On The Primal Importance Of Less Stuff

The past week's haul. Lots of paperwork and ephemera.

The past week’s haul. Lots of paperwork and ephemera. And the closet is still full.

For months I’ve been slowly purging the unbelievable amounts of crap I own, because it had started owning me. So far I’d estimate I’m down 10-15%, if that. Right now I’m only counting things in the actual house, not the skis in the garage or the rotten box of gawd-knows-what next to it. I know for a fact there is a box of 15 year old MREs, too. Don’t they last through the apocalypse? Anyone want them?

I don’t know what triggered it – likely some long-held rebellion against my own pack-rat tendencies plus some schooling from The Minimalists – but it has been snowballing and now I feel almost desperate to have a manageable footprint. It’s a little Tyler Durden creeping into my mindset.

This is not how to be human.

Fixing this does not necessarily need a business trip with the gas stove left on.

Not everything he said was crazy man talk. The idea that our consumer culture is a toxin to much of what is really human, has big resonance for me. I don’t think we’ll go to Tyler’s ideal final society where cityscapes are just barren places where people in leather clothes lay out meat to dry on the freeways.

But dear fucking god we do not need all this stuff.

Some things are unbelievably easy, though somewhat time-consuming. This would be CDs that are already ripped, weeding out paperwork from the filing cabinet, trying on clothes that I probably don’t need to see if they even still fit, that sort of thing. To get to the things ready for disposal, there is a little homework to be done. This will get more labor intensive with things that need to be archived first: photos, un-ripped CDs, the hundreds of greeting cards from friends over the years. These will all be digitally saved through ripping or photographing, then tossed.

Some things I get rid of have minor sentimental value but no real use or actual daily value. Today was a few plaques from things I’ve done: coaching a high school cross country team, and my Wasatch finisher’s plaque from 2012. I still have 2014 – guess I’ll wait until the race report is done so there’s closure.

The really sentimental things are harder. The cubic foot of heavy scrapbooks my mom deposited on me last xmas. She took decades (obviously) to make those. Hard to just toss them (not to mention digitally scanning them would take a long time, too). Gifts from close friends, like books or jewelry or kitchen dishware. But a lot of that can go, too. If the friend is important to me, THEY are important to me. Their gift has already been acknowledged and used and appreciated. That’s OK.

Gee, you think I grew this pack-rat thing? Nope, been there all along.

Age 15 bedroom: you think I grew this pack-rat thing recently? Nope, been there all along.

Julien Smith’s 16-step guide to horrifying yourself about how much crap you have is amazing. It’s one of the best, funniest, most heart-wrenching things you’ll read if you have any bit of Tyler Durden in you.

Next weekend (the 14th), I hope to be spearheading a MASSIVE yard sale at a friend’s house. She lives on one of the most busy residential streets in Albuquerque and always gets much of her yard sale offerings sold and gone. There, I’ll purge books and CDs and kitchen appliances and clothes and way more stuff that I haven’t yet been able to just give to a thrift store for fear that I might be missing out on some needed cash. (No, I’m not selling all my stuff because I can’t hack it as a freelance writer, but it’s a lean life.)

Nudging The Ones You Love

idea generation

Effecting change is a wish of many of us. But usually it remains a wish, and often it can become a burden, an annoyance, an irritating behavior, and a pestilence. Why? In the way-smarter-than-me words of Seth Godin (from his book Tribes, and from his blog):

People don’t believe what you tell them.  They rarely believe what you show them.  They often believe what their friends tell them.  They always believe what they tell themselves. 

I think the biggest long term impact is to somehow change their behaviors without forcing the issue. Nudge-like stuff. Change is hard. Really freaking  hard – James Altucher says so. And I like James. Because he writes silly and interesting things about dead bodies, sometimes.

In the realm of changes toward more physical activity, especially in the evening, here are some ideas I’ve had recently. Start by setting positive context for behaviors that will lead to better health, happiness, mobility, and on (which doesn’t have to mean weight loss, but could):

  • after a meal, “I feel like a short walk – want to come with me?”
  • at the end of a meal (regardless how you actually feel), “Wow, that was filling. Definitely no dessert for me.”
  • walking the dog, “want to come with me?” If NO, then other nudge-like methods, “I’m taking the dog out, want to come and talk about that house project we are working on / that crap that happened to you at work / your parents’ upcoming visit / what we want to do on vacation?”
  • either all at once or gradually, get rid of or fix visual reminders of unwanted behavior: messy environment, snack foods, dirty exercise clothes
  • YOU DO the habits that they will need to do. Set a visual, rather than verbal, example.
  • start training for something. Warrior dash, office arm-wrestling, whatever.
  • don’t personally do the bad habits they should not do: popcorn at movies, extra appetizers, watching TV all night, saying you will workout or do something physical and then bailing out. If you say you are going to work out, fucking go work out.

For lasting change, they really do have to want to drink even if you’ve led them to the water. I don’t think there is much way around this. Again, see Seth’s quote above. Robb freaking Wolf could not change members of his family who had chronic and very uncomfortable diseases that might have been reversed with lifestyle changes. That should not be depressing, per se, but rather help all of us to understand that folks need to come into knowledge from their own divination.

It has to be their idea.

Even if it’s your idea. It has to be their idea.

Let them steal it, and honestly, you BOTH will win. Honestly, isn’t what you wanted for them to change –  not for them to bow before you as a fountain of lifehacker knowledge?