February 21, 2011

Friday afternoon, I began a journey into a lifetime of stored ‘stuff.’  This was a step that I knew I had to take before I moved, and despite all the preparation I did in the Spring of 2010 when I first decided to sell my loft, the main work of dealing with the stuff in storage, shoved in drawers, etc. has been looming all this time.

I’m a big believer in the flow of energy in life, and certainly in my home. I have greatly minimized the ‘things’ in my space over the years, yet there were hidden pockets of stuff that just saw the light of day for the first time in years (and in some cases, decades). If my life were a ship, I would have been cruising through the water with barnacles all over the hull slowing my forward movement and keeping me from going the distance I wanted to go.

This post is not about minimalism per se. There is certainly no shortage of bloggers who share the joys of living a minimalist life.  I follow several of them and get inspiration from their stories quite often. This post is about my personal experience with this process. Hopefully by sharing, it might help others who are dealing with a similar situation.

For the last couple of months, I have wanted to purge my desk and filing cabinet. My idea was to dump a drawer out in the middle of the room to signal the beginning of the process.  That’s how it started this past Friday afternoon. By the time I emptied the desk and filing cabinet ‘stuff,’ there was a heaping pile on my dining table. I couldn’t believe the mound of random things that was staring me in the face. It was overwhelming, and I wasn’t sure where to begin.

Brandon's Stuff
I read a post on minimalism by Courtney Carver recently about what to do when you are faced with wanting to get rid of old stuff but are holding onto things for sentimental reasons.  The advice was to take a picture of the things that are hard to get rid of, so that you have an image that you can refer back to again and again.  I thought that was an awesome idea, so I put that to work for me, with a twist.  I shared the process on Facebook, so my friends could see what I was doing.  Some of the responses were hilarious, and were definitely worth the embarrassment of having accumulated all of this stuff.

So, what to do with it all?  Most of it is being donated to various charities that can actually use it.  Another big chunk of it is being recycled.  Just the paper stuff alone became several bags of recyclable material. And of course, the old electronic gear, CDs, etc. is all getting recycled or re-used. A few things are worth a few dollars, and they are going on eBay.

The things that were the most important to me were photos, letters, cards, journals and the like. I even ran across papers I wrote in high school! There were a couple that were particularly amusing, and I’m even considering publishing a couple of them in a blog series just for fun. But the biggest A-Ha moment was this:

It wasn’t until I decided to get rid of all this stuff and took action that I was able to experience all of it.

All the years I have held onto these things, they have been hidden away, and I have not had the opportunity to look at the pictures, read the letters, etc. Now I’ve had a chance to relive those memories and document the most important ones for future reference electronically, without having to lug boxes of stuff around with me as I move through my life.  Starting today, the ship will move much faster through the water, and with greatly reduced effort.  I can honestly say now – I’m ready for the next chapter to begin.

If you have ever considered doing a major purge like this, I highly recommend it.  It is one of the most freeing experiences I’ve had in my life. If you’re not sure where to begin, just start with a single drawer.  Dump it out and commit to dealing with the contents inside.  You’ll be amazed what happens once you get the ball rolling.

Today, I know that I am not my stuff. What about you? How do you deal with years of accumulated things when it’s time to move on?


  • Reply Matt Hobbs February 21, 2011 at 2:47 pm

    Great picture. I’ve found that, while it might feel somewhat shallow, quick decisions and removal of the un-needed “stuff” can make the process smoother. That way you can spend less time debating with yourself and more time focusing on the space and freedom created by its removal. Best of luck with the battle!

    • Reply Brandon Sutton February 22, 2011 at 2:16 am

      Thanks, Matt. Today I made some quick decisions about some clothing that was taking up space. This has been liberating on one hand, and exhausting on the other. But I know I won’t have to do this again, at least not on this level. Thanks for the encouragement!

  • Reply BA February 21, 2011 at 3:00 pm

    You can achieve the same goal by “forgetting” to pay your storage bill. 🙂

    • Reply Brandon Sutton February 22, 2011 at 2:17 am

      Haha, unfortunately my ‘storage’ is part of my loft, so I’d have to foreclose in order to have that same effect. If I lived in a house, I’d be tempted to drag it all out to the back yard and light it all on fire. 😉

  • Reply Ali February 22, 2011 at 3:47 am

    I started doing this last month when we got snowed in. I spent the week cleaning out an entire closet and then a few other random drawers and things. I threw out TONS of stuff and made a pile of stuff to donate/sell/give away. Unfortunately that pile is still sitting in the middle of my living room floor. But I’ll get to it eventually…maybe if it snows again…

    • Reply Brandon Sutton February 22, 2011 at 5:04 am

      Yeah, I could have definitely taken advantage of that time during the snow, but I skipped town instead. 😉 The thing I knew for sure is that if I drug it all out into the living room, I would DEFINITELY deal with it immediately. You’ve been to my place, so you can imagine how insane I would be if there were piles of stuff laying around. The funny part of all this is that for all the life-changing work I’ve been doing – getting rid of a lifetime of ‘stuff’ – you could walk into my place tomorrow and not know I did anything at all. See, it was all HIDDEN. There is not one single thing that looks different in my living space, which is even more ridiculous! Clearly I didn’t need all that stuff, because it wasn’t being used.

      Thanks for the comment, Ali! Oh, and this is why I couldn’t come on Friday, in case that wasn’t painfully obvious. 😉

      • Reply Ali February 22, 2011 at 5:25 am

        I was thinking about how completely un-cluttered your place is and where the hell was all that stuff? And yes, it was painfully obvious that that’s why you didn’t come Friday night. Can’t believe you skipped out on an Atlanta Travel Tweetup to clean 😉 See you next time hopefully!

  • Reply meaghan la rocca February 26, 2011 at 6:27 pm

    great blog post! I love the idea of taking a pic of things you’re having trouble letting go of, a very elegant solution I think. there is an old tradition, when someone passes of making memory art with all the things you come across when cleaning out. but I think it a nice thing to do when cleaning out your old stuff. do post some old stuff, that would be fun to read:)

  • Leave a Reply