Over the northern summer I spent my eagerly anticipated month in Australia, relaxing on a much needed holiday break while also consciously thinking about the things I own, how to declutter in a meaningful way and how to spend my time in a way that balanced relaxation with family and friend time, spontaneity and community. I was so proud of the result. I returned to work feeling truly at peace with myself, for the first time in a long while.
I arrived in Australia one wintry Wednesday night. Completely focused on my mission, I secured free wifi in my hotel room and promptly posted online ads for my mattress and bedding package as well as my bike. Within two hours I had someone interested to buy my bike and coming to meet me Thursday afternoon. It was a great start. I was so ready for Thursday to arrive. Little was I to know how smoothly things would go – preparation was everything.
Jet-lagged and fresh off the plane, luggage still firmly packed in the cases, I didn’t wake up as early as I hoped on my first vacation day. Still, I ambled over to the unit as fast as my legs would carry me – completely forgetting to bring several things I’d brought with me from the Middle East to assist with my day, like a permanent marker and 2 gallon Ziplock bags you can’t buy in Australia. Damn. That could create a setback when I wanted to sort out sets of things for the donation pile. So much for preparation.
The Big Declutter
Over just a couple of hours, I was surprised by how fast I went through my stuff. Armed with the list on my smartphone, I had memorised most things I wanted to donate from the homeware category – and more than that, the handful of items I wanted to keep. I started with an empty box for loading things to donate from the nine kitchen box cartons, and a basket for things I’d keep and put into my final ‘keep box’ later. I then went through box after box: pots and pans, cutlery, mugs, bowls, souvenir glasses, teapots, grill plate, muffin trays and other oven dishes, cooking utensils, wine holder, kettle, wok, jugs, on and on it went. I had identified months before that the vast majority came to me either free or from a charity store, or were years old. All had very little monetary value now and were totally replaceable; there was very little reason to keep paying for them to live in storage.
Added to my increasing stack were other homewares I determined I didn’t need in storage: a full-length mirror, plastic storage drawers, a laundry basket, a laundry hamper, plastic containers, coathangers, wall art, my shopping cart. Those canvas DIY wardrobe sweater and shoe shelves you hang from the closet pole. The matching drawers. My long-prized, only furniture piece, two deep drawers on castor wheels that slot into a small box unit. I couldn’t think of anything in future I would store in it. Even fitness gear got the boot. I re-organised box after box, pulling out what I’d keep and leaving the vast majority in there packed to take to a charity store. I had rented the facility’s van to take my donations the next day, and when I couldn’t bring the rental time forward, the facility graciously let me borrow a nearby empty unit overnight to keep all the things that would be going, rather than trying to stack them back in my own unit that was now completely pulled apart.
With the vast majority of large things removed, it was easy to move onto other items for action. My old poster collection and the gift wrap got recycled. My bike got cleaned, tyres filled, and then sold to a Spanish guy. My ‘linen closet’ large suitcase got emptied and divided: bedding to be sold with the mattress, linen to donate with the homewares, older towels and sheets to go to an animal shelter. I bought a box for my treasured board games and children’s toys, rather than storing loose or in a suitcase. I pulled out all my Lonely Planet books and donated them around the corner to the hostel where I’d once lived, for use by wayward travellers. I made a package of useful camping gear and listed it in the hostel – it sold a couple of days later. By the following week my friend had taken on the responsibility of selling my mattress and bedding, and a new migrant soon visited her house and bought it. It was no longer in my unit taking up space, and it was with someone who would use it. That was all I cared about.
I was so excited the next day to drive my things around to the charity from which I had bought so many things as a broke uni student. I felt the karma enveloping me and I paid it forward. When there were a couple of things they didn’t take, they invited me to donate to another charity that was actually closer to the unit. There it seemed they accepted everything. Over the month I continued to go back to them and give them anything else I wanted to offload – books, stationery, all kinds of bric-a-brac.
