This is the second installment of my series on simplicity. I've arrived at a format for these posts, now. In each aspect of the topic (clutter, time management, technology, etc.) the first article will be a more personal treatment of the subject, using my own life as an example. The second (within the following day or two) will be a more general discussion, including the philosophical and the practical. Knowing the meandering nature of my attention span (with which I made peace many years ago), I'll probably elaborate on some of the topics in supplemental posts.
A few months ago I sold my house in East Atlanta to officially move in with my wife. We'd already been married for over two years, and I had been splitting my time between my house in East Atlanta, and hers in Mableton. We had developed a long term plan of selling both houses, then getting a house together in southeast Atlanta (East Atlanta, Ormewood Park, or Grant Park).
The most horrifying ordeal in selling the house was figuring out what to do with the enormous quantity of objects I'd accumulated during 60 years of life. To some extent I'd already pared down the material objects I had on hand in the immediate sense, but I'd done it by using my East Atlanta house as a storage facility; a very expensive one, I might add, since I continued to keep the lights, electricity, phone, and gas connected, and pay insurance and taxes on it.
I managed to empty out the house by the closing date, but the whole fiasco reinforced my realization that I have far too many things. Having donated, recycled, or discarded the entire contents of my East Atlanta house diminished the sheer number of objects dramatically, but I still have too many things.
The U.S. economy, in fact much of the world's economy, is built on producing more and more things, most of which are unnecessary, duplicative, or actively destructive. I'm not going to speculate on whether that really constitutes human progress or not in this post. I'll save that larger topic for later perusal. But on a personal level, having too many material goods is oppressive. Once the number of objects exceeds what one needs for comfort and fulfillment, the effort spent maintaining, storing, cleaning, and transporting those objects creeps upward with every new addition to the clutter, to the point that it just isn't worth having the things.
Even benign impulses often result in the accumulation of stuff. Cycling is environmentally good. It also helps conserve oil, a nonrenewable resource. But when I emptied out the house, I discovered that I had nine bicycles. Each one had some alleged specialized purpose, but thinking back over the past year, I had only actually ridden two of them (my Raleigh road bike, and a Bianchi fixed gear bike). Further, I'd only ridden the fixed gear bike three times. One of the nine bikes was a classic (a 1969 Raleigh Twenty folding bike) which I love, but never ride. The others were fitted for specialized uses which never seemed to occur.
My point is that I had paid money for an additional seven servicable bicycles, then parked them in a back room for future need which never arose. I can think of dozens of categories of similar material objects. For instance, how many coffee mugs do I really need? The answer is one. Since I wash dishes every evening, one mug suffices for my morning coffee and tea. I actually have somewhere around twelve. Before I emptied the East Atlanta house I probably had thirty coffee mugs. I'm aware of the mugs because I've already started packing the extras for donation. But the same applies to clothing I never wear, books I've already read (and have no plan of rereading), obsolete or duplicative electronic equipment, woodworking tools (I was a cabinet maker thirty years ago, and have continued to carry the smaller tools around with me as I move), and cooking utensils.
Over the past few years I've made periodic strides in reducing my number of material objects, inspired by the 100 Thing Challenge. Unless something radically changes with my lifestyle I know I'll never reach 100 objects. To test how daunting this is, go to your closet and drawers, and count the clothes you wear periodically. I'm no clothes-horse, and mine add up really quickly. Admittedly I could pare everything down to one each of pants, shirt, pair of socks, underwear, shoes, and jacket. Even that brings me to 6% of total allowable material objects. It also doesn't allow for any variety, or temperature extremes.
So for me, the 100 Thing Challenge is more of an inspiration and process than an end goal. If I got myself down to even 1000 objects my life would be much more clear of clutter, and much more manageable. Does 1000 sound like a lot of objects to you? If so, start counting the material objects in your own life. If you have less than 1000, congratulations! By modern standards you are living a spartan, near-monastic existence.