The Joys Of Cleaning House

The Buddhists say that attachment to material things is the source of much suffering in the world. In the past few days, I have been inclined to agree with them. Now I don’t of course mean to say that being an impoverished wayfarer is any better of a proposition than hoarding. That has tons of its own inconveniences. What I will say however is that having a few things, but high-quality ones, is the optimal solution – not to mention increasingly easy and feasible nowadays with the rise of e-books, online services, and cloud computing.

Take books. At one point I had about 250 of them, clogging up my storage space. Half of them I hadn’t read, and of the other half, I knew myself well enough that the vast majority would remain unread. What’s the point of keeping them then? I gave away 225 of them to the local library, keeping only the most useful, expensive, and/or sentimentally valuable of them. There are now far more books (150 and counting) on my Kindle library. So long as Amazon doesn’t delete them (but there’s a solution for that) and there’s no peak oil/zombie apocalypse, they’re as safe and permanent as any physical collection. Safer, if anything.

And best of all, they only ever take up the room of a laptop or tablet… if not a USB flash drive.

The fewer-but-better rule pretty much applies to everything. Clothes – yes. Far better to have two good changes of clothing than ten dingy T-shirts and nondescript pants. Cooking – yes; the best chefs tend to rely on a surprisingly limited stock of ingredients and kitchen utensils. Fitness – again, yes. You don’t even need a gym membership. Your own body and maybe a kettlebell will suffice. A bag of rice and a box of cheapish gold jewelry to round things off for the survivalists who worry about worst case of scenarios. Even most of your important documents can now be kept exclusively in an online application like Evernote.

Of course you’ll have other things for your hobbies. For instance, I ski, so I have my skis and ski boots. But as a rule, these things will occupy very little space relative to the general trash you find lying about.

I estimate I’ve disposed of about 75% of my possessions by volume in the past few days. The room is now much less cluttered, there are fewer things to distract me from productive activities. I think the key to actually going through with disposing of many things is to do it quickly, with iron-cast criteria such as, “Have I used this item in the past month? Will I realistically use it the next?” If it doesn’t fulfill them, then purge them ruthlessly like the NKVD. The problem with putting shit on sale is that much of the stuff you are going to sell is cheap and will earn you cents on the dollars you originally bought them with; furthermore, it will stretch the disposal process out to several months. This creates a lot of unnecessary bother over a period of several months and defeats the entire purpose of drastically de-cluttering your life.

I might have missed out on perhaps as much as $500 had I ended up successfully selling all my books on Amazon or eBay. It sounds like a big amount, but then when you think about the process of listing them all and then mailing them out to customers (some of whom may be unhappy and return them), not to mention the opportunity costs on energy and happiness levels such a dull and monotone task would impose, I’m sure the per hour rate would be very low. Probably close to minimum wage. For comparison some of the journalistic articles I’ve written have netted me $350 for the day or so that I spent researching and writing them.

The one place where hoarding is definitely worth it? Your bank account and other financial assets. They are not going anywhere but they will not burden you down either – as long as everything is properly insured and/or hedged.

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