What I Learned After Moving Three Times and Smashing Everything I Own

Most of us have too much junk. But after a couple of moves between states in the same number of years, I realized how important it is to own less.

Lesson one: most of the things I owned were useless

After living in the same house for five years, I had a lot of shit. I had specialized, disposable kitchen utensils. I had books that I never read again. I had tapes that I never listened to. I had clothes for a climate that I no longer lived in. I had bike parts that I didn’t even have anymore. I had furniture to accommodate it all. I had a vault to keep it all in case I needed it .

When I finally left Denver for Seattle a couple of years ago , I sold or gave away most of this stuff. My plan was to just replace the things I gave away because most of them were cheap and old anyway. But by the time I got to Seattle, I realized that I didn’t need much of this stuff and didn’t bother replacing most of the things I thought I would need.

Since then I have jumped between apartments a couple of times, and most recently moved to the states again – now to Los Angeles. This time it took me two hours to get my things together and about an hour to load them into the truck. I still have everything I need. It turns out I don’t need much. Everything I have I use regularly.

The forced downsizing you do with the move works wonders here, but I think a good old spring cleaning can do the same. Personally, I will put everything I don’t need in storage for a month. If it’s still there in a month, I’ll just take that box straight to the thrift store without looking inside. I rarely miss something.

Lesson two: I only buy what I will use in the future.

When I shop, it’s easy to get bogged down in the now. I’ll look at something and want it because I can think of how I’m using it right this second. We all know that this is the basis of impulse buying, but over the past couple of years, I have changed my mindset to limit these purchases by asking myself, “How will I use this tomorrow?” If I cannot answer this question, then I do not need it. Plus, most of the time, you only need to use something once when renting is better than buying .

The great thing about ordering online is the mandatory waiting period. Sure, Amazon now has same day delivery, but it’s still not straight away . I ask myself, “Do I still want this in two days?” If so, then I am on the right track. If the answer is no, then you shouldn’t buy. Predictably, this works wonders for my budget.

This sounds self-evident, but many of us don’t think about it. At one point, I had a blender and a food processor. I rarely used either. Instead of mixing food, the only purpose they served was to waste space in my house. When I got rid of the blender, I was completely satisfied with only the food processor. People with higher culinary skills than me can certainly have and use both, but that’s not the point. It’s more about filling your home with the items you use and throwing away the rest.

My use is different from yours, so there is no one-size-fits-all toolbox. Do not we all want the same things, but I have found that I have a lot of things, because I thought I should, and not because they really need me. It was a pretty good sign that I can get rid of them.

Lesson Three: Longevity Matters, But Not Everything

IKEA furniture is not durable. But that doesn’t mean it’s useless . When you’re in that stage of life where you move around a lot, you don’t want to settle for large, expensive pieces of furniture that might not fit in your next seat. I learned to choose what is important to me and work from there.

Subsequently, I have a small couch and a coffee table, which I really like. I have a writing desk that I built myself, and I will take it everywhere with me until it falls apart. I have an office chair that will last me a lifetime. But almost everything else can be replaced at any time. I will happily spend a lot of money on something that I know will last a long time, but only if it is something that really excites me. Bookshelf? Some random IKEA shelf will do. TV stand? Just give me something cheap that fits in this space.

This is the same basic premise as the comfort principle , where you spend money where you spend your time, but with the additional question, “Can I move this halfway across the country if I need to?” If the answer is no, then it probably isn’t worth spending a lot of money on it. This simple question keeps me from spending money on all sorts of things.

Lesson four: almost everything is fixable

Earlier this year, I bought a new bike. Mine was old, not as equipped as I wanted, and I just couldn’t wait to get a new toy (we all know that feeling). But I caught myself doing this before throwing a few thousand dollars on something new and decided to just fix my old bike. $ 400 later, that was exactly what I wanted, and a lot less than the thousands I would otherwise have spent.

You’ve probably heard it over and over again, but I can’t say enough: renovating is often better than buying a new one. My 2009 iMac had both the hard drive and graphics card replaced. I disassembled and repaired my old Roland keyboard instead of replacing it. Why? It’s not just about frugality, it’s because I’ve gradually remade my brain to ask myself a few simple questions before replacing something:

  1. What are my main complaints about what I already have?
  2. Can I correct these complaints myself?
  3. How long and money will it take to fix this?
  4. Is it easier and cheaper to just buy a new one?

More often than not, I realized that what I had was perfect for my use, and that I could make minor improvements and repairs myself .

Lesson five: the less I have, the more time I spend on what I like.

We have many options for how to spend our time. As a nerd, I considered myself a connoisseur of many things: comics, video games, bicycles, technology, novels, music, music production, writing, films, and more. I can live in my house for years without getting bored. But at some point I realized that I had stretched too much. I was fascinated by so many things, I didn’t spend enough time with any of them, and all this time they littered my apartment.

So I decided to cut it back. As much as I love graphic novels, I made it a rule to myself that I can only buy one at a time, and I must read it before I can buy another. It’s the same with books, movies, games and everything else. It’s not just storage and handling. Most of this material is in digital format these days, but that only exacerbates the problem. If I’m not careful, I’ll forget that I even have something because I don’t see it every day and I spent money on something I never used.

By limiting my purchases to entertainment, I’ve learned to spend more time with the things I love. I will play and enjoy one video game until I finish it. I am in no rush to read books because I am in no rush to the next one. I’m never bored, but options don’t overwhelm me either. I played fewer games or read fewer comics, but I appreciated those experiences much more because I spent more time with them.

Lesson six: cleanliness is easy if you don’t have trash

Every time people came to my apartment in Seattle, they asked if I cleaned for them. I never did. It’s just that order is often confused with cleanliness.

When I was reduced to only owning what I needed, everything I had had a place, so my apartment was always pretty tidy. And since I use pretty much everything I have on a regular basis, things are not so dusty.

The main lesson here is pretty simple: if I have nowhere to put something, I don’t need it. This makes it very easy to keep the house tidy. There is nothing better than relaxing in a clean apartment, and when guests arrive, I don’t have to do any preparation work. It just looks great all the time.

(However, I really need to remind myself to actually clean my house deeply. It’s not always obvious at first glance, and I definitely neglected to clean some areas because I don’t even realize how it’s awful when everything looks neat from a distance.)

My main takeaway from this whole move is very simple: I’ve learned to value what I have and only buy what I use. Because of this, I almost cleaned up the clutter and kept my wallet full in case of spontaneous vacations (and moved across half the country).


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