When my mother received the green light from the insurance company to
begin the rebuilding of our home and the replenishing of our closets, we
weren’t quite sure where to begin. The vast quantities of things we
had once had in our home were beyond comprehension. The insurance
company asked us to make a list of all the items lost in the fire. A list.
The list took several weeks and probably a ream of paper to complete.
This was the point at which I realized that we’d had way too
much stuff. Most people have way too much stuff.
Imagine your medicine closet at home and all of the items you have in
there. There is probably dental floss, various kinds of medicines and
creams (most of which are no doubt expired), razors, spare toothbrushes,
hair products. These are things you use in everyday life, often without
realizing it. Now imagine opening your medicine closet and finding it
empty. What items could you live without? Which ones are
"necessities"? No, I'm not talking about the bumble &
bumble hair serum that controls your mane, and I'm not talking about the
Bvlgari aftershave. I'm talking bare bones, nitty-gritty necessities.
Advocates of simple living often confuse the simplification process
with the organization process. The fact that your junk is neatly
arranged in a fifty dollar Lucite drawer system from the Container Store
does not mean that you have achieved simple living. All it means is that
you are a great organizer. Instead, weed out the loose buttons that came
with shirts you no longer own, and the five extra phone cords in the
hall closet. See how you feel. If you don't use or enjoy something once
every few months, get rid of it. Recycle old term papers and class
notes. Donate books and those back issues of Time to used
bookstores and libraries. In helping others (by giving away your
rubbish), you will help yourself (by giving away your rubbish).
I understand that an item does not become meaningless trash solely
because it’s not a necessity. In fact, the hardest part for my family
was losing the sentimental items, the pictures and gifts and letters. We
lost the birthday party photos, and the home videos of my now deceased
grandmother. And I was devastated when I learned that my dried high
school prom corsage was ruined. But did the corsage preserve my memories
of the prom? Of course not. Would I still have the corsage if my house
had never caught fire? Probably. In truth, I hardly think about those
things anymore. The destruction of the evidence of those events did not
obliterate our memories of them. Instead, we have since been forced to
recall the events in more depth and discuss them at length. The
discussions often lead to a closeness that can not be attained by
sitting together and watching a video, or going through an old box of