Simplifying Isn't As Easy As It Looks

We're hearing about more and more people who are getting rid of a large portion of their worldly goods (what organizational experts call "crap") and living a less materialistic and more meaningful life.

At least a life that doesn't land you as the July centerfold in the 2015 Hot Hoarders calendar, which we all know you're going to put with the 12 other calendars you're keeping, "just in case."

Admittedly, simplifying is easier said than done, unless you're a soulless robot with the memory of a senile goldfish.

For the last several years, my wife and I (with reluctant participation from our children) have been extensively "decrapifying" our lives, eliminating the clutter and unnecessary detritus that has bogged us down. Our goal is to live more simply, spending less on stuff and more on experiences. We want to build memories, remembering the things we did, rather than spending 30 minutes rummaging through closets in a futile search for that thing that goes with the other thing. You know, the piece that makes this light up. Or play music. I don't remember. Whatever, I've been looking for it for 45 minutes, and I still have to put everything back. I should be finished tomorrow morning.

We embarked on this new lifestyle when we went to sell our first house and realized there weren't enough trucks in the county to move everything to our new house. So we decided to downsize, because we were moving from a McMansion with two floors and a basement to a house two-thirds that size and no basement.

We filled up three dumpster loads with broken and completely useless items. We got rid of items we had planned to repair one day, after we learned the necessary skills, like particle physics.

We donated several garbage bags of clothes that we no longer wore — mostly my stuff that kept shrinking year after year.

I gave over 500 books to our small-town library, dropping off armfuls of books week after week. The library staff was so pleased with my gift, they even named a wing of the library after me. So, the next time you find yourself in Syracuse, Indiana, be sure to visit the Aw Crap, It's That Damn Guy Again! wing of the local library.

It was an ongoing process, because over the next four years, we moved from our first house to a smaller house, to an even smaller house, and finally to a 1,200 square foot apartment with a single car garage that served as our storage unit. In that time, we went from 3,400 square feet to something nearly a third that size, discarding flotsam and jetsam along the way. We finally moved to our current house a year later, and we fit perfectly.

That first time, most of the stuff we got rid of was mine, as my wife seemed to think her stuff was more valuable. As if her grandmother's china set was somehow more important than my collection of Rolling Stone magazines from the 1990s.

But we learned how to choose carefully, separating practicality from sentiment, and not saving every scrap and speck from our childhoods.

We learned that it was okay to get rid of past gifts, especially when we couldn't remember who had given them in the first place.

I also learned that if I wanted to save anything, I had to relabel it something important and clever. At least more clever than labeling a comic book collection "NOT a comic book collection." Because a comic book collection is somehow less important than someone's mother's maternity clothes that you might need "just in case."

Like just in case you get pregnant in 1967.

But the best lesson we learned is that keeping things you never use is less important than keeping and using one thing that brings back memories. Like not hanging on to Grandma's entire china collection you never use, instead keeping a single serving dish you use several times a year, remembering her fondly each time.

Like keeping a photo of you wearing your favorite shirt, rather than keeping the shirt itself, even after it shrank by 20 pounds.

Like how you should always forgive someone after he brings his comic book collection back to the house, four years after telling you he "took care of it" when you asked what he did with it.

Because a good comic book collection is important to have around.

You know, just in case.

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