January 2012

The Year Of Less update #4 – A new exception

I’m now 26 days into this crazy experiment so I thought another update was in order. Things have been moving along pretty swell until last week when a problem hit me smack in the face. I’ve laid out pretty clearly in the rules that I’m supposed to get rid of one item a day and that getting rid of a few items on one day does not exempt me from having to get rid of something the following day. Every day, gotta get rid of at least one thing. So what’s the problem? Travel.

Shit. I didn’t think about that before.

I travel a lot, and I pack very light, only bringing what I really need on a trip so what am I supposed to do, bring extra stuff to get rid of along the way? That seems silly. I realized this upon landing in NYC last week with one bag for a 5 day trip. So I guess I found another exemption to the rule and need to figure a solution to it.

I think the best option is just to say that I have to get rid of one item every day WHEN I’M HOME IN LOS ANGELES, and that getting rid of multiple items doesn’t exempt me from having to give away something the following day UNLESS I’M TRAVELING AWAY FROM HOME, IN WHICH CASE I HAVE TO BOOK END THE TRIP WITH ENOUGH REDUCTIONS TO COVER THE DAYS I’M OUT OF TOWN.

That make sense? If I’m gone for 5 days, either on the day before I leave or on the day I return, I have to get rid of at least 6 items to cover the days I’m gone. So that at the end of the month I still have a net loss of at least one item for every day of the month. If you think of a better way to handle that please let me know. That said, on my 5 day NYC trip I still managed to get rid of one item, pawning off a shirt that never quite fit me just right to a friend for whom it fit a bit better. I also came home with a nice new set of coffee cups which was the perfect excuse to get rid of a ton of mix-matched mugs I had at the house.

And the count totals so far, 26 days in:
I’ve gotten rid of 88 items
44 of those have been trashed
27 have been donated
Everything else has either been given to friends or sold
I’ve made $374.75 from the stuff I sold

Not bad I think. If I’d gotten rid of one thing every day that would be 26 things so far, so being almost 4x that is a great feeling. My goal was to have 365 less things at the end of the year, but if this momentum keeps up and I’ve end up getting rid of closer to 1500, that’s a win in my book. Is it possible? We’ll see…

The Year Of Less update #3 – 1 week down, 51 more to go

So I’ve finished up the first week of the year of less so I thought I’d give a little bit of an update on how it’s going. I’ve been keeping a spreadsheet to help keep track of things so the big math is that I got rid of 44 item, 24 of which I donated and 20 of which I either gave away or trashed. My guestimate of the value of the stuff I donated is $290. But you know, I basically gave it away so who really knows.

In actual practice I ended up getting rid of stuff on 6 out of the 7 days, but on those 6 days I got rid of more than one thing every day. I talked about the ‘stuff every day’ thing last time and the truth is that finding time to sort through things and pick out something to get rid of every day is rougher than I thought it would be. The one day I didn’t get rid of something I spent all day hanging out with my family, which I think is a pretty good use of time, so I’m going to revise the “no matter what get rid of something every day” to “try really hard to get rid of something every day, and as long as it’s more than 7 things a week it counts” – It’s a little bit of a stretch I know, but I think it’s a realistic middle ground. I’m gonna give myself a 9/10 for the week.

In the not acquiring things arena, it’s more like a 5/10. While I didn’t actively guy buy anything, I did get some packages of things I bought in December that hadn’t been delivered yet. So the “look new stuff!” part of my brain was still getting it’s fix, which is what I’m trying to get away from. But everything has been delivered now, so next week should be more of a test, but I’m happy that I didn’t give in for anything. I haven’t even started thinking about what my one item for January would be either, so that’s a good sign.

I know this is kind of an academic update but I wanted to document it regardless. Because of all this I’ve been thinking a lot about inventory, both physical and digital and I think doing this is helping me organize things mentally a bit more. But it’s only been a week, so what do I know. More next week. Stay tuned.

*What is all this? Go read about day 1.

The Year Of Less: Day 2 – A Numbers Game

As I wrote in one of the posts leading up to this challenge, I spent a lot of time the month before starting thinking about what I’d get rid of. I had a mental list, and a few physical piles. I had things I’d made the metal commitment to part with, but hadn’t actually gotten rid of yet because the official “year” hadn’t started yet and I didn’t want to jump the gun. The year would begin soon enough I thought and then it could all go.

