Is Your Stuff Worth its Burden?
I started a new decluttering phase in January. I'd decided I was going to do yet another sweep though of my entire house KonMari style. I'd already reduced our possessions significantly, in several rounds of organizing, donating, and paring down, but I knew I wasn't there yet. I still felt I owned more than I wanted to and that there were still things I should've let go of previously. I tackled our clothing, kitchen, bathroom, bedroom, our kids toys and room, discarding more ruthlessly than ever, and as my house lost weight, my garage. . . gained some. The garage is where I collected boxes ready for goodwill, food for donating to the food bank, glass jars for recycling, items I wanted to sell on Facebook swap pages, things I'm not quite sure how to dispose of properly like styrofoam packaging and broken appliances. The stuff that actually belongs in my garage that I need and use, is jumbled up with lots of junk, and as I tackle this portion of my homes clutter, I am feeling the heavy burden of my things. I'm feeling their time suck and weight dragging on me.
When I started reading and implementing minimalist ideas, there was a gradual but massive shift in the way I thought about stuff. Part of that was learning to think about every single thing I owned as representing a portion of my time. As I declutter, I often ask myself, is this thing worth my time? It always reminds me of the Spanish term vale la pena. It means worth it, but directly translates as worth the pain. Every item we buy has a monetary cost that we always take into account when purchasing, but it also has at least some associated burden and time cost. Thinking this way has helped me realize that just because something is free or cheap doesn't mean I need it! And also that items that mean little to me have often robbed me of precious hours I would have rather spent enjoying other things that matter more. I encourage you to start thinking of these costs associated with possessions you keep and bring into your home. It can be a question coupled with "Does this Spark Joy?"-- Is the joy, value, and usefulness I derive from this item worth the pain, time, and money spent shopping for, cleaning, organizing, storing, repairing, moving (packing & unpacking), selling or disposing of it? Here are some examples:
If you know anyone with a boat you probably know that there a lot of costs and chores associated with owning one. Besides paying for the boat itself, you may pay for fuel, dockage, insurance, maintenance and repairs, property taxes, title, registration, winter storage, cleaning costs, life jackets, safety gear, electronics. Every day on the water means a good deal of loading and unloading, cleaning and refueling. Some families would say those burdens are totally worth spending a good portion of their summer days out on the water, but if you buy the boat without considering these costs, you're going to be in for a surprise!
Printers are a household item universally considered a pain. You purchase the printer for maybe $50. You have to take it home, install the software, and spend time getting it set up and figuring out how to work it. Over the course of the life of the printer, you're going to have to dust it, and buy paper and replace ink cartridges over and over and over. You're going to have to fix paper jams and troubleshoot problems when it inexplicably stops working at 2 a.m. the night before your really important final paper is due. And then your printer is going to break. You are going to have to repair or replace it. Is it worth it to you to own a printer? Maybe you print a lot and the answer is yes, you do need one. But I got so tired of replacing ink cartridges and print rarely enough that I decided I'd rather just have my husband print documents at his school, or use the public library.
Over a year ago I got my daughter a 500 pack of those tiny plastic hair elastics. They aren't worth the pain. Their container has exploded more that a few times all over my bathroom. Once on my bed, getting lost in all the messy sheets. And I find them everywhere all the time. Better to get a 5 pack of sturdy, higher quality elastics and save myself the headache.
I had a set of cute fall-colored soup bowls and decided it wasn't worth storing that separate set of bowls that I used a few times a year when my everyday cereal bowls work just as well for soup.
A lot of electronics and kids toys need batteries. When you buy a toy, factor in the cost of replacing the batteries multiple times.
The burden of our stuff can often be felt most acutely when moving. Moving a family can involve months of organizing, boxing, labeling, hauling, loading, moving, unloading, cleaning and reorganizing at our new place. Especially if you move often, doesn't it make sense to pare down your items often, getting rid of what you don't need, so that you aren't burdening yourself with it continually year after year, move after move when it brings no added value to your life? You are wasting your time and energy on it!
On the other hand, some things are absolutely worth the pain. My car--worth it. My bike? The joy it gives me is worth every tire patch, every tune up, every bit of cost of gear. The water table my kids play on in the yard and our lawn swing? Absolutely worth the pain of dragging them on and off the patio every time we mow the lawn because we spend many hours enjoying them.
Your favorite piece of art? Likely worth framing and hanging in every place you move. Those unopened wedding gifts? Get rid of 'em.