Seven Series: Possessions

**This is the third in a series of posts on experimenting with reducing consumption, based on a modified version of Jen Hatmaker’s book Seven. Check out my original post on the challenge for more info.** 

Possessions

  • Give away 7 items each day
  • Source meaningful recipients, not Goodwill
  • Reduce and donate Sky’s toys
  • Go through all closets and backyard shed
  • Read about the psychology of consumption, the buy-purge-buy cycle

Day 4

I’m getting a bit of a slow start on this one. I also ended up doing a big clean-out of Sky’s toys and books, some baby items, my bookshelves and clothing, and our kitchen cabinets during the clothing challenge. I guess I started cleaning out my clothes and I got on a roll.

I’m really happy with the results thus far. I read this one simple rule on Rising Shining about maximizing space and minimizing clutter in a small house: keep as many horizontal surfaces clear as possible. Instantly, I saw so many places in our house to declutter, and when I was finished our house felt really bright, open, and inviting. At a little over 1,000 square feet, our house has definitely helped us take a minimalist approach to possessions, kind of by default, no special philosophy or practice needed. We no longer have a garage, and it’s a constant effort to keep the small shed behind our house from becoming a dangerous tangle of garden tools, strollers, and barbecue accessories.

I’ve got a large box in our spare bedroom/ my office collecting seven daily items for donations. Hopefully Lyle will get in on this with me and go through his bookshelves and closet, too.

One thing I’m thinking about: the four storage boxes in my closet containing the journals and notebooks I’ve kept since age 7, old school papers, and letters. These are the possessions I’ve never been able to part with. I’ve been through a lot of phases of letting things go in my life– living out of a backpack at certain points, a small trailer at another– but these boxes have remained a kind of anchor for me. They sat in my parents’ garage for a long time, and I’d sift through them whenever I visited. At a certain point, when we were more settled, the boxes came to Oregon with me for good.

They anchor me in time, but they’re also a weight I’ve now carried during two cross-town moves. I wonder often what it would be like if I didn’t have to cart them along when we move into what we hope will be our forever home in California. I wonder what value they will have for my children, whom I hope will outlive me, and if I’d be doing them a favor by culling the collection a little bit. Or maybe it’s the kind of thing you let go of slowly, a piece at a time, as the years go by.

I’m thinking I will schedule a few hours in the coming weeks to go through one box at a time, and see if there’s anything that can go, or anything I’d rather scan onto a hard drive for safekeeping. I suspect many of my childhood poetry journals are mostly blank pages, and I might be able to copy and combine some of the original poem drafts into one folder.

Tomorrow we’re going to tackle the shed once again. We’ve decided to pare down to one stroller, so we’re letting go of our bulky jogger. (Let’s face it– I’ve never been much of a runner anyway.) I’m hopeful this can be our final organizing session, that we can store what we use most often in the shed so that our items are easily accessible and securely stored. So that everything has a place.

Day 5

Our shed is so clear and open now. It feels much safer, and it didn’t take as long as we had imagined. We cleared out the stroller, a push-scooter that no longer functions, and a baby hiking backpack we bought for $10 at a thrift store. After several hikes with Sky, we’ve determined that for our pace, a regular soft-structured carrier like the Ergo, in backpack-carry mode, is juuuust fine for us. The REI external frame carrier was kind of overkill for us, overly heavy and bulky for the short hikes we typically do.

We cleared away a lot of miscellaneous detritus (wood scraps, plastic pots, a broken kiddie pool) and stored only our most-used items in bins on the back shelf: folding chairs up top, sharp barbecue and gardening tools on the second shelf, and Sky’s extra sand and pool toys in a big blue bin on the bottom shelf. We kept our camp stove and propane there, too, for emergencies, and strapped the push-mower and scoot bike to the wall on one side.

The result: I can actually push the stroller all the way inside the shed. Without running into things, scraping my finger, and cursing. Without shoving the door shut and padlocking it. It feels really great. I’m looking forward to doing the same with our office/craft/guest room closet– the other black hole of where-do-we-put-this-I-don’t-know-just-shove-it-in-there-for-now.