So today, two days into this whole thing I started to separate the stuff into two groups – stuff for donation and stuff for ebay. Before long I had two full grocery store paper bags full of clothes to donate. Specifically that’s 17 t-shirts, two pair of shoes, two pair of pants, two pair of socks and one long sleeve shirt. 24 things. Which is an awesome start, but also immediately presents a problem.

Is that 24 days worth, or 24 things on one day and then tomorrow I’m back at square one?

Can I game the system by getting rid of 365 things in one day and then saying “Ha! There’s my whole year done, boom!”

It seems kind of lame to create rules for myself and then figure out a way to get around them, so that won’t work.

So I could make a pile of 365 things, and then just get rid of one every day for the whole year, right? Well, yes, but… That’s more in the spirit of the initial idea, but then I’m stuck with a pile of things I know I’m going to get rid of all year, so in that aspect it’s not really in the spirit of the initial idea.

Crap, I thought I had the bases covered.

I realized this early on today and have been thinking about it and trying to decide the best way to approach this and I think that realistically it’s got to be one thing a day (or maybe 7 things a week if I’m traveling or something). So to clarify, I need to get rid of at least one thing every day. I can get rid of more, but I still need to get rid of stuff tomorrow regardless how much I get rid of today. I think that’s the best way to do this. I did say before that if by the end of this thing I’ve gotten rid of 500 things instead of only 365 that’s even better, didn’t I?

Right, so with that decision immediate panic sets in. Getting rid of 365 things is easy. Well, it’s not easy but it’s doable. Hell, I got rid of 24 today alone. I could sit down and go through a bunch of these old storage boxes and do that a few more times and hit 365 without an incredible amount of effort. But thinking about eight months into this when I’ve gotten rid of 500+ things and I’m scrambling to figure out what I can live without, what then?

And then I realized, that’s actually kind of the point of this.

So bring it.

*What is all this? Go read about day 1.

The Year Of Less: Day 1

Preface: Towards the end of 2011 I started blogging about my desire to reduce the amount of “stuff” that had built up around me recently. (If you are curious to see the thought process you can read those posts here, here, here, here and here, but I’ll recap the important parts in a moment.) This isn’t actually a new thing for me, I’ve been writing and talking about it for sometime, but I was beginning to feel that over the last year or so things had gotten out of hand and I needed to take drastic measures to get them back on track. I’ve learned that having a ton of stuff around me really freaks me out and the more of it that piles up, the more shaky I get so I needed to come up with a plan to correct things. And so I did, and I created this year long challenge for myself which until today I didn’t have a name for – though now I do, welcome to The Year of Less.

Here’s the plan:

  1. Addition: I can only buy one new thing a month. That’s 12 for the entire year. This will force me to really consider what kind of purchases I’m making, and hopefully completely eliminate impulse buys.
  2. Subtraction: I need to get rid of (at least) one thing every day.
  3. Replacement: Should something I need break beyond repair or get lost somehow and I feel the need to replace it, I can only do so by getting rid of two similar items. This is a little bit of a loophole that allows me to add an item but still results in a net decrease in items I own.

Clarification: I need to express clearly that this is a challenge to reduce stuff and clutter, it’s not a challenge to save money or fight capitalism or starve myself, it also isn’t anything I’m imposing on anyone else. Thus, consumables (food, gasoline, etc) dont’ count. Digital items (mp3s, ebooks, etc) that don’t add physical clutter to my life don’t count. My wife and kid don’t count. Etc. Items I’m getting rid of might be sold, donated, or trashed, but they have to go one way or the other. So you can argue any minor detail and try to poke holes in it, but at the end of the day I’m doing this for me and the only one I need to make sure I’m happy with is me, so I’m trying it, and I’ll see how it works. And because I tend to be obsessive about things sometimes…

Documentation: I’m going to keep track of everything. I’ve created a spreadsheet to keep track of items that come in or go out. I’ll be blogging here about the process and what I’m getting rid of and why, as well as talking about my thought process that led me to choose those items to get rid of. I don’t think I’m going to do a “today I got rid of…” blog post, though I might mention it on my Google+. I will likely do weekly round up posts highlighting specific items, and discussing things that come up. I have a suspicion that actively refusing to add items to your life is not as easy as it sounds, so I want to keep track of how that goes.

