30 Jun Simplify, simplify
“Our lives are frittered away with detail. Simplify, simplify,” wrote Henry David Thoreau. In response, Ralph Waldo Emerson replied, “One ‘simplify’ would have sufficed.”
It was well past 2 AM on a Friday night. We were moving out of our house the following day and had been working non-stop for 20 hours in preparation. We had completed Day 1 of the dreaded-but-necessary yard sale and had a small city’s worth of possessions remaining to be sold strewn about the living area. Having been married almost three years, we received many beautiful wedding gifts just a few years prior and spent the last two years unconsciously accumulating even more stuff. We had many vintage items, antiques, and high-dollar name-brand clothing to dispose of before moving out in preparation for our world trip, but found it difficult to part with them at such deep discounts. Yet here I was, exhausted, posting a craigslist ad indicating, “Yard Sale: Furniture $15, everything else $1. Everything must go TODAY!”
For the last three years, we have lived in a little 744 square foot house in the “bad part” of Denver. There were no noble causes that led to us moving in here, or rather, no causes more noble than saving as much money as possible in preparation for a couple years on the road. It was cheap, cozy, and close in proximity to the things we needed, which was great. Not willing to part with certain items, however, my gracious parents agreed to take our antique bed sets, dishes, books, remaining clothes, and the beloved red leather reading chair for their basement, while my lovely mother-in-law took our decorations, antique china cabinet, and bookshelf. Nearly everything else we owned was sold for $15 or less, netting us a profit of $450. Humbling, indeed, knowing we spent more than that on a few single items. As we dragged these possessions to the curb Saturday morning, a strange phenomenon happened: we actually began enjoying getting rid of everything at $1 or less. Stuff began flying off the card tables as we began accepting any offer, even at fractions of what we anticipated receiving for it. Our neighborhood is predominately hispanic, and through our broken Spanish, we bartered away all of our yard sale items, which accounted for about 50% of our former possessions. We felt liberated and exhilarated by surprising our customers with how cheap everything was. We found that the more we got rid of, the easier it got to part with even more.
At one point in the sale, I sold our notoriously ugly floral sleeper sofa to a woman for $10 who had walked to our sale from down the street. Without means to move it, I loaded it in the back our my SUV (well, my brother’s SUV actually… I sold mine earlier in the week) and took it to her house. As we were carrying the couch over the threshold, I was struck at how poor this woman must have been, as her house had very little in the way of furnishings, and the belongings that were visible held much less value than the couch I was helping move. As we entered the house, a boy, likely 7 or 8 years old, ran from an empty bedroom in the corner of the house to watch. “Como esta?!” he inquired. “Esta es una cama nueva para ti!” she exclaimed as the boy rejoiced– it was his very first bed to himself. That moment was worth more than gold to my heart.
As written about here, Thoreau’s Walden has many themes that resonate deeply with me. The simplification of life down to its lowest terms is one such topic, which has increasingly (or decreasingly, perhaps) been on my mind. This sale reminded me that often, our stuff can weigh us down even as it is intended to make our lives more comfortable or enjoyable. As items are released, we gain a certain clarity or perspective, and rarely miss the things that we disposed of. An article was published in the New York Times which encouraged people to seek simplicity by retaining only the items that “spark joy in you,” meaning that if an item doesn’t fit right, holds a bad memory, or doesn’t enhance your life in some positive way, it is time to release it. The idea is that by focusing on only the positive items and gently releasing your negative ones, you will find yourself surrounded only by things that make your life better. Further, Rob Bell, a well-known speaker and author, recently interviewed a couple guys known as “The Minimalists” for his podcast (Robcast, for those interested). In his interview, The Minimalist mention that the three words most instrumental in American’s culture of hoarding and over-accumulation are “just in case.” We store items “just in case” we need them for some specific purpose in the future, however, these events rarely manifest. The Minimalists encourage adopting a 20/20 principle: “If you can replace it for $20 or less in 20 minutes or less, you don’t need to hang on to it.” Utilizing the 20/20 principle and the “sparking joy” concept, you may find that your life is reduced only to items that bring happiness, clarity, and purpose in your life.
Clearly, I have only touched on simplification and reduction of material belongings in this post, however, there are many more ways to simplify life (not limited to): schedule simplification (learning to say ‘no’ to other commmitments and activities), technological simplification (setting aside time each day or week for a ‘no tech’ time, spending that time in true conversation, meditation, or other quiet practice instead), financial simplification (learning to buget, reducing expenses, or cconsolidating/automating processes), or social simplification (reducing the number of acquaintances or social events that drain your energy rather than fill it). I will write on mmany of these at a later date, but know they may be just as useful in life simplification as material reduction.
We are now moved out and packed up for the summer (myself in Alaska and Jaimie in Arkansas), and feel a certain freedom that only a paired-down life may provide. If you have found yourself using “just in case” as justification for clutter, try pairing down some of these items, only keeping those items that spark joy. Remember, it isn’t just about getting rid of things, but rather, allowing the items you do keep to hold more weight and prominance in your space. It has been a fun little experiment reducing our belongings down by 50% and living simpler so far, and we are increasingly finding to the old addage, “less is more,” to ring quite true.
Share in the comments how you have practiced simplicity in your life. In which ways to you find simplicity makes life easier or harder? Any unique practices? I’d love to hear about it!