Seven years ago, I lived in a 240-square-foot apartment on the 15th floor of a high-rise building on the outskirts of Seoul, South Korea. Just 10 feet wide and 24 feet long, my furnished apartment had a galley kitchen with two burners, a bathtub that was about the size of a utility sink, and a bedroom that doubled as an office and living room.
Everything I owned could fit in two suitcases and a couple of carry-ons, and for over 12 months, I bought only those items I could either mail home, donate, or use after my time in Korea was up.
I baked cookies in a toaster oven, hung my laundry on a rack near the foot of my bed, and had only a small closet for my clothes.
I loved it. I felt safe, cocooned, and comfortable in that cozy little apartment. I had everything I needed and little more. It was easy to clean and I never wasted time searching for objects.
I hate clutter, but I struggle to control it. It stresses me out to amass objects that I don't need, and I don't take comfort in having more "things" in my life. I'm terrible at decorating, and truthfully, my apartment is barer than most. Still, I felt like I had too much stuff, especially when faced with the prospect of packing and moving all of it.
Before my last move, I set out to get rid of 25% of my belongings.
I hosted a clothing swap party, gave clothes and shoes to friends and family, then donated the rest.
I sorted through my books, DVDs, and magazines. Anything I hadn't watched in a year or that I wouldn't consider re-reading (or consulting for reference), I recycled or sold at a used book store.
All the boxes of stuff--photos, letters, train tickets, and scraps of paper--I've collected during my travels were whittled down to one box. I had saved every train ticket and Metro stub from a half-dozen trips to France almost a decade ago. They heat-sensitive ink had faded, and they weren't legible. Into the recycling they went.
Not even the kitchen, my favorite room in the house, was exempt. I shed all the single-use gadgets (like a shrimp deveiner--I'm vegan!), any duplicates, and moved all my bulk items into jars and plastic containers.
I still have enough clothes to wear in any situation, enough photos to remember all my trips, and enough kitchen gear to whip up a multi-course meal.
Getting rid of all that stuff felt good. Very good.
So I kept going, aiming to strip down other areas of my life as well.
Today I read this: "Most of us have little idea how many things in our lives keep us from enjoying life more. But one’s life can be cluttered by more than household objects. The irritating extras can include activities that are no longer rewarding but are continued out of habit or guilt. Perhaps it’s time for a more extended kind of housecleaning."
New York Times writer Jane Brody has been documenting her own battle with clutter, and this week she checked in with a column that explained that clutter goes beyond yarn collections and overflowing closets.
All that stuff keeps us from enjoying life. The more stuff you have, the more time you spend organizing it, cleaning it, and maintaining it.
Though I don't have any physical collections, I realized that I "collected" in other areas of life: friends, activities, social and volunteer obligations, online life.
I felt like I couldn't fit it all in, and I wrote about my struggles and sacrifices while balancing all of life's demands.
So I started saying NO. (Politely of course.)
No to the people I really didn't want to see, to the volunteer projects I really didn't want to work on, to the invites to events that interfered with my yoga and running schedule.
It feels good.
These days my life is smaller and less cluttered in all senses of the word. Still, I always look for opportunities to continue to shed what I don't need.
I don't need to be lifelong Facebook friends with every person I meet. I don't need to have 16 bottles of nail polish (or 4, even). I don't need to buy extras of everything, just in case.
While I have a lot more than I did when I lived in that 240-square-foot apartment, my life feels more manageable. Just enough friends, just enough clothes, and just enough stuff. With plenty of time left for everything that really matters--like healthy eating and fitness!
How about you? Do you struggle to manage all the stuff in your life--friends, obligations, objects? How do you deal?
Do you try to shed unnecessary objects from your life?
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