Oct 19, 2009

Changes: Paring Down the Stuff Update Week 4 of 4

"Everyone thinks of changing the world,
but no one thinks of changing himself."
- Leo Tolstoy

I committed myself to a "Paring Down the Stuff" challenge for four weeks. The premise was simple. I was to give away, donate, or otherwise recycle ten items a week. The challenge itself was pretty simple, but I did learn a lot about myself in the process. I found that every week it got increasingly harder to find ten items to part with. This was unexpected for three reasons. First of all, as I've written before, I've already donated over 50% of all my personal possessions in the past year or so. Secondly, I like giving things away. It gives me a little rush. Third of all, I write and think frequently about simple living and I know that I still have a long way to go in so many areas, including paring down my things.

So, why was it so hard to find 40 items to part with? I can't answer this question, but I can reflect on the words of Tolstoy, who wrote that "everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself." Although I don't agree wholeheartedly with Tolstoy's claim, I will contend that it is often harder to look at your own life than it is to talk about larger societal problems. That being said, this is what this personal challenge has taught me:

1. Most of the time, it is easier not to buy things in the first place. Yes, getting rid of things can be fun. But culling through my clothes again and again has reminded me that had I not stepped into the store to purchase some of these items in the first place, I would not have to be sorting through them... and getting rid of them... and wondering how much money I have spent on unneeded clothes over the past decade.
2. We all have a weakness when it comes to accumulating stuff. Mine happens to be books and things related to exercise and fitness. Of course, since exercise and reading rank in my top five preferred activities, I feel okay about this... right now. I actually had a lot of fun going through books, reminiscing with myself about what I've learned from all I've read, and what I've been able to teach others about life through the medium of great literature. Oh, and the exercise stuff... I was able to get rid of some old race t-shirts, but for some reason I still think I need to have two weeks worth of exercise clothes in stock. You know, just in case the washing machine breaks or something. I don't like to work out in sweaty or stinky tops. Before you pass judgement, remind me about hand-washing clothes in the sink, or suggest that there are worse things than wearing the same running top two days in a row, I want to remind you that I said I had a long way to go with some of this stuff...
3. Consciously thinking about our spending and accumulating patterns can teach us a lot about ourselves and our role in advancing social justice in our world. I believe we need to advocate for a more equitable distribution of resources throughout our world. And I think we need to use our buying power wisely, making sure that when we bring items into our home we are making a positive and proactive statement about the kind of world we want to leave for future generations.

Have you been working on your own "Paring Down the Stuff" challenge? Share your successes, challenges, and tips in the comments section below. And stay tuned as I embark on a new personal challenge next Monday. Without revealing too much, this one is going to be a shift from the focus on my external environment.

Peace and Simplicity,


  1. I think Tolstoy's qoute is one to think about daily. I have no idea how donated items are distributed to those in need, however, I am taking on the challenge of whatever "new" item is brought into our home, 2 must exit. I will let you know how that goes. I love you, mom

  2. @ Rosanne (Mom) - Let me know how it goes. You were the one who taught me the "1 item in, 1 item out" philosophy, but I think your plan of "1 item in, 2 items out" is even better.