I am not the tree-hugging, recycling type but I will toss the recyclables into the right bin only because it’s convenient. (That and supposedly there’s some fine for tossing regular trash into that bin.) The reason I mention this is because every three years or so, I do my version of ‘Spring Cleaning’. Except I start just after Christmas and it goes on until the beginning of Spring. Once Spring arrives, I stop. This is because, being a non-conformist, I can’t bear the idea of doing spring cleaning when it’s fashionable.
Now, some people do spring-cleaning because of the good weather after the winter. It’s an opportune time to clean the carpets after all the holiday traffic has muddied them up. Some do spring cleaning as part of some estrus/ ‘nesting’ motive that I just can’t relate to as a man. No, for me.. spring cleaning is both a mental and philosophical activity that I’ve found useful over the decades. I do it to preserve my sanity and general outlook on life rather than to satisfy some eccentric tidiness compulsion.
As you may have guessed.. I once again began my spring cleaning a few weeks ago. I’m not into trying to fly through it all in one day since I try to be fairly thorough. Before I get into details on the actual process, I’ll spend a moment on my reasoning and philosophy on the subject first.
Back in 1981.. I was just 18 and made the decision to live in a commune for four years. During those four years I could gather all of my worldly belongings into a back-pack and a single laundry bag in a matter of minutes. Well, except for my VW Bug.. never could fit that into the back-pack. But that was how I started life on my own.. very minimal. Years later, in 1991 after a divorce, I filled my first single apartment with furniture, wall hangings, pots, pans, etc. It looked great and I either needed or enjoyed every belonging I had. Nothing superfluous.. things kept neat and tidy simply due to the art of minimalism.
In 1993, I did an extreme spring cleaning. I gave away everything I had and only kept my clothes and computer stuff. I replaced all the furniture with bean-bags (very comfortable) and replaced my bed by simply setting down layers of blankets on the carpet each night. Nobody took my stuff, I didn’t have to sell anything for money.. I simply took everything down to the bare minimum as an easier lifestyle. I did have a dining table and a desk for my computer, along with a small, simple stand for my TV.. but that was it. Aside from the wall prints I had hanging in each room, it looked as though I was -about- to move in any day now. I loved it. For two years I slept on the floor, it was fantastic.
Then.. I started dating again.
To her credit, Donna was a real trooper about my minimalistic approach to decorating. But after awhile the whole ‘no-bed’ thing was just asking too much. (She married someone else about 8 months later.) Figuring it was a good-run while it lasted, I again purchased all the basic furniture figuring it was a better compromise than a life of celibacy.
All this to say that, for me, there is something peaceful and comforting in traveling lightly through this world. As George Carlin so famously pointed out, we seem to eventually purchase a house for no other reason than as “.. a place to put ALL of our STUFF.”. I’m not against having nice things, I think it’s great. I can appreciate a well decorated home and the comforts it brings. But when push comes to shove, I really feel somewhat uncomfortable with the idea of having -too much- stuff. Especially stuff that falls into any of the following categories;
— Stuff I don’t use anymore. Old clothes, shoes, jackets, software, cables, kitchen gadgets, weird gifts, etc. Even furniture. If I notice that I never sit in a particular couch or chair.. I want it gone.
— Stuff that is obsolete. Usually this means paper. Old mail, receipts for stuff I bought five years ago, old utility bills, junk mail, random phone numbers on scrap paper (“who the hell IS this person?), PC printouts and original packaging I thought I’d need in case I had to do a return of the item. Every spring cleaning I throw out SO MUCH paper crap that each time I am thoroughly amazed at how much clutter it was taking up on desks, counter-tops, shelves, drawers.. the stuff seems to just multiply.
— Duplicate Stuff. Do I really need two pairs of black shoes? Or five boxes of half-filled boxes of cereal? Or three jackets? Right now I have three mint-condition printers and only use one. What are those frozen packages at the back of the freezer? Why do I have three jars of mayonnaise that are each only filled a quarter-inch for the last few years? Or two jars with only one pickle each? Five phone books even though I never use them.
No.. this excessive crap has GOT to go. Just looking at it, mentally cataloging it each time I see it is enough to drive a person mad. Peace is found in simplicity. Zen is found in sparsity, not chaotic clutter. I would rather own a few good things I enjoy than truckloads of ‘stuff’ with my name on it.
Now, again, I don’t fault anyone who has lots of stuff. My needs and desires are minimal. If I learned anything from my four years at the commune it was a deeply rooted sense of contentment apart from material belongings. Maybe that’s why I’m so experience oriented. I value my time and the time with my friends. I wouldn’t want to lose something I truly need, I’d still be upset if someone stole my car or my PC. To the other degree.. there’s nothing romantic or noble about wandering the streets penniless wearing only the shirt on your back either. I’ve met and spoken with many of these people over the years and that’s taking minimalism to a detrimental degree that threatens one’s health and safety.
However, people with kids end up with tons of stuff. Just toys and kid’s clothes alone.. and then add to that pile yet another pile of the woman’s clothes and heaps of shoes.. fuhgettaboutit. With most women predisposed to buy crap and bring it into the house, paired with men who buy crap and leave it in the garage or the yard.. most people end up with way more stuff than they planned on. As a kid, my Dad moved us every single year to a new city. I learned to travel light even as a small kid. The kids I met along the way who said they’d lived in the same house for years usually had a garage full of stuff that was probably just too much trouble to pack and move for their parents to consider doing anything but simply stay in one place.
I’ve already organized my twenty years of PC files. I’ve tossed out about two hamper-fulls of paper clutter and still have more to go. Next are the closets, my room, my desk.. whatever is useful but either unwanted or duplicate is going into a pile for the Goodwill or Salvation Army.. they can fight over it on the lawn for all I care. I just want it gone. Last year I gave away three couches. (At one point I had five of them.) I still have two right now, but they come in handy when my sons come to crash for the night.
Take a quiet moment tonight.. tour your home with a new set of eyes. Look at all the stuff you’ve accumulated. Maybe you’ll find you just can’t part with a single item. Maybe you constantly toss out or give away excess and keep things at a nice median level. But maybe, just maybe, you could not only ease up the visual/mental clutter from your surroundings.. but give it away to someone else who has a greater need for it.
Henry Velez is a writer, traveler and vlogger currently living in the Philippines. He has written extensively on social issues, relationships and travel.