The new year is a traditional time for cleaning out closets and drawers, clearing out the old, and making way for the new. I want to make sure that the “new” for me is not new stuff, but a new level of simplicity, new avenues for happiness in daily life. Some time ago I began a practice I call “radical de-cluttering.” I started by going through all my closets and drawers, and giving away bags of stuff. Clothes went to the local charity, books to our beloved Pegasus Book Exchange. After this initial cleansing, I began to follow the usual anti-clutter guideline that appears in magazines and on “simplicity” blogs: whenever you acquire something, you give something similar away. New shirt? Out with an old piece of clothing. New book? Old book out. I quickly found that this was no challenge at all.
So I set a new rule for myself: One in, two out. Whenever I acquire something, I get rid of two things.
In my practice of radical de-cluttering, the things that come in and go out do not have to be the same thing. I can buy a book, say, and give away a pair of shoes and a flower pot. This allows me to re-dress imbalance, and to choose what I want to emphasize in my life (including a little joyful frivolity). Maybe I have too many hats, but could use a pair of garden clogs. Maybe I have too many books, but don’t care! Maybe I want to keep more and more books, and less and less of everything else until eventually I live with nothing but a library and a teacup!
I make exceptions: consumables such as food (obviously), but also other things that are regularly used up and replaced–office supplies, kitchen towels, socks. (This allows me a nice bit of room to cheat, since I am obsessed with office supplies, and I seem to let myself have as many notebooks and bottles of fountain pen ink as I want.) Otherwise, in my calculus a thing is a thing. I don’t care how big or how small it is, or how much it cost. A car counts for one thing, a book of poetry counts for one thing, and I don’t make exceptions for gifts I receive, or fabulous thrift store finds.
One in, two out. Even though I started by (I thought) thoroughly doing away with the superfluous, I am amazed that after about a year, the one in/two out rule is still very easy to live by. I am looking forward to it becoming difficult. I am hoping, one day, to get to the point that the material things I keep in my life are so well-chosen that I have to think deeply about any acquisition I make, to wonder, “Wow, if I really want this thing, then what will I give up?” To have to truly measure need/desire/authenticity. Maybe someday when I am aged and wise my possessions and my spirit will find themselves in perfect harmony–then maybe I’ll change to the one in/one out plan, or not bother to think about such things at all.
I love (to the point of obsession, really) the work of Lloyd Kahn, and have spent much of this month pouring over his newest volume, Tiny Homes: Simple Shelter. With my drastic need for privacy, and a daughter who plays cello, piano, guitar, and ukulele, I don’t envision us moving into a tiny home anytime soon. The airiness of our old farmhouse feels simple in its own right. But I do agree with Kahn’s feeling that everyone can find inspiration in the tiny shelter movement: “You can get ideas here for simplifying your life, wherever you live.”
Want to join me in Radical De-Cluttering? What other ways are you all simplifying in 2013?