Those of you who have been following my blog, or who know me in person, know what a challenge it was for our family to sell/give away everything we own to move back to the United States. From a three bedroom flat full to the brim in belongings, we whittled our earthly goods down to what fit into twelve suitcases (for a family of five) and a few boxes of keepsakes to be stored in my sister-and-brother-in-law's cellar. I don't know if that sounds as crazy as it was, but essentially it was something like this: each family member (except the baby) had one suitcase for clothes each, one suitcase was for kitchen supplies, two were for toys, one was for baby clothes, CDs and DVDs, one was for shoes (and that was AFTER getting rid of tons), two were for pictures, breakable items such as pottery and other meaningful items, and the last was basically miscellaneous bits and bobs we didn't want to lose. The boxes left in Scotland are full of photo albums and books and Christmas decorations that have sentimental value.
Now that we are in our new house, we have had so much support from family and friends in getting set back up. We have been given furniture, kitchenware and money, not to mention the loan of cars, to help us get started. But still, our belongings are pretty sparce.
We LOVE it.
If I had to do it all over again, I would in a heartbeat. I'd do it even if we weren't moving. It was the most freeing experience I can imagine.
Friends of ours, Graeme and Emily, moved back to Canada after a few years in Scotland, and Emily really encouraged me. At first, the thought of losing everything was horrible. So many things felt so important to me, like the display units Scott's gran passed down to us, and paintings I had done, and... I can't even remember any more, but they all seemed irreplaceable. But Emily told me, 'It's all just stuff. You won't miss it.' I didn't believe her, right enough, but I adopted her attitude and tried looking at everything as just material goods.
Now, before I go further, there are two things I need to say. First, I am not about to talk about how great it is to lose EVERYTHING. We were not in a fire, we were not robbed. We chose what went and what stayed. We made the decision ourselves on what really meant the most. This is entirely different from having everything taken from you outside your control. Second, I am not saying we have NOTHING. We have the necessities. We have things beyond the necessities. I am not comparing us to anyone in poverty, and I do not meant to be insensitive and imply that poverty is great. Having little is not the same as having nothing.
Saying that, we have less now than most middle class people in the Western World, and it is a wonderful, clean, refreshing feeling.
First of all, everything I see now really does just feel like 'stuff'. If something breaks beyond repair, I can just throw it away. When I'm shopping and see something attractive, I can admire it without buying it. In fact, many of the things I kept, I now wish I hadn't kept, because they weren't really necessary come to think of it.
Having little means my house is easy to keep clean. I don't have mountains of things with no real purpose or place. The kids still have more toys than they need but not so many that they don't each one have a special allotted space to be stored. My dishes don't pile up, because I only have one set which I wash and reuse immediately. I even marked 'dish drainer' off my list of 'needs', because I only have a few non-dishwashable items, which I can handwash immediately, dry and put away. My laundry doesn't pile up, because we don't have enough clothes to allow it to. In fact, I am finding it so hard to make a full load each time I wash, that I run it on Small Load more often than Medium or Large. With the help of my Motivated Moms Chore Schedule, I'm finding it incredibly easy to get to all those little jobs that used to be overlooked by all the dishes, laundry, and clutter I used to have to sort through first.
Scott asked me if I miss anything. Really, the only things I miss are my books (I love love love to read), my cookbooks (I'm lost in the kitchen without them), and some of my bento supplies that got lost along the way (my hobby and for a short while, my business). I also miss my Pampered Chef stoneware, but I'm coping without it! Some things that I miss I do hope to replace eventually, such as my sewing machine, but at the moment, I'm surviving without them.
If it hadn't been utterly necessary, I would never have been brave enough to clear out my entire 'life'. It would have seemed impossible, not just because of my attachment to my earthly possessions, but also because of the obligatory feelings attached to things - gifts given to me that would seem rude or ungrateful to get rid of. A few months ago I could hardly have used this word, but luckily I HAD to get rid of all those things, and thanks to that, I feel so free.
How do I encourage others to do the same? It's hard. I don't expect anyone will be able to do it to the extent we had to without a good reason. But I categorically DO encourage everyone to start seeing everything they own as mere 'stuff'. Don't be afraid to give away or throw away. Think, 'Will I miss this ten years from now?' With your wardrobes, think, 'Do I NEED six different black t-shirts? Or could I just wash the one or two on a regular basis instead?' Above all, remember It is all just stuff. You won't miss it.
Every time I walk into my new house and see a bare floor, clean walls, and empty tables, I breathe a sigh of relief. When I open my tiny kitchen cupboards and see tidy rows and lots of extra space, I smile. When I visit my kids room and ask them to clean up, I know it can be done quickly and relatively painlessly. When my chore schedule says to clean out the shower, I know I can manage it, because the general tidying up clutter doesn't need to be done first and foremost. At night, when the kids go to bed, I can do a quick sweep and hoover and then relax, or if needed, fold a (single) load of laundry or iron some clothes while watching Scrubs on DVD. Because I don't have a house full of rubbish to tackle at all times. It's amazing.
In a few years, I'm sure I'll own more, and it won't be so easy then to just give it all up. But it's changed something inside me, the need and the desire to own things. I just hope I can inspire others in return to think differently about their possessions and not be afraid to let them go. At the end of the day, we don't need much to get by, even comfortably, and very few things really matter.
Except maybe books.