The Great Simplification: Unstuffing

Ria Arouna Estuary, Galicia, Spain

My wise doctor friend Chus recently made the following point about one’s physical health:

I (Chus) live on my own, usually eat alone, and at most will have one or two friends round for a meal. So if I have 12 plates, bowls, glasses etc in the cupboard, it is clearly far more than I need. It would become a weight on me somehow to have 12 of everything when I only need 3 or 4, and I’m sure it somehow ends up reflecting in me physically as well – it’s a kind of congestion. Think of all the stuff people keep unnecessarily – even hiring out storage space to keep all the stuff they can’t fit at home but never use anyway – it’s madness!

This got me thinking. The bookshelves at home were so stuffed full of books that they were in danger of exploding out onto the living room floor at any moment.

Looking at them, I had the feeling that the bookshelves somehow reflected the state of my brain – too much stuff (things to do, things to read, ideas, courses, plans) squashed in, hovering around a breaking point – I had to find some space!

So after Chus’s comment about the plates, I knew things had to go. A lot of things. I knew I had to strip away all the stuff crammed in, on top of, and around me, to see what was really underneath.

The bookshelves needed urgent relief. I selected around 150 books to get rid of, books that I had read and knew I’d never read again, books that were really good and deserved to be read by other people instead of languishing in our flat for ever more.

I took them to an old guy we call the Book Man who sits in the corner of the local park selling books he lays out on a low wall at 2 euros a go. He’s unemployed, finding a simple way to make a living, and is delighted to get free stock. In return for the books, he gives me a heart-felt thank you and a huge smile.

Now there is at least 6 inches of free space at the end of every one of my bookshelves. The books have space, and there is more space in my brain again.

What else could I clear out or get rid of?

Realising the books were just one of the congested areas of my stuff-life, I’ve started on everything else:

Desk drawers, art supplies, sketch books, computer folders / desktop / docs, Projects, old hard drives / camera lenses / audio equipment, undone-to-do’s, Shredding old diaries and the unpublished novel, the TV, Credit cards, domain names, old emails, Wishes about the future… and more.

If I haven’t used something for at least 6 months, it goes.

I arrived in Spain in 1998 with 2 large bags, mostly full of clothes and a few books. I’ve acquired a wife, a son, friends, and a home since then, and I have no intention of getting rid of any of them.

But as for my personal stuff, I feel I’d like to get down to having just a couple of large bag’s worth again. I can feel the decongestion and the relief already. It feels wonderful. Somewhere under all that stuff, under all those undone projects and plans, is me.

6 thoughts on “The Great Simplification: Unstuffing”

  1. Thank you for writing this. It’s so easy to accumulate more, but it’s a great exercise in volition and mindfulness to go through your house and realize that you can do without a lot of your “stuff”.

    And my friends and family are appreciating the free books I’ve liberated from my bulging shelves!

  2. Thanks too for your comment Brad! I’m nearly done with the main tasks of my un-stuffing – hopefully by the end of the month. There’s no hurry though, it just feels great every step of the way as I release things one by one!

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