I appreciated this short article in Christianity Today on the appeal of the minimalist movement, because I’ve been slightly wary of the trend for various reasons. My perfectionist nature has led me to try to pare down my belongings to the minimum at many, many different times in my life– only to see them balloon again as I move onto new projects or phases of life that (seem to?) require different tools or clothing.

For a lot of us who grow up in the relative wealth and privilege that is life in the U.S., I think there’s a kind of “anorexia of stuff” that can be dangerous, whether it’s the capsule wardrobe or a Kon Mari decluttering frenzy. What I mean is: anxiety can be the driving force, leading me to pursue a non-existent ideal based on an unrealistic self-image. I get into dangerous territory when I declutter in the mistaken belief that it will give me lasting happiness and a sense of worthiness– when there’s much deeper, more complex soul work to be done instead.

CT writer Kate Shellnutt writes:

But treating any lifestyle change as the real key to happiness usually means idols are lurking underneath. As writer Pamela Druckerman recently noted in The New York Times, “It’s consoling to think that, beneath all these distractions, we’ll discover our shining, authentic selves, or even achieve a state of ‘mindfulness.’ But I doubt it. I’m starting to suspect that the joy of ditching all of our stuff is just as illusory as the joy of acquiring it all was.”

Day 14

Sky got a tummy bug, I left for a long weekend work-ish trip, and then had tons of deadlines in a row. Plus, pregnancy. So. Here’s my catch-up summary.

I never got to sorting through the boxes of journals in my closet. But I did go through the bins in our office/guest room closet and ended up with a large box of giveaway items, including books, clothes, toys, shelving and frames we never used, an unused and very old digital camera, and a straightening iron. Then I moved the two shelves of books that belong to Lyle and me from the living room to the office. When we did the Kon Mari purge last year, we each drastically reduced our permanent “libraries.” But it doesn’t make much sense to store these little-read books in the living/dining room, which is where Sky and I do pretty much everything– painting, art projects, playing, dancing, reading, etc. I moved all of her craft supplies to the book shelf, so now when she’s clamoring to paint I don’t have to run to the closet and rifle around for paper and paint brushes.

I also reorganized her closet with accessible toys, since during these last two weeks we developed a more consistent wake-up routine for her that involves independent play in her room if she wakes up too early. (Which is most days.) We had tried to put a latch on the closet to keep her from getting into the bins of clothes she’s either growing out of or into. But she figured out how to unlatch it (clever girl) and really, I figure her closet should be a safely-organized space she can access by herself anyway.

That means I have bins of outgrown clothes and too-big shoes to store somewhere, so I’m on the hunt for another under-bed storage bin. We have one under our bed for winter clothes she’s about to grow into.

Finally, I cleaned out the secretary desk in the office and moved all of my sewing supplies there. As I begin the 3rd trimester, I’m having pretty serious nesting urges, including lots of ideas for sewing projects. I want to make Sky a blanket, some fun overalls, a firefighter outfit, and a doll. We’ll see if I manage all of that, but hopefully having one central station for everything will make it more appealing to drag everything out to the kitchen table to work. One day I’d like to have a dedicated sewing space, but for now, I’m happy just to have all my supplies in one easy-access spot.

Thoughts overall: This is much more challenging to take on during pregnancy than I had imagined. I also started writing for Red Tricycle, and between the demands of parenting and my other freelance work, I’m pretty wiped out by the end of the day. I’m glad I did the bulk of our cleaning/organizing work earlier in the 1st & 2nd trimesters.

How is all of this affecting me spiritually? It feels pretty practical at this point. I do have an increased sense of how little we truly need to be happy, and more awareness of my urge to “buy” us out of a problem by purchasing something. Even though this isn’t the spending portion of the challenge, it goes hand in hand with possessions. I’ve been reading Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove’s book God’s Economy, and it’s blowing my mind. Hopefully I will have more thoughts on that to share with you soon, but for now I’m just soaking it in. Pick up a copy if you get a chance.

You may also like