Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Boxes, boxes everywhere (and not a shelf with space)

Despite the mountain of unpacked boxes in my front room, I am nowhere near done unpacking from my June move. This move was by far the most organized of any move I have ever done before, with much unpacking and putting away during the move itself so that I could re-use boxes, but when you are dealing with as much stuff as I had, heroic efforts are necessary. And even then, there are still more boxes to unpack.

I worked on it on and off all summer, unpacking, making a monster stack of good will donations by the front door, and organizing my stuff. I tried to unpack at least one box every day, although I didn’t always make it. I did get a lot done, and I was feeling pretty good about it, so I was resisting the urge to put all my yet-to-be-unpacked boxes in closets, out of sight. I was afraid I would never take them out again. I wanted to keep the unpacking momentum going.

But then, school started. My little one started Kindergarten this year, so now I have two backpacks to inspect every day, two sets of papers to fill out for everything, two lunches to make, etc., etc., etc. It is always amazing to me how far we fall out of the school routine in 3 brief months, and what a shock it is to start back up again. I was too tired from all the changes to unpack anything at the end of the day. All those unpacked boxes were mocking me. Finally, I couldn’t take it anymore—I started to put them into closets. I did unpack a few boxes as I went, but mostly I just went through the living room, bedrooms and kitchen, reclaiming floor space, and making my apartment look more like a home than a storage unit.

I have to say that it is still appalling to me how much stuff we have. I have about 30 unpacked boxes in my front room, but I was still able to load up all of our closets with unpacked boxes—and these are fairly large closets. I probably have 40 or more boxes left. Where did all this stuff come from? How is it possible to make 6 trips to Good Will, car brimming, and still have WAY TOO MUCH STUFF? The mind boggles.

When I talk to people at work about how I am still unpacking stuff, 5 months after the move, they laugh at me. They say if I want the stuff unpacked, I should just unpack it. But I find going through these boxes exhausting. All the decisions! Everything has to be evaluated—do we need this? Do we love it? Can I get rid of it without the kids complaining? If we are going to keep it, where will it go? Do I have something else like it that I can get rid of since I found this one?

I am currently reading The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less, by Barry Schwartz, and he addresses this kind of decision overload in shopping. I am not too far into the book, but I won’t be surprised if he makes this connection, too—all the decisions that come with owning so much stuff.

One nice thing about de-cluttering—when I went shopping the day after Thanksgiving, I kept looking at all of the stuff in those crowded stores and thinking, “Ugh, more stuff.” Not, “Hey, that’s neat, I should buy that!” Really thinking about all the stuff I already have makes the thought of adding even more stuff so much less appealing. I hope this will be a long-term trend in my thoughts.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Recovery starts here

When I moved into my new apartment, I made a resolution. Since this apartment is bigger, with more closet space, I wouldn't let it be so cluttered and messy. Considering the vast number of boxes waiting to be unpacked, it was clear that keeping this resolution would have to involve getting rid of a LOT of stuff.

So, I have been working on it. Some things are easy to get rid of, like old mail, or outgrown kids' clothes. Kitchen gadgets and utensils were a bit more difficult, but I only have so much storage space, and I don't have time for a lot of elaborate cooking anyway. Books are almost impossible. I love my books!

De-cluttering has lead me to spend a lot of time thinking about how much stuff I really need. I can't think of myself as a minimalist, who only has a few absolutely needed things. On the other hand, I clearly have too much stuff now--and I say this after 5 or 6 full carloads of stuff taken to Good Will. What I am working on now is, where is that line? What amount of stuff will let me enjoy my life and my apartment without overwhelming me? I think maybe I need the books, because they make me happy. But, do we all need enough clothes to get through 2 or 3 weeks without doing laundry? Probably not.

I decided to start this blog to give myself a place to figure some of this out. Maybe if I chart my progress here, it will help me to clarify what I really need, what I really want, and what I can do without.

Oh, and if you don't recognize the name of the blog, I took it from a book I read based on this PBS series. Check it out--it is very informative.