Also, I know that the first few days, weeks even, of this are not going to be thrilling. If I have to get rid of 365 items this year, it’s an easy bet that the first however many of those aren’t going to be too heartbreaking or difficult. Which is why the round up posts seem to make more sense right now. To that point, over the past week or two I’ve been thinking about this and pulling stuff aside to help get the ball rolling. I have a box full of clothes to donate that I thought would be padding for the first weeks of this, but my easing in plans had a wrench in them this morning when I had a run in with the security at DisneyLand.

*Note: This is the end of the general project portion of this post and I’m about to delve into the specifics of one single thing that happened today, which, if you are reading this in June because you just found out about it and what to know what the hell I’m talking about, might not be of any interest.

It’s the first day of the new year and so Tara and I decided to join some friends at DisneyLand and start the year off at the Happiest Place on Earth. As we were walking up to the gates I thought about the Swiss Army Pocket Knife I had clipped to my pocket.

Let me jump back a moment, I really like knives. Pocket knives, fixed blade knives, all kinds of knives. I was a boy scout and find a solid pocket knife to be one of the most useful and indispensable things I carry every day. Of all the knives I have, this SAK is the least threatening and the most utilitarian. It has a screwdriver for crying out loud. It’s also the one I carry more than any other because it’s so harmless. Every kid in my elementary school had one. Anyway, I realized I had it clipped to my pocket and thought for a moment I should hide it. But then I’m that guy who is hiding a knife to smuggle it into DisneyLand, which is kinda worse I thought, so I just pushed those thoughts out of my head.

The security line is a joke. Security theater at it’s best. They tell you to open bags so they can see inside to make sure you aren’t bringing in anything you shouldn’t be, but they only look at the top and really have no idea what is in the bags. So the lady looks in my bag. “What’s all this?” she asks? “Diapers, some snacks and a change of clothes for my kid” I reply, and point to my kid.

“OK, can I ask what that clip is on your pocket?”
“A swiss army knife”
“OK sir, you aren’t going to be allowed to bring that into the park”
“Are you serious?”
“Yes, you need to leave immediately and go put it in your car or surrender it here”

I’m quickly annoyed at this point. Why didn’t I listen to my inner voice when I was walking up and just hide the thing in my pocket? And why is this such a big deal. This lady has no idea what is actually in my backpack and she’s happy to let me walk in with that. The guy in front of me in line had a leatherman on his belt which has a 3X larger blade than this little knife and he walked in unquestioned. OK I’m more than annoyed. I hand the bag to Tara and say I’ll be back and turn around to walk back to the car. Except this is stupid. I’ve had this SAK in my pocket every single time I’ve been to DisneyLand since I got it close to 5 years ago. I’ve never accidentally stabbed or robbed anyone. And in fact, given the bit of training I do have you could actually argue that people might be safer with me having something like that. Anyway. I’m rambling here, and too many thoughts are running through my head.

And the car is far away. So I say forget this and hide the knife behind a phonebooth and plan to get it on the way out. Then I head back to the park.

I clear security without issue, get in and start looking for Tara. And then a security guy comes up to me and says “What did you do with that knife?” My mind races, they must have been following me and know I wasn’t gone long enough to go to my car or even saw me ditch it. So I say I hid it outside of the park so I can get it on my way home. He says that won’t fly and we need to go get it right now. Again, this is a TINY little folding pocket knife, so I’m really ticked off that so much fuss is being made – but at the same time, I know I’m in the wrong and there’s nothing I can do about it. I go with the security guy and get it and he explains, nicely even considering how impatient and shitty I was quickly getting that either I give him the knife right then and there or I don’t get to go into the park today. Those are my two choices. It’s an easy decision, it sucks, but it’s an easy decision. I give him the knife and go on my way.

I know that was a long story, but see, we’re back on track again. Day one of The Year of Less and I’m already sans one item, before 9am. Except it’s not something I wanted to get rid of. My first thought – I’ll just order a new one. This was immediately replaced by my second thought – Can’t do that, it breaks the rules. Shit. 9 hours into this and I’m already facing running into my own rules. I decide to stop worrying about it and enjoy myself and assume the answer would come to me sometime during the day. Which it did. I have a lot of pocket knives, some I barely touch for any number of reasons. This one I really liked and used all the time, so I’d replace it but would need to adhere to my 3rd rule about replacement and get rid of 2 similar items in order to do that. So that’s what I’m going to do. Further documentation forthcoming.