“Ok, where is it?” he asked as he emerged from my apartment hallway.
I looked up from my work at the kitchen table. “Where’s what?”
“The room?” he said with a look of excited confusion.
“What room?” I asked, knowing this was the appraiser my landlord warned me would be stopping by, but not understanding the question.
“The room with all the stuff,” he said. “You know, the panic room.”
Now realizing what he was asking and why, I smiled and replied, “This IS all the stuff. No panic room.”
He spun around and turned to face me, almost laughing as he said “I’m not sure I’ve seen anything like this before.”
I should back up.
This has been a year of defining moments. The moments when we dare to ask ourselves what we value and if our actions are aligning with those values. The moments that make space for real change to occur. A willingness to admit what’s not working, change course, and reinvent can be the beginning of something beautiful.
So this past year I’ve started to list the things I value. What do I really want to do with this one life I’ve been given? Here are some things on the list.
- Engage more deeply in relationships
- Do satisfying work
- Get outside and play more
- Earn and spend wisely (and give more away)
- Get ridiculously healthy and help others do the same
- Rest more
- Learn more
- Go on epic, difficult, and inspiring adventures
- Do stuff that matters and leave a legacy
The list was on my mind one day as I started to clean out my closet. That’s when it hit me. Not one of these values involved more stuff. Even further, not one of them involved the stuff I already had. No stuff was required. Conversely, what was keeping me from tackling this list? All the work I had to do to keep getting more stuff.
Growing up, I recall the phrase “hold it loosely” being used often. I think this was a way of saying that if you hold things loosely (people, possessions, etc) you’ll be more aware they could go away at any moment and perhaps you’ll be less heartbroken when they do.
Lately I’ve started to wonder how loose is loosely? When it comes to stuff, what if instead of holding it loosely I just don’t hold it at all? Then I don’t have to stress over whether I’m holding it loosely enough. It’s akin to not worrying about getting that dress at 30% off or 40% off because it’s 100% off if I don’t buy it.
As the saying goes, “NO one in the history of the world has ever washed a rental car.” In other words, we overvalue what we own and undervalue what we don’t. So why strive to own so much? How much stuff do we really need? How much is enough?
Inspired by the wardrobe purge, I decided to keep going. How much could I get rid of? Once I started, I couldn’t stop. It was energizing. As I put things on eBay and sold them on Craigslist and gave them away (the MOST fun) not only did my living space start to clear, but my mind and spirit followed. I realized the clutter wasn’t just physical, it was emotional, and letting go of it was a game-changer.
Surprisingly, once most of the stuff was gone, I didn’t want it replace it with new stuff. I began to realize that always wanting the next thing distances us from the value of what we already have.
I fundamentally like order and dislike clutter, but recognize not everyone thrives in an ordered environment. Some people live and work best in varying states of disarray. No matter your living style, I still propose it’s a question of intentionality. How do we thoughtfully challenge the status quo of “enough”? How do we live more richly with what we have?
I still have more than I really need, but I’m working on it. I still “loosely” hold one too many bicycles. The process of learning to live with less has highlighted where I want more.
- I want less money and more time.
- I want less stuff and more connection.
- I want less status and more space for creativity.
I’m learning the truth in one of Gretchen Rubin’s Secrets of Adulthood: By giving up, I gain.
Aligning our actions with our values not only brings clarity, but can help us be ridiculously selective about what we allow into our lives and what we let go of.
Added bonus: No need for a panic room.