Time to Move

In the heyday of Obama’s presidency, when my construction business imploded, my family moved a couple hundred miles from our home near Seattle to the Eastern side of the state. In Seattle, we got lost in 3,500 square-feet of two-storied 1950s cozy and we were giving it up. It vexed me to leave this wonder. I know it’s hard to believe when all you can find these days is primed fiberboard at Home Depot, but the siding and roofing were original. The gal who built the house, now an eighty-year-old waif living up the road, said the shakes for the roof were hewn from Western Red Cedar felled on the lot and hand-split by her sons. Some still showed a two-inch butt. I met the sons after we moved in, and, sure enough, they agreed they spent an entire summer as teenagers splitting cedar and bathing in its smoky aroma. I remember doing the same thing when we built our house on Fife Heights. Even at six years old, it gave a strange satisfaction seeing how cedar split down perfect lines with just the tap of a hatchet.

But the most fun, these guys said? A salmon stream meandered comfortably through the front acre, shaded by douglas firs and blueberry bushes big enough to hide a car behind. When the salmon spawned, the boys would meet up with the neighbor kids and point to the biggest salmon.

“That’s the one. If anyone catches him, they get to be king for the day.”

Spawning Salmon

Twenty pounds of slippery muscle. Photo credit The Seattle Times

In a mad rush, they careened akimbo into the water, splashing and yelling, and the race was on. Crescent Lake was three miles upstream, and they knew that once the fat salmon hit the lake, he was gone. Each boy, in turn, would jump on the fish, twenty pounds of muscle flapping its tail, until it squirted out like a scared piglet. It could take an hour to make it to the lake, and only once or twice did they ever catch a fish, they admitted. But this wet hour was the glory of every summer day.

***

My wife and I were moving from this idyllic spot to the windy and sandy desert across the mountains.

The mere thought of moving everything numbed the mind, so we got a little crazy and started selling stuff off as fast as we could list it on eBay or Craigslist. It was fun. We made a few bucks and found things thought long lost. Over the next couple of years, we did the same thing again twice, moving to New York, and then again to South Carolina.

Less is More. No, Really.

It surprises how little I miss my stuff. I’m even more surprised that I can’t remember anything we sold other than a few tools and my abridged OED. We were saving stuff because we might need it one day, and we never did. We never have since.

I’ve become a disciple of less is more. Having less stuff on the outside magically – and oddly – makes me less cluttered on the inside. There’s probably some wise soul who would have told me that and saved me the trouble. If I had listened.

Messy Basement

A List of Ideas for Getting Rid of Stuff

Attempting to be that wise old soul, here are a few things that helped keep us on the narrow path of less. Try them for yourself and pass on any wisdom or tricks you’ve garnered in the same endeavor:

  1. If it’s broken, get rid of it. This one is hard for me. I know, you’re laughing, but I want to fix everything. You know, recycle it. This weekend. Between trips to the dump and the store and getting the girls new shoes. But the want rarely converts over to the do. Someday, I say. It just makes sense to throw stuff out. Your closets and garage will thank you. You’ll feel like you just kicked the earth in the shin, but you’ll get over it when you see the floor again. Use that good feeling to do without fourteen extension cords and two old coffee makers.
  2. You’ve heard it before and it really is good advice: if you haven’t used it in a year, get rid of it. Don’t throw out grandma’s old quilt but, really, that half-empty bag of lawn fertilizer? You couldn’t break it with a sledge. Toss it.
  3. If you can buy it new for the cost of two or three cups of coffee, throw it away. I used to buy a pack of flashlight bulbs for two bucks and use only one. The one left in the blister pack was like gold. I’d cart it from toolbox to toolbox and shuffle through stacks of other opened stuff trying to find anything. Now, I buy and use what I need and throw the rest away. I feel like a wasteful American, but I don’t have space for it, and I’m tired of moving it. For this same reason, we rarely shop at Sam’s Club. I don’t need four gallons of tomato sauce. It just clutters things up unless you’ve got an industrial-sized pantry and a Romanian daycare. Use what you need and throw the rest away. Better yet, if you can buy only what you need. I’ve had a few good conversations with salespeople who assure me there’s no trick to the two-for-one price. “But I only need one,” I say. “I’ll just through the other away.”
  4. We’re shifting our mindset from that of rushing out to buy what we need or want to taking time to buy things that are useful and bring us some joy, ala Marie Kondo. We could buy any old pan for cooking but love our Le Creuset pots. Just using them makes me happy. They feel good. They’re easy to control. And c’mon: they’re French. It makes purchasing something fun rather than just going out to buy whatever fits the bill. And hey – who wants to cook on green stuff from China?
  5. Give stuff away. First, when we started on our quest, I called anyone who gave us stuff to see if they wanted it back. They laughed and said they got rid of to clean up. So we gave things to food banks or charities or church where they could either give it away or sell it to purchase things new. It feels good to hope that a down-and-out family can actually use that stuff. It feels right.
  6. An educational note for those who have never sold things: you know that hardcover copy of Steven King’s Carrie that you’ve been lovingly dusting and ‘curating’ for the last twenty years? It’s worth about fifty cents if you can find anyone to buy it. Maybe a quarter. We found that a great sale is twenty percent or so of what you paid. Expect five to ten, and you won’t be disappointed. No one is trying to offend you – they just don’t want your junk unless you’re giving it away. I’m also not much of a haggler. And people who cruise these sales every weekend are there to haggle. I just mark everything down to the lowest price I would take and shrug my shoulders.
  7. On another educational note: be smart. We sold only one or two things at our house. For everything else, we met in the parking lot of a grocery store. Maybe I’m paranoid, but I feel weird inviting people over to my house to snoop through my junk.

How it Feels

I had a girlfriend once, a long time ago, who, well, let’s say she played with cocaine. I still remember her talking about it. “Imagine it’s Saturday morning,” she said, “you got a full night’s sleep, and the sun is coming up, and the house is clean, and you’re getting out of the shower, and everything about the day is going to be fantastic. You just tingle at the thought of it. You know?”

I was never sure I knew but she was so full of conviction.

I expect she felt something like I did when we cleaned the house. We could breathe. Getting something – getting anything – was as easy as going to the closet and picking it up. There was no need to invent swear words. 

What I hadn’t expected, was that we cleared our mind as much as our house. It was meditative. Truth is that it felt a lot like we were living on purpose. Intentionally. And it was good. We’ve incorporated this into our whole lifestyle. We sorted stuff again in each move and, in each case, it brings deep satisfaction.

So clean up a bit. Start with a drawer or a room – no rule says you have to go top to bottom all at once. Your brain will feel better. You will feel better. It might lead to something good.

Cheers!

Here’s a book to lead you in the right direction. And no, you don’t have to live like a monk.