Living in excess

There are two storage facilities within walking distance of our house. You know the kind, the ones with different sized bays. From the size of an extra closet to the size of an extra garage.  We’ve used such storage units before when doing major home renovation or moving cross-country. When we moved to North Carolina for my husband’s final duty station, for example, we were offered a storage unit free for a month with the rental of our moving truck. It ended up being a life saver, since we had nowhere to go when we got out there and lived in a hotel for a bit over a week. Not the greatest way to start a new marriage, but worse things have happened and we were young, resilient, and very much in love.

But past the free month, we didn’t have any need for the unit. Once we found an apartment and scrambled to move in on the last day we could spend in a hotel, we emptied the bay and thanked the people at the facility for letting us use it.
For some people, though, a storage unit isn’t a temporary thing.

Storage facilities represent one of the fastest growing business opportunities in the United States. It’s not uncommon to hear people talking about needing to fetch something from a storage unit. And while I can understand this coming from people who are in transitional phases in life where they’re in a temporary living situation or have to move in a hurry without sorting belongings properly, most of the time it comes from people who simply have too much stuff.

I’ve been on a mission in the past few months, tackling the major task of cutting back on the things we own. While we don’t have as much as some people might, I can’t help but look around our house and realize how weighed down we are by the things we keep. As Tyler Durden said in Fight Club, the things you own end up owning you.

But paring back isn’t always easy. Studies done in recent years even show that letting go of belongings triggers the same parts of the brain that react to pain. What we learn from this is that, as far as our brains are concerned, getting rid of things physically hurts! And the more time you spend with certain objects, the harder they can be to let go. I mean, I’m pretty sure we’ve all experienced the disappointment of having to throw away a favorite t-shirt.

There is good news, though. Just like anything else, the more you do it, the easier it gets. The first doubts are the toughest to quiet, the nagging thoughts like “What if I need this?” or “But this was a gift!”
When those feelings arise, it’s important to question why you have it to begin with. Do you use it? Do you need it? Or, in the case of pretty nick-knacks that are meant to sit on the shelf, do you love it?
If the answer to those questions is no, you probably need to let go.

Gifts can be the hardest things to part with, but you aren’t obligated to keep anything just because someone gave it to you. If you evaluate it and it doesn’t contribute to your life in a significant way, it’s okay to pass it on. If you’re really concerned about giving up presents, consider starting a gift album – A photo album filled with pictures of things you’ve been given over the years, whether you love them or not. You can even add notes on the backs of photos or to the side to say who gave it to you and when. Nothing is forgotten that way, and it makes a great conversation piece to go on the coffee table!

The most amazing part of slimming down what you own is how once something is gone, you rarely notice its absence. I try to find one thing each day to let go of, its destination ranging from the trash can to boxes sorted for donation or a yard sale to be held in warmer weather. I couldn’t say how many belongings I’ve evicted, because I haven’t kept track. All I know is that after letting go, I haven’t thought of any of it again, and that’s a pretty good feeling.

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