If you didn’t have so much god damned stuff, you wouldn’t need a house.– George Carlin
I have found the first major hurdle in transitioning to boat life is getting rid of our stuff! It seems like our full time job right now is finding stuff and figuring out how to get rid of it. Every time I walk into a room I feel like we’re just another statistic in George Carlin’s observation of the vicious cycle that is American consumerism.
My natural state of existence is more minimalist than most…by American standards. I confirmed this when I moved out of the first house I bought into the second house I bought (before I met Ed). At that time I was a single mom to a two-year-old, working full time, and had a tight deadline to meet with moving. I hired a moving company rather than try to do it myself with family and friends. I’ll never forget the gentleman who came to the house to give me a quote on what it would cost to move my stuff. He informed me that a house of this size usually has a certain number of boxes (I can’t remember the number), and that he just need to see what furniture was involved. Upon hearing the number of boxes, I knew I had about half of that, and informed him as such. He looked at me with this little grin and said almost everyone says this to him, but people tend to underestimate how much they have. I was peeved that this perfect stranger thought he knew better than I did how much stuff I had, but I just told him to have a look around and let me know. After a brief survey of my home, he came back to me with this shocked look and confirmed my estimate was correct. It was foreign to him that a person resided in a house that was not “full.”
However, with a husband and four kids, some of whom have had a nearly 20 year existence in this house, the stuff has found its way into every nook and cranny. Ed and the kids have different habits around stuff than I do. A couple of months ago when we began the monumental task of “de-stuffing” ourselves, that moving company I used previously would have accurately predicted the number of boxes needed for a house of this size.
How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.
At first, I could tell Ed was feeling a lot of stress over the prospect of getting rid of it all. What do we take with us? What do we keep and store? What do we try to sell? How much should we try to sell it for? What do we donate? What do we throw away? What do we keep for now, but need to sell when the house sells? We had some bitter arguments at the beginning on the logistics of “de-stuffing.” I was ready to just plow through full steam ahead. The rest of my family? Not so much.
I decided I needed to start small. I listed a couple of items on Offer Up that were “no-brainer” furniture items that were seldom used and could leave the house immediately. These were in the office, primarily used by Ed, that really made the space feel kind of cluttered. In fact, I had noticed in the past year Ed would usually use the kitchen island as his office desk (to my chagrin), rather than the office. It had just become this room to collect stuff. The love seat sold immediately. Admittedly, it was a pretty cool little sofa. The office, with one less piece of furniture, felt immediately more inviting. This seemed to give Ed a little momentum, and he began digging into the garage. We had, and still have as of this date, a ridiculous amount of tools and garden tools. He started noticing that every item that leaves brings us one step closer to our goal of setting sail. We have now entered the autopilot phase of “de-stuffing” and damn it feels good.
Subtracting stuff from our lives is adding to our happiness.
In the two months that we’ve been “de-stuffing” so far, I’ve noticed a very interesting pattern of purchasers. The most common thing I hear as people buy our stuff is, “we just moved from a [smaller abode] into a [larger abode], and we don’t have enough stuff! It’s too empty!”
Okay, I’m paraphrasing a little bit here, but the pattern is clear: Americans, culturally, have this fundamental need to fill our spaces with stuff. The sad truth is, it is weighing us all down and making us feel stuck.
We are finding that as we clear the house out little by little, it feels cleansing. Instead of getting those little dopamine hits when we buy something new–yes, the brain responds to new purchases like drugs or sugar–we are experiencing a milder, but more meaningful, state of freedom and happiness by having fewer material things in our possession.
We have learned our first lesson on our journey to sailing the world: the path to happiness is having fewer possessions.