Living Lean: How I Got Rid of Half My Possessions

Look, I got a $500 credit card in the mail, let’s go shopping!
-Khloe Kardashian

A while back, a photographer made a splash when he published a series of photos that captured Japan’s consumerism. His brand-crazed countrymen posing with their own bizarre collections of luxury goods … themselves dwarfed by their piles of shoes, handbags, haute couture, and the sort.

They were aptly dubbed the “Happy Victims.”

I use this illustration to punch home my recent revelation that humans are obsessed with owning too many things. We collect.

I should know, I happen to be one and I’m guilty.

Over the years, the amount of possessions I’ve owned has expanded and contracted like an accordion.

A promotion at work or a house with more square footage justified frequent trips to TJ Maxx. As I earned more money, my taste got more expensive.

Leaner times, or a smaller living space, forced the bloated accordion down to size, I’d tighten my belt and nix entertainment shopping.

But now I’m an adult.

And while it’s true that I’m less susceptible to sudden swings in my circumstances, I still get to decide who I want to become. Design my life around my values, so to speak.

Stop trying to impress people with your clothes and impress them with your life.
-Richard Foster

Quite frankly, I’m sick of wondering—every single time I move—where to stash my certified-authentic, still-in-the-box Strawberry Shortcake doll that smells like my childhood.

I’m also tired of dealing with my closets.

Closets bursting with choices that somehow paralyze me. On a daily basis I’m unsure which garments should conceal my nakedness.

Maybe the problem isn’t that I couldn’t find any one thing to wear; maybe it’s that I had too many things to wear.

Regardless, I’ve been inching my way toward a tipping point.

I’ve worked myself down the well-traveled road to as streamlined life.

I read Essentialism: the disciplined pursuit of less.

I studied up on capsule wardrobes, and even scanned an inspiring article about a successful female professional who’s opted to wear the exact same outfit to work…

GUYS! EVERY SINGLE DAY.

So I took the plunge.

Now, there are folks out there whose stories are more interesting and certainly more extreme; they’re leaps and bounds ahead of me when it comes to wriggling free from the grip of materialism.

But, I’m not discounting my baby steps and I’m growing more excited about the possibilities ahead.

And as I contemplate how great it feels to liberate my closet and go from needing two of those closets to one, I’ve identified a couple important steps to living lighter.

Step One: Make the Decision

For the last 2.5 years Husband and I have been living in a smallish house in Washington, DC, a dense city known for its slender rowhomes shoehorned between condos and urban convenience.

Space is a luxury and it will cost you.

At first, I tried the organizing thing. I got creative. I bought MORE things to organize MORE things.

But you can’t organize your way into owning less.

I was still shopping for fun and wasting money on frivolous items that crossed my threshold and needed a resting place.

Just for the sake of clarity, I’m not living beyond my means. (Hi, mom & dad?)

I don’t have a car payment or credit card debt. We own our educations.

I have a mortgage and that’s about it.

But this isn’t about finances and smarter ways to spend your money. You’ve got Dave Ramsey for that.

I’ve just come to the decision that wasting is wasteful; whether I can afford being a waste-alicious jerk or not.

My moral pause only happened to align with my physical desire to free up more space.

Once I’d seen my reflection in the mirror, I had to decide whether I wanted to change.

I was ready.

Last week, I unloaded 10 extra-large trash bags of clothing to Goodwill and abandoned a heap of miscellaneous in front of the house.

“Free to a good home,” my orphaned junk beckoned to any passerby who was open to adopting them.

That stuff had been neglected for some time so the “good-home” bar was low.

Real low.

Step Two: Construct Your Rules

Once I’d determined to live lighter, I needed to stitch together some guidelines to protect and nurture my newfound change.

I went to the closet and swung open its doors.

Fancy brand, but less than flattering? Adios.

Flattering, but uncomfortable? See ya.

Good color, bad cut? It’s not me, it’s you.

Paid too much, but don’t wear? Done-zo, throw it on the pile.

Once the thinning concluded, I needed to figure out how to avoid this situation in the future.

Here’s what I came up with:

  • An initial 30-day spending moratorium on clothes, accessories, shoes etc. (regular budget still applies to other areas so I can continue to yoga and get overpriced haircuts)
  • If I don’t wear an item in my closet within 6 months, it has to go. (except my wedding dress)
  • In the future, if I buy an item, I have to get rid of 2 things from the closet. They can’t be Husband’s things.

Essentially, I’m treating myself like a recovering addict. Which maybe I am.

Because now that I’ve seen the light, I’ve got to walk the straight and narrow, reverse my habits, rewire my brain, and unwind years of thinking that I need to possess things in order to be happy or to project success.

That’s why I’m announcing to the world my teeny, tiny progress.

GUYS! MY CLOSET IS SKINNY AGAIN.

You’re all my accountability partners.

“Hi, my name’s Janel. And I don’t want to collect stuff anymore.”

2 thoughts on “Living Lean: How I Got Rid of Half My Possessions

  1. Kristy

    That is awesome I have been trying to do the same! I just went through the toy closet and took big boxes of expensive but less used toys, and games to the thrift store and too small kids clothes and unloved mom clothes have been all making thier way out the door in droves! I need everything to have a place. I don’t plan on moving so if it doesn’t fit it needs to go! Selling the little RV too and hoping someone coming to look tomorrow takes it away and enjoys it since we can’t keep it in our subdivision . The cleanse has started. There are thrift stores with everything I could ever run out of so I don’t need to hang on to things in case I need them. I remember your strawberry shortcake doll and yes it did smell nice! Fond childhood memories !! Love you !

    Liked by 1 person

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