I’ve been practicing discardia for several years now and am now reaping significant benefits. My home is light, airy, uncluttered and comforting. Waking in it or returning after being away gives me an immediate sense of my load being lightened. Living in it is restorative.
I did not achieve this in one blow, but by gradual steps. Here are some of them:
1. I picked a place to live which was the right underlying canvas for the home I want: lots of windows, wood floors, white walls, views of greenery from the windows.
2. I moved in with everything I own, a small amount of which went into the basement, but most was arranged around my 6 spaces (kitchen, living/dining room, entry/hallway, bathroom, bedroom, and "the other room") and 2 small closets. Having it all out where I can see it allows me to start evaluating what I want and what is no longer part of the life I want to be living.
3. I immediately began watching for things to change. This is what makes the difference. Keep an eye out for a change you can make which would improve a space and then – here’s the important bit – do it. Some examples:
- My downstairs neighbor, a likeable but crotchity old guy, makes strange harrumphing noises late at night or talks loudly on the phone sometimes and I can hear it through the floor of my bedroom. Solution: swap my initial arrangement of bedroom & "other room" and get a real bed instead of a futon (which puts my ear too close to the floor). Now my space feels much more private.
- I have a lot of paper-based projects I want to do (e.g. going through old writing & pictures & souvenirs and putting some of it into my weblog) and these tend to look pretty cluttered. Solution: shop around for a while until I find a good, affordable office armoire so that I can have workspace where things can be left spread out, but the doors can be closed so I only look at it when I want to.
- I want to be able to have friends over for dinner, but I don’t have any dining room furniture. I don’t need anything fancy – a casual cottage style suits my taste – so second hand would be fine, especially since after buying the office armoire and the bedroom drawers, I have spent my household budget for a while. Solution: share my hopes and dreams with friends; it turned out that a couple of my best friends had a table and 3 chairs in their basement that they didn’t need. It’s now at my place on indefinite loan and has been getting lots of use. A great bonus once I had it turned out to be that I pulled a lot of old boardgames out of storage and have had good times playing with friends.
4. I prepared for discardia. Set up a recycling bag for papers (not just newspapers but all kinds of paper clutter to be purged) and move things to it as soon as you know you don’t want them; sort the mail over this bag. Set up a "charity" bag and put non-trash, non-recycling, non-sell stuff in it as soon as you think "why do I still have this?". Let things get on to a new life. If you have things to get rid of which are going to be easy to sell or trade (and the work to do that will be worth it) also set up bags or boxes for those books, clothes, etc. Note: be sure to develop a good sense of what will be wanted at, say, your local Buffalo Exchange or Crossroads Trading Company. I’ve learned that I’m not enough of a brand-name clothes buyer to have much of interest to them. For me, it’s usually not worth the hassle and I just donate old clothes to charity.
5. I purge whenever I can. Heading on an errand near Goodwill? Grab that bag even if it isn’t full and get it gone. Feel like puttering in book or CD stores? How about going to the one that trades and see if they’ll take the things you’re ready to part with. Before you leave the house be sure to look up the nearest library to the store so you can donate anything not taken for trade. You’ll scratch your browsing itch, get more junk out of your house, do good, and maybe even get some books or records without spending any money.
After time, you’ll find like me that you’ve carved away the stuff you don’t want in your life and added a few special things you do – as the Craftsman motto says "Have nothing in your home which is not beautiful or useful or both". Now you can more easily spot the fewer remaining things you want to change and it’s easier to do the things which keep the place nice. For example, I just felt like a little bit of something to nibble on and walked from my bedroom to the kitchen. Here’s what happened along the way (I’ve bolded the special things added to my life):
I got off the cozy bed where I’d been sitting comfortably with my Apple 12" Powerbook G4 laptop computer writing this post. I noticed I’d not put away the clothes I removed last night and took a moment to put the clean ones away and toss the dirty ones in my hamper, two handmade baskets from Ghana which I ordered from Novica. I walked past my bookcase in the hall to the bright sunny living room and then into the kitchen, stepping from smooth wood floor to pleasing bright green carpet from Flor (which now covers the ugly old linoleum). Looking out the window, over trees to the city beyond, I put away a few dry dishes from the chrome dishrack and then noticing no fresh fruit in the shiny wire fruit basket, I took a little fruit leather pack from my well-stocked cupboard and nibbled that as I wandered back to the Other Room. This has served as guest room, project space and office, hence it’s rather generic name. After having a studio apartment, the luxury of that extra flexible space is well worth the extra rent. On the way back through the living room I pulled the small, cheerful, sage green sofa out from the wall an inch or so to prevent the back edge getting crunched and slid my grandparents’ coffee table back into alignment in front of it. All ready for lounging again! In the Other Room I didn’t have any particular plan, I just looked. And noticed the little stack of 2 books and a VHS video I had set aside to donate to the library. Aha! I picked them up and put them at the top of the stairs with the video and book I intend to return to the library today. Then I picked up my laptop again and came back through the house writing this account from the top of my bedroom dresser, the kitchen counter, and now sitting at the dining table looking at my beautiful view and listening to a favorite album from childhood in iTunes.
Give yourself a life you’ll love. It just takes lots of little steps and being careful not to buy things that aren’t part of that life.
