In the beginning of January, Leo Babauta and I challenged you to dump 50% of your stuff. More than 2000 people signed up for the Clutterfat Challenge and made a commitment to clear the clutter.
Here are 2 remarkable stories of real people donating, selling and trading in their clutter for a better life.
I recently participated in The Clutterfat Challenge, where I agreed to go through all of my “stuff” over a 30 day period and attempt to get rid of what wasn’t needed or wanted anymore.
The goal was to dump 50% of my stuff. I, being special, hoped for considerably less. Why am I so special? Why didn’t think I had that much stuff? Because I’ve worked as a professional organizer for over two decades, because I just went through two major purges of clutter in the last 14 months, and because I like to think I keep a pretty sparse home anyway.
Pride goeth before the fall.
I counted all of my stuff to begin the challenge. I came up with 8748 items, but I guestimated the contents of my file drawers due to the overwhelming amount of stuff. I figured purging the file drawers would take the most out of my house, but I had no idea as to what awaited me during this thirty day challenge.
I began this journey according to the directions, downloaded the three page worksheet, and walking into the bathroom to begin counting every object in there. I opened the first drawer and realized I wanted to get rid of about half the stuff in that drawer right now! No — I can’t! I have to count them.
To say I was angry, depressed, overwhelmed, and maybe even a bit furious during the two days it took me to count all the stuff in my house doesn’t quite describe the emotion I felt. It was horrible. But it was a huge learning experience.
The final statistics
- My beginning total: 8748
- My ending total: 3841
- I got rid of 4907 items.
- Percentage of stuff exited from my house: 56%.
A breakdown of where my stuff was:
- Place where the most items were eliminated: my desk at 3580 less items, 71% less stuff.
- Place that surprised me the most: kitchen at 621 less items, 43% less stuff.
- Place that was the most fun: my closets and drawers — 321 less items, 60% less.
- Place with the least clutterfat: the living room.
- The hardest part: counting.
I’ve learned so much from this experience. The biggest benefit has been less clutter in my head. With less stuff, I don’t have to take care of so much. There is much less to clean! I also really appreciate my new view. My entire house is pleasant to look at, with very few exceptions that need more work. I love the look of wood floors and off-white painted woodwork with sunlight streaming in.
And now I appreciate the stuff I do have.
A real life challenge came when I lost my dad unexpectedly when I was 24 (I’m now 26). I was his only child and he was single. I had a year left in school and was completing two degrees, music and landscape architecture which are rigorous degree programs.
With my dad’s death came everyone’s opinion of what I should do with all the ‘stuff’ and advice about how to live my life. It was pretty overwhelming hearing these opinions. I had my own clutter problems, and now had all of my dad’s things to make decisions about. I didn’t even know where to begin, what to think, or how to handle anything.
Almost every weekend I would go over to my dad’s house and begin sorting through things. Old papers were the easiest to begin with since I figured my dad probably didn’t even want them.
It became tougher as time went on and I began looking through more and more things. It was hard seeing all these things that reminded me of my dad and what was happening. Even how things were left sitting was sentimental. It was also tough because I was beginning to change the house that had pretty much been the same since I was 4 years old.
The stress of finishing school and deciding what to do with all the stuff really impacted my happiness and I began to resent all the people who were pushing me to do this and that. Inside I wanted all the stuff just to magically go away so I could live my life and be happy.
My dad had a lot of stuff, but so did I.
I have always had a lot of hobbies from gardening to sewing, and have had the tendency to collect things I might use in my hobbies. I also like clothes and vintage things which means I enjoy going to the mall, garage sales, and thrift stores. However, I began to get tired of always dealing with stuff that’s in the way and wondering why I purchased ‘this thing’ in the first place. I also get bad feelings when I have something that cost quite a bit of money but I don’t want it anymore.
After graduating from school, I made a commitment to declutter. I started with a garage sale and then started donating things, selling through consignment shops and listed items on Craigslist. I sold my first car my dad had bought me when I was 16 (which was sentimental!), five televisions, a couch, two dining room tables, desk, two bedroom suites, a doghouse & kennel, and much much more.
I got rid of so much, but still had way too much. I didn’t understand my attachment to stuff and was still putting too much importance on stuff. My wake up call was the end of a 2 1/2 year relationship with a man that I loved. The last straw was when I got really mad at him for breaking a Christmas ornament that I thought (at the time) was sentimental.
That’s when I decided that stuff was not as important to me as other people’s feelings and my relationships. What was important was happiness between people and being able to walk around my house easily. That’s when I took on the “Be More with Less” mantra “People over stuff”. The post made me cry and cry and realize how all this ‘stuff’ turned me into a monster.
That’s when I created my own clutter challenge at the beginning of December 2011. My challenge was to declutter my house, my email inbox, and my mind.
The steps I took
- If I saw something I wanted to buy, I just sat on the thought and let it pass
- I unsubscribed from shopping emails and websites
- I sold mismatched kitchen items
- I deculttered my mind by learning to meditate
When I joined the Clutterfat Challenge in January, I was ready to take my decluttering to the next level
So little by little I began again… Going through closets, drawers, and every room to find what else I had been holding onto. I even got my mom in on the challenge. It was important for me to do something with the items I wanted to get rid of right away. That meant dropping off stuff at the Goodwill at midnight, and even taking a whole day going around town donating various things to different charities.
I donated my father’s dress suits to a rehabilitation center which was hard for me because the memories of him wearing the suits and us going to church were still fresh, but at the same time, it felt the best. I remembered the Zen Habits thought of ‘people are not things and the memories are inside of me’. I began listing more items on Craigslist, in my Etsy shop, taking more items to consignment shops, and found more items to throw away and give away.
It has been a really exciting process and I have learned that I need to do things my own way so that I feel good about my choices. Happiness is within myself and I always have to live with myself. I feel like all the circumstances and the clutter has prevented me from being happy and doing what I really wanted to do.
So much has changed from my original plan of moving in with my boyfriend in another state and going to graduate school. It is a bitter feeling that circumstances involving clutter have been a factor in those change of plans. However, my plans now are to continue decluttering and to move to another city/state where I want to renovate a mid century modern home, (find a job), buy an Airstream to travel out West, and grow my blog.
I am really proud of much I’ve decluttered my home and my mind. I now feel confident in what I want and love that I continue to move closer and closer to my goals.
Read more from Katrina at Exscapes.
These 2 people have completely different lives, but they do have a 3 things in common.
- They both made the choice to change.
- They both took action.
- They are both happier on the other side of stuff.
For more inspiration to shed your stuff, see this post on Zen Habits featuring more stories about real people kicking clutter to the curb.
Leo and I wrote the Clutterfree book to help you understand the emotion behind holding onto clutter and to give you the motivation and momentum to let it go and live without it forever.