Personal evolution happens at a much faster pace than ecological evolution, as the not-so-fossil remains of our past hobbies, relationships, and career changes serve as evidence. The overabundance of stuff in our homes is a symptom of not addressing or recognizing the changes in our lives. It’s not only that we have too much stuff for our current needs, we still have items that were meant to support past needs. Maybe they did the job well, but they no longer do. It’s time to move on.
Of course, this isn’t so simple. If it were, clearing out this old stuff would be easy or not there in the first place. When we change and our stuff doesn’t change with us, it becomes wallpaper. It’s so familiar and constant that we can’t really see it because we see it all the time. It is ignored unintentionally.
At the opposite end, there’s the stuff that we’ve convinced ourselves is still useful because we think we haven’t changed (even though we have) or believe it will be useful once we re-engage with a past activity or aspect of our lives. All of this is reinforced by the three most prevalent challenges: what ifs, emotional attachment and identifying with our stuff.
Some what ifs relate to hobbies, methods of cooking/baking, or exercise equipment that we tried only once or maybe even used regularly. We’ve mildly convinced ourselves that we will engage with them again someday. But we’ve changed, and that someday is likely not going to come. And if it does, in ten years, is it worth keeping these items along for the ride? Finding space for, maintaining, moving them? Using the what if argument with yourself does little to recognize that it’s time to move forward in your evolved life.
Sometimes we feel good recalling our pasts through representative objects. Sometimes emotional attachment begins with this happy feeling, sometimes a sad or even painful one. But, often, keeping items we are attached to is the default rather an intentional exception here and there. We may have an old uniform or tee shirt and are attached to the good memories, but it’s no longer useful because we have changed. Sometimes we choose to keep the things we failed at and remind us of tough times. These are our piles of shame. They may be the most difficult to address when we change. Tracking our failures can be a real drag and not allow us to fully embrace our new life.
Stuff as Identity
You may think of yourself as a collector of artwork. Or a gamer. Or a musician. Or a crafter. If these labels become part of your identity, rather than simply something you do or have done, releasing the associated items is counter to your identity and therefore makes it incredibly difficult to move on. First, we must recognize how closely our identities are intertwined with our stuff. And then we must unwind them.
We also change as a product of our environment; moving from the city to a rural area, adapting to new technologies, etc. While more external in nature, these changes can lead to unnecessary stuff in our homes. We must recognize these changes too and address them head on.
There are things in life we can mark as N/A- not applicable. If we do, we have a shorthand for downsizing in a practical way that is quick and more clear cut. Disassociating our identity from our stuff, addressing our emotional attachments (positive and negative), and recognizing that we hold ourselves hostage with what ifs are all pathways toward this shorthand.
Our stuff should never be a hindrance, tie us down, or be meaningless to our current lives. Our stuff and the space we live in should be built to support us instead. It’s time for a change.