This I Believe

Schuyler - State College, Pennsylvania
Entered on March 19, 2008
Age Group: 18 - 30

I believe that it is freeing to get rid of things.

Recently, my husband and I moved back to the United States after spending a semester abroad. We discovered that leaving is a lot easier than coming back: we had to reactivate all of our accounts, find a new apartment, and then face the mountain of boxes we’d left in storage. Suddenly, we had a lot of bills and obligations. And a lot of stuff.

We’re not alone. Mother Jones reported that since the 1970s, the size of an average house in the U.S. has expanded by 80%, yet people are increasingly renting storage units, sometimes for years at a time. In other words, we seem to be accumulating more and more, filling space faster than we create it.

Because I was looking for a job, I spent a lot of time at home waiting to hear back from employers. I had nothing else to do but sit and unpack boxes. And so I tackled a bunch of the most frightening ones: heavy boxes labeled “knick-knacks,” “tchotchkes,” and “FRAGILE: GLASS CANDLEHOLDERS.” I hated to open them because I knew what I’d find: a bunch of useless, delicate items that had no place to go. Some of the boxes had been sealed and sitting in storage for three years. Many of the items in them were things I’d had since childhood.

And then I got tired of it. I got tired of lugging the boxes from place to place, year after year. They began to feel like Jacob Marley’s chains—the weight that had accumulated from years of inaction. I started to wonder if all this stuff had held me back in life by taking up so much time and energy. If it was like this now, at age 25, how would it be when I was 50? I started tossing stuff out.

It was hard. I threw out a lot of gifts that people had spent money on, and a lot of things I had treasured for some reason as a kid. None of them were really doing anything except collecting dust.

And then I opened one box. At the bottom was a colorful ceramic plaque that I’d made in high school. It was loosely covered in bubble wrap. It was also split cleanly down the middle. I was crushed. It was one of the few things worth saving, and it was irrevocably damaged. If I had focused on the possessions I really cared about, I might have taken better care of it.

Still, I realized that I had other things that were more important and couldn’t be broken—things like relationships and memories. Ultimately, it felt good to let go: the less stuff I have, the less to worry about. Instead of saving things for some mysterious future date, I’ve learned to use them—and then pitch them. Most things can be replaced. And the things that can’t, well… next time I’ll remember to use more bubble wrap.