My boyfriend and I are getting rid of stuff. Like, lots of stuff. The crap that hangs on hangers and sits in drawers and lurks underneath the table; the old CDs we always swore we’d listen to but never do; the shelves of books gathering dust in a forgotten closet. Kitchen junk drawer? We have two. Bathroom cabinets? Full of beauty products, expired medications, jewelry I never wear, half-used hair product, and sticky residue from things that sprung leaks and never got cleaned up.
The thing is, our house isn’t all that abnormal. It’s a regular house, not a hoarder’s house. We don’t have newspapers piled to the ceiling. We don’t have to carve pathways through our junk to navigate to the front door. Well, Boyfriend has to do that through his clothing to get to his side of the bed, but that’s because he hasn’t learned how to put away his clean laundry. We’re normal, is the point.
But we got sick of plowing through the closet to find something to wear amongst all the things we didn’t want to wear. I hated my office, which doubles as the guest bedroom, because I couldn’t settle in to write without first cleaning out piles of books and paper and journals I’d left lying around. They didn’t have anywhere to live because there’s a bed, a dresser, two desks, a chair, an ottoman, and another closet that is — you guessed it — full of useless crap.
So we challenged each other, idly, over dinner one night toward the end of August. “What if we start throwing stuff out?” Boyfriend said. It was a bigger deal for him, because this is his house, and most of what’s in here is his stuff. I was all ears, more than ready to have this conversation.
“Throw stuff out? You mean your stuff? What about clothes and books? What about your CDs? What about all the crap in the closets?” After all, he’s lived here for twenty years. But he was ready, or he thought he was.
“I bet you,” he said, “that we could get rid of thirty things a day for thirty days.” He was banking on my participation — and that I had a lot more stuff than he thought. But the plan sounded appealing to me. Thirty Days Hath September, I thought. That sounds monumental, but also poetic, and I love great deeds that are poetic. I felt like Beowulf about to go after Grendel.
So we took on the minimalist challenge. Every day this month — twelve days so far — we’ve purged thirty things a day, and put it on YouTube. Mercilessly tearing apart closets, drawers, cabinets, CD collections, kitchen implements, sporting goods, decor, games, books and random things that defy categorization. Even the CD racks have gone in a whirlwind of boxes, bags and armloads into the car, the trash, recycling or donating to a local charity that serves women and children in need.
This is the first day we’ve taken a break. Since both of us worked all day, we called a truce, letting the house breathe. Parts of it are — not cleaner, maybe, but clearer. There’s just nothing there to clutter up the corners that haven’t seen daylight in years. Other parts of it look worse, more cluttered somehow, like when a tornado lifts a trailer park from one area and hurls it into another.
Another lesson I’m learning: I have more stuff than I thought, and my smugness at the beginning of the month has melted, replaced with a recognition of the attachment I bear toward objects I hadn’t even remembered I owned. Birthday cards from friends given years ago, books I’ve already read several times, the little writing desk I bought when I lived at my studio apartment, the stuffed animal I’ve had for ages: each one pulls at me like a living thing.
Boyfriend is much less sentimental; he tosses handmade gifts and old books, his son’s childhood watercolors and birthday cards. He’s a study in non-attachment, while I guard my old stuff as fiercely as Grendel’s mother. Honestly it makes me hate him a little bit because he’s obviously better than me.
It will have to go, though. I want to leave this house for months at a time, and renting a storage unit is out of the question. That’s a level of ridiculousness I’m not prepared to stoop to: storing a second, useless writing desk, some stuffed animals, a ton of books and a bunch of old birthday cards because I don’t want renters living in my clutter.
Embracing minimalism is a challenge worthy of a Zenmaster. It is a study in letting go. It means detaching from things we want, from desire for the sake of desire. Letting go allows us, strangely, the space to embrace whatever next thing life is trying to offer us.
That reminds me of the Zen saying, “Leap, and the net will appear.” It’s easier to leap when your hands aren’t full of things you don’t need.