Have you ever noticed that no matter the size of your apartment, condominium, house, garage, drawers, closets, hard drive, handbag or briefcase — it mysteriously fills to capacity?
Our first apartment was 300 square feet. We were newlyweds and still in that "cozy stage," so it wasn't a problem. Three years later, we were packed to the gills and longed for a little breathing room, so we moved into a 1,200-square-foot house. Wow, so much extra space. In what seemed like the time it took to unpack, the place mysteriously filled to capacity.
Three years later, we moved into an 1,800-square-foot house with a big family room addition and a two-car garage. Again, whatever that filling-up thing is, it kicked in, and soon, we were full to the rafters.
Twelve years later, we moved into a house twice the size, and — you guessed it — we more than filled it, too. The process of paring down, cleaning out and simplifying has become an unrelenting challenge.
Over the past few months, because being homebound seems to free up a lot of time, I've done a lot of paring down and cleaning out. Today, I have mixed emotions.
On the one hand, I have that wonderful "clean" feeling because I just regained control of several closets and rooms in our house. But on the other hand, I'm hanging my head in shame.
How on earth did we accumulate so much stuff? Where did it all come from? What makes me think there's some endless supply in the sky that will forever be available for me to accumulate?
The whole ordeal has not been pleasant. I gave away and threw away more stuff than I could believe, and not without pain. Oh, how I struggled!
I am grateful that our community has an option called "free porch pickup." We have a website where we can list and share photos of items certainly not ready for the landfill but no longer useful to us. It's first come, first served. No one rings my door or asks me to hold it for them. Lately, my porch has seen a lot of activity.
After a couple of trips to the charitable collection center and, sadly, the city dump, I've turned the corner. I'm a new woman! I love this cleaned-out feeling.
I've renewed my determination to ask myself these questions before I bring anything into this house:
— Can I afford it?
— Do I really need it?
— Do I need it now?
— Do I have something like it already?
— Can I find a cheaper substitute?
— Is this the best deal?
Then I'm going to go home and think about it for 24 hours. If I decide to go back and buy it in the morning, or revisit that online site we all know and love (perhaps a little too much?), I'll know without a doubt this object can come into this house. And I'm going to take it one step further:
As far as practical, when one thing comes in, something must go. And I plan to be really tough on myself, too!
Would you like more information? Go to EverydayCheapskate.com for links and resources for recommended products and services in this column. Mary invites questions, comments and tips at EverydayCheapskate.com, "Ask Mary." This column will answer questions of general interest, but letters cannot be answered individually. Mary Hunt is the founder of EverydayCheapskate.com, a lifestyle blog, and the author of the book "Debt-Proof Living."
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