16 thoughts on “Getting to the happy home”
Thanks for posting again and on your successes. I’ve gone zero-sum or less on books, CDs, DVDs, clothes, etc. By zero-sum, I mean that to buy one, I donate one or more. This gets me out of the binge and purge mentality of organizing. I try to have a place in mind for something I want to buy and if there’s already something there it has to go.
I’m grateful for you teaching me again the power of a simple idea.
All the best.
Thank you for your kind words, John.
Lightening the load sure feels great, doesn’t it? 🙂
By some strange coincidence, I discarded tons of old junk from my basement last night (Discardia eve?). Thanks for your inspiring article!
Less is more when you don’t live in a mansion. That’s the only way to cope in a modern British house, and we stick to similar rules to yours to prevent our place becoming a reality tv episode of “Look at these poor hoarding lunatics”.
We have a three bedroom house that struggles to fit two people if you let your belongings take over. To keep the size and space comfortable, we run “The 2 Year Rule” on every space in the house, regularly. We have a minimalist living room now, with just media stack, DVD/game storage, some LCD lighting, coffee table, one or two nice pieces or art and two couches.
The two year rule has cleaned out every room, every drawer and every cupboard. We own nothing but the essentials that we use and some nice art. Open a drawer, and look at the contents. DId you use any of that in the last two years? If not, sell, donate or bin it.
It helps to remember that stuff is just stuff. Stuff is not your friends or your family, and nothing should hold a huge importance to you. We have very little that we are attached to, and even less that we would have to grab if an evacuation call came. I’d probably grab my partner’s antique violin, my Thinkpad, my gadget bag and my AIBO. The rest is disposable.
The hardest part was disconnecting ourselves from our library. We don’t have room for shelves of books and now, as soon as they are read, they get given away, traded, donated or binned with only a few exceptions.
We recycle as much as possible and try not to waste anything useful.
Thanks for the article, it was good to read about how you lightened your own load.
About a year ago I did a major discardia project and my (adult) daughter was a big help to me. Friends can do the same for each other. She and I would assemble all like-objects (all my books, for example) on the living room floor. She would then pour me a glass of wine and sit me down on the couch. She would hold up one object at a time and I would make a decision: keep, throw away/recycle, give away, or try to sell. Made the project fun. For me, the part where I got to lounge on the couch while making decisions helped me feel relaxed and happy and able to evaluate my ‘stuff’ while feeling kind of peaceful and clear-headed.
Ah, the pleasures of voluntary simplicity! Good for you and your Discardia ethic. I lived in a 3 bedroom house in Portland (complete with basement and garage) and moved back to San Diego with a truck sized for a studio apartment! Most people can’t believe how spacious and beautiful my 500 sf condo is. And it is not about denial: it’s about being selective. Zero-sum, as John says, is the key!
Saw this at Apartment Therapy. You have inspired me. Thank you.
Your discardia idea is inspirational. I have been consciously de-cluttering for several weeks now, but had hit a snag. I ran across the link on 43Folders, another favorite.
I have sent your happy home/discardia link to quite a few people.
I only have about 45 CDs to go before I am totally loaded on the iBook. Then off to the used CD store to get the money for the iPod.
Thank you for the inspiration “booster shot.”
My favorite Discardia celebration (although I did not call it that at the time) was taking my 400 CD’s and burning ’em in to MP3s on itunes then donating the CD’s to the local library.
Subsequently, I was able to go back to grad school, live in Geneva and now in Shanghai and Phoenix….all to the beat!
I’m delighted to have found your site! My fiance and I moved in together several months ago. He was a collector, I was someone who tried to purge regularly. The only way we were going to fit in my one-bedroom was to get rid of things that weren’t serving our needs. He had saved an old dresser that belonged to his late mom, and he finally realized that her spirit wasn’t in that piece of furniture.
Now that we’re in a bigger place, I’m overwhelmed with the amount of room I have and trying not to let it override my desire for uncluttered living. So I am adding furniture very, very slowly. It’s good how many things have languished in boxes — it means we don’t need those things as much as we thought we did.
I’ll return to this spot for inspiration frequently.
I’m glad I procrastinated just enough to find this site. My plan was to have a little purging party tonight and now I feel recharged and ready to edit. I’ll make some tea and start the cleaning. Last time I did this i found papers that I had never unpacked from the 2 and a half years before when i moved (should i be embarassed to admit that?)
Oh gosh, David, I’m sure no one here would EVER have boxes that haven’t be unpacked for years *cough* *cough* *cough*
In September, I decided to practice a spending fast in October and November. I plan to not spend any money unnecessarily until December 1. Practically, it means that I will not be buying fullseason DVDs of Gilmore Girls at Target this week, eve…
Interesting article! If you like the baskets from Novica, checkout http://www.thetravelledhome.com
Hey! I’m almost across the world from you and had the same philosophy for some time now, a sort of combined discardia & zero-sum: I call it simply dematerialization. It’s great to see there’s people who think alike out there 🙂 Oh, and I have a tip for all you discardians out there: I organized an internal flea-market at the office where I work and it’s been quite a success – geting rid of stuff and putting them in the hands of someone who might appreciate them more or just hand them over to the next guy has never been easier! Cheers!
Lovely! Just what I needed to read today 🙂