If you know me in person you probably know I’ve lived in the same apartment for thirteen years, longer than anyone I can think of has lived in one place except my father. I haven’t moved partly because I love the West Village, partly because I couldn’t stand the process of moving.
Moving disrupts your life, takes a ton of work, and fills your place with dust. Meanwhile, over the past few years, a big goal of mine has been to get rid of things I don’t like or need and to learn to love things in my life I can’t get rid of. As a result, my life is filled with things I like or love and devoid of things I don’t.
I considered moving part of things I didn’t like. I avoided it. I couldn’t understand how people could stand doing it.
The types of thoughts moving forces on you
I’m not moving to a new place. I’m renovating my place during my next visit to Shanghai, so I have to pack nearly everything I own either to use in Shanghai or to move into storage. This time I learned some new lessons and re-learned some old ones.
The other day I felt some existential angst as I struggled with some of my stored things. I prefer getting rid of stuff, but when you store something for ten years it takes on value and you don’t want to throw away something valuable. But then again, if the value comes only from having it so long, getting rid of it doesn’t hurt you.
For example, I like to keep things I created, but that meant saving lots of notes from school I would not likely review again. What do you do about
- Letters from old friends
- Pictures of people you may never see again
- Souvenirs from places you visited
- Notes from classes
- Gifts from past girlfriends
- and so on?
I don’t know if you consider these things important or not. If you do, how long do you keep them if you haven’t looked at them in years? Or decades?
And then what about a diary? I can’t see how I could get rid of something I created, that I have only one copy of.
Despite having only a sparsely populated studio, I took a few days just to start. What to keep? What to get rid of? How to organize? What do my choices say about my values? Or about how my values changed if I’m now throwing away something I once decided to keep?
I called a few close friends to talk through the mild angst. Eventually I worked up the courage to take old things to the thrift store, sell old books, recycle paper things, and, in the process, review and decided deliberately what to keep. As I increasingly got the feeling of not missing things I got rid of I felt increasingly free from the burden of stuff.
Oddly I started to notice the process felt like an exercise to examine priorities, increase awareness of values and emotions, and to choose. Processes like this always improve my life. You have to say no to a lot of good things to have a great life.
I thought I would write about all the thoughts about my choices and thoughts about my past. Now I think better of that idea. I like the feelings of freedom more. Yes, I lost access to some memories, but I can’t remember everything all the time, nor can I live in the moment today while thinking too much of the past. Whether I see my past and ties to it as my roots or burden is up to me.
Eventually I got nearly everything I own into seven modest-sized boxes with some other stuff around it. Here is nearly everything material I own, mostly in the boxes under what you see. By this point in the process I sold my couch, table, and various other furniture that doesn’t fit in the new design.
Does this look like a lot or a little to you? I have a few friends who can fit all their material possessions into a bag they can carry on a flight. Most people I know have tons more stuff than in this picture.
Now that I’ve finished getting rid of the major things to get rid of, I’m realizing — as in my “less, please” post of years ago, one of my favorite posts — I could have gotten rid of more. On the other side of my apartment from this picture is stuff I’m getting rid of besides what the countless trips to the thrift store, book store, recycling area in my building’s basement, and trash chute got rid of. And there’s a lot there. Some big things. I’m typing this now in an apartment devoid of the things I wanted to get rid of, and it still has a lot of stuff!
When I unpack I’ll get rid of more. After all, I’ll live for a few months without any of this stuff this winter. How much of it do I need?
Why moving doesn’t have to suck
I came to use an experience I’d been avoiding for over a decade to discriminate between things I wanted in my life and things I didn’t and improve the ratio for me. It took work, but now that I’ve done it I want to do it again when I unpack and I wish I had done it earlier.
So not that I would advise moving as an exercise just for the sake of it — I wouldn’t suggest just moving as a way to improve your life because it takes so much work — I realize I’ve found value in doing it and using the process to distill the parts of my life I want from the parts I don’t.
Learn to make Meaningful Connections
with a simple, effective exercise from my book, Leadership Step by Step.
- Step by step instructions
- Video examples of me and Marshall Goldsmith
- An excerpt from my book