I wish I’d been less of a hoarder earlier in life

1:43 PM James 0 Comments

I remember being jealous of people who seemed to be happy having few possessions. That’s never been me.

I’m also well-acquainted with the shame of having a messy car and a cluttered bedroom, the paralysis of trying to throw things away, and the frustration of feeling like I’ve hit a mental block and will never be free of stuff.

Much of these instincts came from my upbringing. My father was at times incapable of throwing away even old newspapers and empty peanut butter jars. My mother’s well-intended generosity meant I ended up with presents that I didn’t want, but felt bad throwing away. I developed an emotional attachment to things that symbolized parts of my life that I cherished. I still struggle with these attachments to this day.

I certainly wish I’d grown up with less attachment to physical objects. From college age, I moved often, about once every year or two, and moving all my cherished possessions was physically exhausting. I also remember it being mentally exhausting, because each move-out dredged up memories attached to those things. I didn’t think about them as much when I unpacked, which is why I think I still dread packing, but love unpacking. All told, my attachments have complicated my life for well over a decade.

I suspect my hoarding has kept me from being as mobile as I’ve wanted to be. Moving is always inconvenient. It’s really a pain with you have literally tons of stuff following you around. I’m sure it’s influenced me to spend extra money on a larger place instead of a smaller one. I know it’s cost me considerably mental energy.

I want this next paragraph to introduce some revolutionary concept, like SO THAT’S WHY THIS YEAR I’LL INTENTIONALLY REDUCE MY POSSESSIONS TO THAT OF A MONK TAKING A VOW OF POVERTY. But I don’t really want that. Facing that drastic of a reduction would be mentally… challenging.

However, I have accidentally reduced my attachment by living with my wife over the last four years and, together, living with her parents for the last six months. With few exceptions, I give my wife permission to toss anything she deems unnecessary. She’s helped me lighten my load considerably. We’ve also limited ourselves to one bedroom (and part of a garage) worth of stuff over the last several months, which has been incredibly eye-opening. Now realizing that I don’t ever think, let alone use, the vast majority of my things, I’m much more open to parting with them permanently.

My favorite technique for deciding if I can throw away something is to take a picture of it. If I can look at that picture and get roughly the same level of enjoyment as looking at the real thing, I let go of the real thing, and keep the picture. My second-favorite technique is a self-imposed requirement that for every new thing, I have to get rid of something else. Buy a few new shirts at the store? Time to donate some old clothes to Goodwill. A third “stuff” limit we implemented was investing in a 1600 sqft townhome in the neighborhood we love, and planning to raise our family there - we’ll have to make everything fit 1600 sqft somehow, and that will force me to reduce drag.

Some things I haven’t thrown away, but I’m thinking about letting them go soon:
  1. Bass guitar and amplifier
  2. Crate of books
  3. Snowboard gear

In the coming year, I hope to part with more non-essential possessions, and clear up more physical and mental space for the important things in life. Now that I’m married with an amazing six-month-old child, I’m willing to let go of some of the old parts of my life that I used to cherish, and make room for the present and the future. I should have realized that I didn’t need to start a family to benefit from that mindset.