This is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things

In the past five years, I have moved over ten times: six cities, three states. Sometimes the moves were within the same town, sometimes the moves were to an island, or across the country, and then back again. I used to think I could I handle all these transitions with ease.

But last month, in my seemingly most simple move to a house just 15 minutes away, I was an absolute emotional wreck. Nervous pacing instead of packing, heart racing trying to do basic things (like deciding which box to put my all my socks in), very little sleep, lots and lots of tears, distracting myself with anything and everything even though I knew the date of doom was getting closer and closer. I’d get it together enough to go strong packing for an hour or two… only to have another mental breakdown shortly ensue.

I had developed a new opinion about transitions, they f*cking suck.

Miraculously, I got everything out of my one bedroom house AND had it cleaned by move out day. But the idea of reliving my hysteria during the unpacking process loomed in my near future, and this time I had a roommate. If she wasn’t already questioning living with me by how much stuff I had, she would definitely be second guessing her decision when she saw just how little composure and grace I maintain while handling stress. In previous moves, I had used my parents’ house as a storage unit (thanks again Mom and Dad!), and while I accumulated so much stuff over the years, I had hardly gotten rid of anything. Everything was back in my possession again, and all of my belongings had finally caught up to me.

It was time to finally attend to all the things that were no longer taking active attendance in my life.

photo by Lauren Wise

After a handful of embarrassing Google searches to get some inspiration and a little guidance, I found several pieces on “minimalism” and the notion that purging can be therapeutic. Less really is more. Slowly but surely, I began to tackle my hoard. It was exhausting, emotional, and took forever, but I did away with over half of my belongings. Hopefully that number has even grown to 75% by the time you read this, because once you start to feel the benefits, it’s hard to stop! Through all the studies, podcasts, blogs, and personal ‘before and after’ tales I found, I condensed all the minimalist notions that spoke to me the most.

So alas, here are the real reason(s) why we can’t have nice things.

  1. The more things you have, likely the more stressed out you will be. This study even goes further to say that your amount of possessions also correlate with your levels of depression, and that this is especially true if you are a woman. To both men and women alike, all your “things” are essentially synonymous with “soul suckers”, and The American Dream of consumerism is really more like a nightmare.
  2. Buying things is often an act of disassociation. On my bad days, when I feel like I am not performing well enough, or that I don’t look good enough, or that I’m just simply not enough, retail therapy and impulse buying are often my coping mechanisms. There is a WHOLE segment of tactics that marketers use to prey upon these human emotions of unworthiness (how rude!). Some people eat their emotions, some people buy their emotions. If you’re like me, at your weak points you are the epitome of all that is unhealthy and you do both… woe is us. Feelings of not being good enough are common in the age of quarter life crises, but I’m starting to learn how to recognize these feelings at their onset and instead do things that actually help, such as exercise, spending time outside, focusing on small things that I know I’m good at, calling up a good friend, etc. Bonus: all these things are free, and they get easier!

    photo by Lauren Wise

  3. If you absolutely have to buy something, buy a plant. When you have so much stuff, it’s hard to actually use everything and appreciate it for what it’s worth. With plants, you have to interact with them consistently so they stay alive. I can’t be certain, but I don’t think anyone shoves plants to the bottom of drawers, underneath piles in the corner, or into the back of closets (…unless you’re growing one of those plants but that’s not my story to tell nor blog to write). Plants are pretty to look at, they help clean the air, and they calm you down and actually reduce stress in your home. Like myself, if you’re new to the plant-mom game, consistently checking in with your plants also encourages you to be checking in with yourself regularly too. Plants are “things” that do give back. Motherhood rules!

    photo by Lauren Wise

  4. Things prevent you from living in the now. Two years ago, I lived on an island, and accumulated over thirty bathing suits. Want to know how many of those I still had up until a month ago? Every single one, and maybe even one or two more. I now live in the mountains, and while I still love waterfalls and swimming, it is completely impractical to have a bathing suit to wear every day of the month. I applied the same logic to boxes full of other “place or time specific” possessions from different periods in my life, and if I wasn’t currently using them or saw myself using them in the very near future, adiós!
  5. Getting rid of things physically also allows you to get rid of things mentally. In my purging, I found a shirt that I was wearing the first time one of my ex-boyfriends kissed me. This was a long time ago, and for some reason that’s what I remembered when I looked at this shirt, but I couldn’t remember the last time I wore it. Anything that sparked a similar feeling of nostalgia, whether positive or negative, went into the discard pile. Conversely, there are some things that hold such positive emotions that I refuse to ever get rid of them. Things like heartfelt letters, postcards, and pictures. The things I found most meaningful took up the least amount of space. I put them all in a box that doubles as a nightstand, so I’m also still using them practically. Bonus: now I can answer the age old question of “what would I grab if my house were burning down?” with zero hesitation!
  6. TRAVEL! When I moved 5000 miles away after I graduated, I only had two suitcases with me. Sure, I had left things at my parent’s house intending to catch up with them later, but I wasn’t actively using them, nor did I use them for a full year. I lived out of those suitcases and bought things if I “needed” them (in quotes because I am the former poster child of emotional buying and I still had thirty bathing suits to show for it). Traveling light helps you focus less on your material things and more on the experiences that make life worth living. Think of all those people living out of vans and tiny homes, and all the things that they don’t have. They’re on to something.
  7. Take your time, and make your own rules. Slow changes have more success at longer lasting effects. Fighting through the things that make you anxious is understandably exhausting, and emotional. It took me over a month! There are also several different personal definitions to living minimally. Some people live with less than 100 things in total, hardly any furniture or wall art, and like, five pairs of underwear. That’s not my definition, but that’s not to say it won’t ever be! But for now, my wall art displays things I love, my disco ball reminds me to have fun, and my absurd amount of pillows serve purpose because I actually like using that many pillows. (I did however, give up the pillowcases that I don’t need anymore.)

    photo by Lauren Wise

  8. Turn your closet into something other than a closet. The bigger the closet, the bigger the culprit. Closets help hide all the things you don’t really want to see, but also don’t really want to use. This is the first time I’ve had a closet this large, and while large closets are generally considered a good thing, I knew I would just find wrong reasons to fill it up with “stuff”. So, I channeled my inner child and mastery of blanket forts in the days of my youth and made my closet into a cozy little nook haven for my bed, complete with a bookshelf (in my rules, my books were okay to keep too). Also, this saves about a foot and a half of bed length that would otherwise be taking up space in my room. Closet and bed dimensions may be limiting factors here, but get creative!

photo by Lauren Wise

I now have a simple dresser that holds three drawers, none of which are completely full. I kept a closet door pulled out to the side with a holder on the back for my shoes and some minimal accessories (also not full!) and have a few shallow bins to help switch out seasonal clothes under the bed. But beyond that, I gave all my things to Greg at the Goodwill down the street (yes, first name basis after all my many trips with all my many things).

I am a bonafide Taurus sun AND moon sign, often cursed with the flaw of materialism, and I like to blame the stars for why I love things. But purging the unnecessary has redirected my love and attention to what’s really important, and I’ve never felt better. Growing into my feelings and the root of what causes my over-reactive spells of anxiety, rather than away from them, is a practice I’m VERY new to. But if you’re a fellow anxiety warrior, I think it’s the only thing that really helps. That, and making blanket forts.

And now for added emphasis, I leave you with an embarrassing and horrendous “before” picture, for extra encouragement for your own personal purge. Even thinking about going through all that again makes me want to cry.

photo by Lauren Wise

by Lauren Wise