / 1 x lipstick / 1 x nail polish
- Ice cube tray / Pen that didn’t work anymore
- Scotch tape x 2 / Cigarettes (I havne’t smoked in years)
- Book (A Mindfulness Guide for the Frazzled)
- Old painted portraits
- Charity bracelet / Unused dish rack
- Earrings (1 pair)
- Foldable box
- Guitar pics / Hairpin
- Plastic box
- Sketchbooks x 2 (still in packaging, 2 years later)
- Shoes I literally never wore, ever
- Sandpaper sponge
- T-shirt that narrowly survived the last purge
- Used scented candle
- Another folding box / Tea I’d never drink, ever
- Yet another folding box
- Pet bedding / Lighter
- Old, torn-up bedsheet
- Old toilet brush / More boxes (why do we have so many boxes?!)
- Book (Beyond the Binary: Thinking About Sex and Gender) (given as gift)
- Tin cup
- X-mas catalogue from Boots
- Other tin cup
- Pen that didn’t work properly
- Depleted candle
- [Press F to pay respects]
- Unused rat-ccessories
- Baby [rat] food
- Loofah that didn’t work out
- Baby milk and syringe
- Another shirt
- Chocolate we didn’t like and more rat accessories
- Old fruit from fridge