My 3-bag-challenge toward living with less (part 3)

This week I’m revisiting the process I went through to downsize our 1800-square-foot home to 12 suitcases (plus some storage items) as we prepared to move abroad two-and-a-half years ago. [This was the third post in this exploration of living with less.]

I wasn’t expecting to write about this topic again (see part 1 and part 2), but the past three weeks have pushed me over the edge. When that happens, posts are written. [Luke 6:45]

My 3-bag challenge exploring the freedom of living with less (part 3)

Moving out of the country really forces you to examine several areas of your life. I knew this journey would teach us a lot, I just didn’t realize exactly what those lessons would cover. Speaking of lessons, anyone remember Madame Blueberry and Stuff Mart? That was always my favorite Veggie Tales episode, and now I know why. I feel like this rap could have been written about my household. Check it out:

Funny, huh? I wish it were more funny and less close to home. Dude, we have had the big hat, plenty of tubes of glue, a wok, an extra fridge, a giant air compressor… and half the other items in that ridiculous list.

In the past month we have hauled out no less than 100 bags of trash from our house. We have given away or sold just as much stuff. A mere 12 totes worth was deemed “storage-worthy” and taken to the basement storage area. And just nine suitcases and four carry-ons worth are going with us for the next year. The suitcases total 450lbs worth of stuff, and our carry-ons provide another hundred (total). But we’ve gotten rid of tens of thousands of pounds of items we previously coveted… stuff we thought we needed.

The huge gap between those numbers caused me to fully comprehend just how bad our addiction to stuff had gotten. :( As North Americans, can we even go anywhere without feeling the need to add to our bins of stuff? Kids’ birthday parties? We send them home with bags of stuff. Sunday School/VBS? More bags of stuff come home. School parties? Even more stuff! And most of this is dollar-store crap that’s just filling up our junk drawers, closets, and eventually — landfills.

Think it stops when we hit adulthood? Ha! That’s when the home parties start.

My kitchen is a great example. My grandmother probably considered a paring knife to be one of her most versatile utensils. Today, we have twenty different devices to do the work of that single knife, for example. I mean, come on: unless I’m really into baking pastries, why do I need a pastry cutter/blender? Two forks work just fine. And that cherry de-pitter? Really? It’s way more fun to just spit the seeds. ;) My kitchen drawers were overflowing with excess gadgetry that  — although well-intentioned — ultimately just clutters up my house and my life.

And that is literally just the tip of a very large ice berg.

I found at least 30 nail clippers. [I don't even know what to say about that.]

Ballet slippers my girls wore five years ago, board games that haven’t been played in almost as long (because they are missing pieces), a Wii game that had never even been opened after the girls received it for Christmas two years ago, two quarter-filled scrapbooks from the girls’ “please oh please I really wanna scrapbook!” phase last summer, a stack of colored foam sheets about a foot high from a birthday party 18 months ago, and piles of that dollar-store junk I mentioned previously… these are just a few examples of the things we’ve been holding on to. I always thought, oh I could use that for this, or we’ll finish it then, but the this never appeared and the then never happened.

And now we’re leaving… I only wish we had done this sooner, so we could have enjoyed the benefits of living lighter here, now. I have new piles around me now, only they are piles of lessons being learned to push old habits aside.

I used to think that buying stuff for my kids was a way to show them how much I loved them.
But now I realize I’m just setting them up to believe happiness and love = stuff.

I used to think that buying stuff on sale — even if I didn’t need it at this very moment — was an indication of my thriftiness as a wife and mother (as if I should be given a prize!).
But now I realize I’m just contributing to waste when I could be resourceful with what we already have.

I used to think I was letting God fill the emptiness in my home and my heart.
But now I realize I’m just living the American Dream and making that my God.

So my challenge to you is to learn from our journey toward living with less. You may not be moving somewhere you can only take 550lbs worth of stuff, but that’s OK. Here’s what I want you to do:

  1. PLAN: Take one weekend a month, from now until Christmas, to go through a room in your house. Mark it on your calendar so you don’t plan anything else then. Enlist a friend or family member to help and hold you accountable! (After all, there’s safety in numbers!)
  2. PREPARE: Pretend you are moving with us and touch every single item in that room to decide whether you’d take it, get rid of it, or store it.
  3. PURGE: The goal is to end up with a single bag of stuff to take from each room, as well as a single tote of stuff to store. Those are the items you keep. And the rest? That, my friend, is the excess baggage of your life. It rarely does more than weigh you down and clutter your mind. Get rid of it and enjoy your newfound freedom!
Here are a few ideas for getting rid of all that stuff:
  • DONATE: Goodwill, The Salvation Army, and Purple Heart will all take most of your household items and clothing. However, there may be a few more local and urgent needs. Contact your local homeless shelter to see what they need. An organization that helps the homeless get into transitional housing is another great place to donate your stuff. They often furnish entire apartments to help families get back on their feet.
  • SELL: Ebay is a given, and most people already know about Craiglist. But my favorite this year has been Amazon Marketplace. I’ve sold hundreds of dollars worth of books, DVDs, and Wii games on Amazon during the purge process, and was able to use my earnings to help get a few critical items for our trip.
  • SHARE: Freecycle is an amazing thing. Post about an item you have to offer, and people come to pick it up within hours. So easy and so much better than adding to the landfills with stuff that still has life left. As they say: one girls trash is another’s treasure. Oh, and don’t forget the power of social networking for sharing your stuff! I frequently posted about things I no longer needed. The following post: Anyone want an ice cream maker? resulted in the item leaving my house within 30 minutes. Sweet!

Won’t you join me so we can stop storing all this stuff and planning for someday, in order to use what we have to fully live today!