The Big Purge

12737Packing it in and hitting the road sounds simple enough.  You make some plans, buy some tickets and off you go… right?  What about the car(s), the house, the yard, the pets, and all that stuff that just seems to build up year after year?  In the developed world it is amazing just how much stuff we can collect over time.

When I realized how big this task was, I seriously questioned whether I wanted to travel.  If I get rid of a bunch of this stuff, won’t I need it again when I get back?  If I don’t get rid of some, where am I going to put it all?  We want to rent out the house, and I don’t think that a renter is going to live with other people’s baggage.  I know that I wouldn’t want to.  Obviously, some of it would just have to go.

After the initial shock of the magnitude of the effort, I realized that this was actual a good process.  There were cupboards in the house and corners in the garage which I had not look at in years.  If I never go there why am I keeping this stuff?  Isn’t it just getting older and less useful over time?  If I don’t even know what is there, are I just going to get a new one rather than go looking for the old one.

When we started going through the cupboards, we found all sorts of things that we had forgotten that we had.  Some items of note are:

  • packages of pear tea from our wedding in 2000,
  • photo albums that date back to before we were married,
  • entire sets of unused bed linens,
  • a broken antique clock
  • picture frames, picture frames and more picture frames
  • my long lost bicycle pump and scuba diving booties

It was almost therapeutic in a way.  It was like stepping back through our lives over the last 15 years.  Remembering where we had been and how far we had come.  Some memories are a little painful and remind you of opportunities missed, but most are of good times and great experiences.

It seems fitting that you go through this process before you go on a long trip.  I did this once before (with far less stuff) when I travel around the world in my twenties.  We make peace with what your life has been to now, and reflect on what you want the next phase of your life to be like.

I remember reading “The Five Secrets You Must Discover Before You Die” a few years back.  In this book, John Izzo talks about living life without regrets and about picturing yourself on a porch as an old man/woman looking back on your life.  He talks about reflecting on your life and making conscientious decisions that make the most out of life and avoid regrets.  It is an opportunity to sort out the stuff in our minds, as well as the stuff in our house.

Philosophical benefits aside, I also needed to get rid of this stuff to reduce my stress.  I don’t know about the rest of you, but I find having too much stuff is stressful.  Maybe I’m weird that way, but I grew up with very thrifty parents and I can’t stand waste.  It bothers me to find rotten food at the back of the fridge shelf because I forgot that it was there, or to find ski boots that must be thrown out because the plastics is too brittle.  These items had a useful life which I ignored because I just wanted to keep it all for myself.

In a world of limited resources, it makes more sense to share these while they are still useful.  While I might not get use out of them myself, someone else might before they expire.  Isn’t the second R in the “Three R’s of the Environment”… reuse?  It is so easy to buy, obtain and consume, and yet it seems much more difficult pass this on to someone else.

I know that you can list items on Kijiji or Craig’s List, but it does take effort to go through the process.  We have even gone the garage sale route.  Again this take a fair amount of effort, especially considering the volume of stuff that has accumulated.  Donation is relatively easy, especially for clothes, but they don’t take everything, nor should they.

I guess the simplest way of dealing with this problem, is not waiting fifteen years to tackle it.  A little bit every year would make this a lot easier.  There just never seems to be the time.  I wonder how my grandparents dealt with this… oh yeah… they only bought what they needed and used it until it was done.

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