Friday, June 20, 2008

Selling Everything

It's a sweltering 100+ degrees in Los Angeles today so I spent the whole day indoors, slogging through papers and other accumulations of annoying stuff. I'm always stunned at the amount of things I find that are disposable, even though we try our best to cycle things out more quickly than they come in.

Some of the disposable stuff is still leftover from the distant past. It's hung around for the usual reasons that most of us keep things longer than we should: the inability to make a decision about what to do with them. Today I flipped open the Rolodex and spotted a card with the address and phone number of someone who's dead. You'd think that would be easy enough to toss, but what if the person was famous? Shouldn't I keep the phone number as a memento to show that I knew him? I'm not sure who I'd be showing it to and I can't imagine that this proof would be necessary or significant to anyone. It is just an address and phone number.

I told you it was over 100 degrees here today, so I can only suggest that the heat affected my brain. Yes, I must shyly confess that I let the card stay there. I have fond memories of the guy and a funny story or two to go with them. Ah, but this just shows how devious our minds can be when we're in purge mode.

Of course, all the tiny decisions that hold us back could be avoided if we unloaded all our possessions in one fell swoop. In our household, when we're feeling overwhelmed by stuff we often say that we're going to "sell everything," but what, exactly does that mean? It doesn't seem a very practical idea if taken literally and there certainly are some sentimental items that would give me pause if I were forced to part with them.

In a previous post called Designing Your Life, I asked you to ponder what you'd try to save if all your possessions were about to be lost in a fire or other natural disaster, a far less than desirable way to have decisions made for you about what you get to keep. In that post, I also mentioned last year's "sell everything" auction by Lisa Perry and John Freyer's "sell almost everything" art project auctions in 2002. Lisa used her money to move to another state; John used the proceeds from his many auctions to go visit his things in their new homes and create a book about the experience called All My Life For Sale.

And now, coming up this Sunday, is the closing of the "A Life 4 Sale" eBay auction by Australian Ian Usher. This 44-year-old man is selling his house, jet ski, car, clothes, a try-out for his job offered by his employer at a rug store, and even his friends who say they'll welcome the newcomer. The break-up of his relationship and, apparently, the resulting genuine desire for a radical change of life led to his decision to let everything go at once. "As long as the auction is a success I will leave Perth with my passport and wallet and I'm off," said Usher.

Could you do it? Sell everything? Is it a scary proposition or an enticing one?

I'm still rather fond of my youthful idea of being able to fit all I own in the back of my car and hit the open road. Very Jack Kerouac or Hunter S. Thompson (minus the substance abuse). Of course, gas prices would have to come down quite a lot. But I do drive a hatchback with plenty of room . . . and it is a Honda so it gets great mileage . . .

Nah. Must be the heat.

© 2008 Cynthia Friedlob


the Organized Mom said...

I say, take a picture of the card, then toss it! :)

Michele said...

I too am amazed by how much stuff I find to declutter. I've been clutter conscious for a while and am always in decluttering and low acquisition mode but it never seems to end. Is it maybe that we improve at it over time and with each pass are more able to get rid of things we wanted to keep before?

Cynthia Friedlob said...

Hi, Organized Mom -

I'm a fan of taking photos or scanning papers to help you let go of stuff, but, really, my situation is just too embarrassing! I think I'll have to get a grip and just toss that Rolodex card! Thanks for your comment.

Hi, Michele -

I do believe that those of us who are committed to decluttering do improve our efforts and our awareness over time. I've often referred to the process as an archaeological dig in which more stuff is uncovered as we remove the "top layers" - the easier items to let go.

But we're also continually inundated with new things, especially papers, in the course of our daily lives, so it's a constant challenge to stay on top of it all.

I think decluttering is sort of like doing the dishes: you wash them and put them away, but there's always another meal ahead and the cycle continues. Let's just keep on doing those dishes!

Thanks for your comment.


Tina said...

Too funny!! We are planning a lifestyle change and are in the process of getting ready to sell our home. We want to travel more and plan to move to a much smaller place, so we are not tied down to a house.

I remember when I first moved from my parents home and all my possesions fit in the trunk of a car. Looking back, I did not feel like I was lacking even though I owned very little. I am horrified by the amount of things I have accumulated in the past 20 odd years. I have purged quite a bit over these years too, and there is still so much stuff!

Anyway, last week I was just tired of sorting and making decisions and seeing all of our "things" scattered about. I started wondering how much money it would take for me to walk away from everything and start over. I mean realistically, I'd need some things (like furniture and clothing) in my "new life..

I asked my hubby whether $50,000 would be enough to walk away and start our whole lives over. I allowed us each to take one box of stuff to allow for important papers or a few valuable/sentimental/irreplacable items. I said I think I could do it. He said he could not.

He likes to think that I am the one who holds onto things, but when all is said and done, I know he'll have A LOT more boxes to move than I will. LOL

Tina Chase said...

Hi Cynthia,

I love yout analogy about dishes and decluttering.

I can't tell you how many times I've finished ALL of the laundry and put it away and then wished it could just stay that way! LOL

I can totally relate to your comment about always being inundated with more stuff, especialy paper. I try to help other people eliminate it, but I still have so much of my own! I am always thinking I will "need" that information again. I have tried some sporadic attempts at scanning things. I do make an effort to keep all of my recipes (that I tend to collect) electronically now. If I see a recipe in a magazine that I would like to try, I will go to their site and look for an electronic version. At least electronic clutter is not sitting on my desktop! Now if only my computer was in the kitchen...

I still tend to hold onto business cards even after I've entered them in my contacts list though. Maybe this is weird, but I find some people's business cards capture their business or personality better than some text typed into a list. I'm very visual, so I find sometimes I can't remember a person's name, but I will remember what their card looked like.

I noticed the other day that Outlook lets you store a picture of the contact. I started thinking maybe I'd scan their card and attach it there. I'll have to try a test before I'm ready to purge the actual cards! LOL

Cynthia Friedlob said...

Moving is the true test that reveals just how much clutter you've accumulated. Paying movers to relocate stuff that you then realize you should have just let go is very frustrating -- I know, having done it myself. Even worse is paying movers to move stuff into storage that you then continue to pay for until you finally wise up and unload things.

Good luck getting your reluctant spouse to part with his possessions! Thanks for your comment. And please let me know if you ever hit the road with only one box of favorite things!

Cynthia Friedlob said...

I understand the need for visual cues, Tina, and agree that business cards are more memorable than just names. I'm also tactile-oriented and it's easier for me to flip through a stack of cards than to look through a list of contacts on my computer monitor. (I think that's partly why I held onto that Rolodex card - it's tangible!)

The idea that someday in the future we'll "need" many of the papers we hang onto is an illusion almost everyone struggles to overcome. The reality is that most papers are expendable and most information is available on-line. It's hard to break the old habit of holding on, but paper clutter represents one of the biggest organizational challenges for most people.

I'd be interested to know if using visuals in Outlook works for you. And three cheers for keeping your recipes under control!

Thanks for commenting.