Additionally, once I rented a car and became more mobile, little things went to places where they would find value:
- I went through my old videotapes that were commercially made as opposed to home-recorded. I gave them to the hostel, which keeps a VCR for its residents and a huge pile of films for nostalgic and bored travellers to watch and bond over.
- From six boxes of books I pulled out two shopping bags full of books either I had since bought/read on my smartphone and no longer wanted as a physical copy, or read years ago and no longer wanted under my minimalist ethic. I took them to a cancer hospital – but the weekend earlier the hospital had relocated to a new location on the other side of the city. My persistence and determination to give these books to patients to read during chemotherapy revealed to me how important I felt it was to pass things on where they would be wanted most.
- I found a charity that allows you to donate old bras by dropping to volunteers’ homes, where they would be sent onward to women in poor Pacific Island nations.
- A recently-separated, good friend took a few of my simple electrical items that she could find use with as she builds her life again.
While touring the country over the month with many other projects ‘on the go’ kept in the back of my rented SUV, I took things even further.
- In a ski village I sold my skis to a garage who could onward sell them to a tourist.
- I spread my box of old electrical cables and appliances out and found two broken cameras, an outdated sat-nav, a travel hair dryer, a ridiculous amount of cables that I was able to pair up with things and three old cellphones. Keeping aside the cellphones to wipe content later, everything else got donated to an e-waste recycler who would dismantle the parts and recycle what they could. The mobile phones will go to a refugee centre, where newly settled immigrants can use them.
- Visiting my parents I tried watching my old videotapes to check their labels matched their content. Mum’s VCR swallowed my first tape and I never got it back. Dad’s VCR didn’t like the rewind button and although I viewed a few tapes in fast-forward, mostly the VCR chewed the tapes and I had to dig each one out of the machine. So satisfied that the content matched the labels, I pulled out 50 of the 100 tapes that contained 90’s TV shows that either I no longer wanted or had since acquired on DVD or digitally. They went with the cables to the e-waste recycler. I made a plan to buy a VCR just to watch the remaining tapes and see if there was anything to transfer to digital – some other time.
I had plenty of other great intentions, but finding the balance of holidaying and decluttering meant my time often went to other things besides my stuff. Rightfully so.
Going back a step to that first, June long weekend – well, I happily took some time and the advantage of friends not working and spent it enjoying catch ups whilst doing adventures I will save for another post. Unfortunately my grand plan to load a truck or van and relocate my remaining stuff proved too ambitious for the time I had. So on the Tuesday I revisited my storage unit and joyfully downsized to a unit half the depth of my larger unit. A wonderful consolation prize. The glee I felt was immeasurable. For three years my stuff had sat in storage in Melbourne, bursting at its seams, never once appearing to get smaller, despite my vigilant sorting. Being a Melbourne resident at the same time, many things were always unpacked, open, stuffed into shopping bags and rather messy.
Now I am an overseas resident. I don’t need regular access to my things. I can still identify boxes to sort through, but a lot of the easy stuff is now gone. Things are tidy, packed up and labelled in boxes and taking up just three neat rows. I have some homework left to do – I photographed books I donated and with that plus my preparation list I can now go back to my inventory list and halve the contents just about. I need to get my head around what I conquered and see what can be tackled now from this distance.
Next visit, I think I can try to tackle my school work, and my pre-digital photograph album and picture frame collection. That takes up about six or seven boxes worth that can easily be downsized to digital pictures and a small folder of any school or university projects that have importance to me. I’d probably scan them as well. I am satisfied that I am well on my way to downsizing my serious book collection, now that those six once-full boxes are now halved. I just need to keep plugging away at reading on my smartphone.
What else can be said about my stuff? Except – this trip, I found the light at the end of my tunnel.
*If you are interested to see some of the Australian organisations I donated to, please take a look at my new Giving page. Leave a comment with any organisations you find worthy, so that I can add them and build a stronger resource for others to use and share.