Clutter and Memories

Inspired by Erin of Unclutterer, I want to write about preserving memories versus decluttering.

I would wager that in many people’s spaces, memory preservation makes up the majority of infrequently-used things. Photo albums, old pieces of writing, or as my mom called them, “scrapbook material”. Not only is it infrequently used, but it also has some of the strongest sentimental attachment of any type of object. That makes it even more confusing to consider when you’re Getting Rid of Stuff.

In my recent zealous decluttering, I got rid of a whole file cabinet full of old papers dating all the way back to kindergarten. The tragedy of lost memories, you might think! But the pieces of paper are not the memories; those are in your head. If it’s photos you’re talking about, you can digitize the important ones, then get rid of the hard copies. If it’s dusty old papers, ask why you’re hanging onto them anyway. Will anyone read them in the future, or will they just be recycled at some point? The physical and mental space taken up by all those scraps outweighed for me the value of looking at them at some point in the future.

Furthermore, there is something powerful to be said for living in the present, and shrugging off the restraints of the past. You don’t have to be escaping a painful personal history to find value in distancing yourself from reminders of who you were in the past. Diminishing the influence of the past allows you to focus on the present and the future, which lends itself to mindfulness and hope.

So, while there are certain things it is important to hold on to (especially significant items), keeping reams of documentation of your past self can do more harm than good.

Extreme Material Simplicity

I have been pursuing a radical course in the past few months, related to my aesthetic preference for minimalism, my upbringing with values of voluntary simplicity, and my philosophical interest in happiness. I have been Getting Rid Of Things. This sortie has been inspired by several assumptions/understandings:

  • Material objects do not bring happiness. In fact, they sometimes impede it.
  • The most aesthetically pleasing interiors for me are those with smooth, bare surfaces. Hard to have those when you have clutter.
  • I would like to spend a significant junk of my young adulthood being itinerant. Heaps of possessions don’t do you much good when you need to pack up and move frequently.
  • Waste sucks, and having things you never use is wasteful, of space, of your energy, and of manufacturing to create those things.
  • It’s easier to clean your space when you have less stuff!
  • To survive, we need little in the way of material objects. Beyond what’s necessary, stuff takes up mental energy.
  • Less stuff allows you to focus on things that make you happy! Like food, and friends, and games, and music!

So! After several months of rejecting objects bit by bit, I finally got to the point where I felt I could inventory all of my belongings. I did this several years ago, perhaps before going abroad. It’s really interesting seeing how much stuff you really have.

Now, the majority of my clothes are out on the line drying, and I grouped some items together (socks, pens, contents of file folders), however:

I have roughly 260 things.

Does having so few things make me happy? No. But it does feel liberating. And liberty feels pretty darn good.

Have you had similar experiences with flushing unnecessary junk out of your life? Are you shocked from disagreement? Do you have other thoughts on this matter? I’d love to hear them!