The Great Declutter, part 1: The Real Cost, November 2015

What a powerful bridge I just crossed.

This journey can only be described as an elongated thought process, and so the following post will read as such. 

It’s my day off again. Weighed down by things to do, I came up with a list of short tasks to achieve this morning to help me start to feel like I’m getting a lot of work done. After that I thought, you know, while I’m here I have some other things on my mind that I want to list: easily discarded things from my storage. So I opened up my smartphone notes page and jotted them down. Then it occurred to me to scroll back through my smartphone photos to the last pictures of my storage (which I do each visit), to see if there’s anything else I can see I need to add. What followed was a half hour of liberation.

It started with the obvious things, my bike, the queen mattress and bedding. These I held onto in case overseas job hunting didn’t work out and I had to return home to the same impoverished circumstances. The new items I’d added were easily recycled papers such as a container of pre-used gift wrap and cheap blank cards; this week it occurred to me to ask, “why am I keeping that? I hardly use it anyway!” Since I’m also recently freed of my debts, aside from a nice clean university bill, I can separate myself from all my carefully kept papers documenting twenty years’ budgeting and saving. I finally feel like I’ve learned a lot of hard lessons and am ready to move forward, smarter about money and able to let go of past mistakes and spending. Thing is, most of what I spent my money on was travel, good times, great experiences! And when I wasn’t I was struggling to survive. Such was the seesaw of my past life. Now I know how much I need to live on; I’ve budgeted so often and so carefully it’s all in my head these days. So why keep paper memories? That’s what those papers have become. Nope, time to let it go.

The Real Cost

So those things added, I started scrutinising the images of my storage unit. The gift wrap had triggered an important realisation for me. Much of my stuff was of very little value, bought cheap or saved to reuse during my financial hardship. It made me start thinking in terms of added cost, of keeping it in storage, versus the original value of any given item stored there. It’s not a new concept; I’ve calculated the costs for keeping my books before too. Last month, I even shared the same ideas and calculations with a like-minded friend. The difference was, today I started considering everything in there and really looking at it.

Here’s the plain truth that was my proverbial bridge-crossing. Aside from papers and books, the things, the practical things in my unit were acquired so long ago they are of little value now, think an 8 year old DSLR Canon camera. Smart phones have the same megapixels these days. Movie posters from the 1990s that were given to me at each charity premiere I used to attend. My bike, like a car, is worth a quarter of what I originally invested. Plus there are those many useful but inexpensive home items. And that is where I have the most bulk. As a broke Melbourne student and graduate for six long years, the total estimated cost for the household things I had acquired from transient share-house living was somewhere in the vicinity of $1000. Total. Bedding and bike aside.

Changing Values

If sacrificing my life to work hard in the Middle East for a secure financial future is anything to go by, shouldn’t I then accept the notion that I could be, that I intend to be, here for a long while and therefore cheap homewares taking up space in a storage is an unwise financial choice? After all, my value of $1000 has changed and it’s now something I would rather keep aside for acquiring things on a return home instead. Besides, will I need these things if I return to Australia, if I’m no longer in a share-house? Will I still be cramming my stuff into a tiny bedroom? Well, a minimalist reader could argue yes, but for different reasons.

The Big Cull

Realisations made, I happily continued along the proverbial bridge and set about examining my photos of storage. Onto my discard list went things ranging from charity store saucepans to my old printer and stationery supplies for university, to a blow up mattress and camping set (I rarely camp). In just half an hour I had eliminated most of my storage unit and planned the elimination to take place over two days, allowing for online advertising prior to my arrival home for the next holiday break. First day tasks would include all the linen washing, of towels and sheets and my quilt, ready for next day collection. On the second day, with a recycling bin beside me and a trolley to load all things destined for charity, I would remove it all by 4pm so I could drive it around to a homewares-accepting charity store by 5pm shop-shutting time. Old towels and sheets would go to an animal rescue centre. Two days and it’s gone.

Of course I still need to keep reading as many e-books as I can so I can also remove a bunch of their physical counterparts. And I need to continue researching and planning my Amazing Race visiting the rest of the world trip, but I would venture to say that most of the travel brochures holed up in storage aren’t companies I would use, and nothing in them would be stuff I couldn’t find online anyway, so to recycling they should also go.

The Road Map

Once I got deep in my fun, liberating list, I started to list the things in there I actually valued and wanted to keep. Well there wasn’t much. Handful of clothes, my ancient but tiny Xmas tree and ornaments from around the world, some special or favourite books. Board games. Old photo albums (to eventually digitalise). I actually started thinking it’s possible that on my next trip home I could quite easily downsize to a much smaller storage unit keeping only these treasured items. How amazing would that be?

I feel like today I created the road map to set me free. I’ve changed so much since my twenties and I think a huge part of it is finding comfort and acceptance with goals I’ve achieved that also allow for closure. I’ve pretty much done everything I ever dreamed of or planned to do. I’m almost entirely done with uni. I’m done with financial burdens. I have travelled most of the world and I’m one big wandering holiday away from seeing those extra bits I’ve missed. But I also know I’m quite comfortable if I was never able to travel again, that I’ve seen and done a heck of a lot. I’ve actually reached a point where I’m ready to embrace the new, but with a lot less of a collection and need for things or even mental clutter to come with me.

*Deep, blissful sigh.* That’s such an amazing feeling.

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