It’s Monday morning, and time to begin another week. I open my cupboard to get dressed for work. The middle shelf has two piles of jeans on it, about ten pairs in each pile. I’ve moved the other jeans that I don’t wear that often to a cupboard in the spare room, probably another fifteen pairs. That’s thirty-five pairs of jeans. For one person! I also own other pairs of long pants, chinos and smart pants.
Since my ex-girlfriend moved out and took all of her stuff, she left me with plenty of extra, empty space in the house that we shared. I’ve slowly grown into that space, both in the main bedroom and the never used second bedroom.
I look at the two piles of jeans on the shelf and my new pair of Diesel jeans that I’ve only worn twice since buying them, they have been through the laundry and sit on top of the right-hand stack of jeans. I bought them about a month ago on a Saturday morning when I left home with a hangover and decided to make myself feel better with some “retail therapy”.
“$350 for a pair of jeans is a lot, but that’s why I work so hard; so that I can spend money on such luxuries”, I told myself. I tried them on, parted with $350 and took them home in an expensive paper shopping bag. The first time I wore them to work the following week, the jeans didn’t feel great. They didn’t sit the way that my favourite pair did. They were a little loose in the waist and they felt as thought they hung like a rapper’s oversized pants on my ass. “They should settle and fit better after they’ve been washed”, I thought taking them off later that day.
The next time I took them on a voyage out of the house, around the office and wherever my day took me, the result and subsequent feeling was the same. This expensive, premium denim garment was not adding to my daily happiness. I felt uncomfortable in the jeans all day and I found myself applying continuous mental energy to the situation.
I sent them to the laundry, only to have them now appear back in my cupboard a few days later. Now as I am preparing for my day, I am battling with the internal choice of wearing these new and expensive jeans or wearing a different, older pair. Further, if I decide to leave them in the cupboard I am then faced with another choice, “which of the 19 remaining pairs is going to be most suitable for me today”?
Everything outlined above: the process that led to me acquiring this (and all previous) pairs of jeans, the mental energy applied to how I felt while wearing them and the time required to decide which jeans to wear each day, all happenes unconsciously. A personal buying and decision-making strategy that I had developed over the previous years and practised each day without realising it.
As a result of some subsequent circumstances and decisions made in my life, I left South Africa to travel the world and was forced to limit my clothing selection right down to only items that could fit into a forty-five-litre travel bag. Forty pairs of long pants were reduced to one pair of jeans, and countless pairs of shoes, down to a total of three.
The limitation of space that my new life afforded me meant that I simply wasn’t able to purchase new clothing items unless that meant letting go of something else, to make space for the new item in my travel bag. Each day while travelling and I get dressed for my day, I’m no longer forced to make a decision about what to wear. If I’m going to be in a city, and the weather looks as though it may be cold, I wear my jeans. If I’m headed to the beach or to explore and the weather looks warmer, it’s one of two pairs of shorts that I travel with. Shoes are either flip flops (which are my first choice) if it’s suitable or trainers if they’re more suitable for my day. I have two pairs of Reebok training shorts that I wear when going to the beach, to Crossfit, gym or going for a run. In the past, those activities had more than ten pairs of shorts allocated to achieving the same outcome.
Eighteen months after leaving South Africa I returned home for a few months. I had made the decision on my last trip to set up my life so that I could continue to travel for a couple more years. This meant selling all of the contents of my house which had been kept in storage for the last year and a half. Going through my storage unit was not an easy task. It required a ruthless application of non-attachment to the items that had once been so important to me. I was forced to let go of many items in almost new condition for a price much less than I had paid for them when new. Despite the sense of wastefulness that I experienced selling my stuff for much less than I’d paid for it, the whole process of decluttering left me feeling extremely liberated. I was left feeling lighter and freer.
I have since managed to limit all the things that I own down to around 150 items in total. Despite this minimal lifestyle, it doesn’t mean I’m a non-materialistic hippie. I still spend money on expensive clothes but rather buy quality items that I love, use often and will last. Each time I am faced with a buying decision, I think about if the item is going to be used often, and which item I am going to let go of to make space for the new item.
The personal lesson that I’ve learnt from this process is that I think I lived in a world where the message was that I needed to buy more and more things to make me happy. Gadgets, cars and technology that continually expire and left me feeling that, unless I upgrade and replace, that I was going to be left behind. Out of touch. The reality for me was that the constant consumption mindset put me onto a treadmill that required more and more money to feed this lifestyle and more and more stuff that didn’t make me as happy as it used to before. The stuff that I owned ended up owning me.
The last two points on this topic I wanted to make before I sign off are as follows:
1. I don’t believe that everyone should be reducing down to 100 items in their lives unless that suits them. While this format works for me, I’m not suggesting that it will work for you. I don’t have a spouse or kids that live with me. The idea here is simply a process of decluttering the items in your life that you feel are starting to own you. Perhaps is a drawer in your house or an out of control shoe collection, look critically at the things that you own and decide if there is any room for decluttering. Further, this minimalist mindset is not about never buying anything, but rather the idea of “international purchasing”. Before parting with money for stuff, critically looking at your purchase and deciding if what you’re about to buy is really needed. Are you able to share what you’re buying with someone else, or rather rent the item for the time that you need it?
2. The final point on spending is one of looking at each purchase or dollar spent, as an exchange of your time for that item. Most of us turn up for work day after day and week after week, in exchange for a deposit of some numbers into a bank account. In essence, we’ve traded our time for those digits in our bank account. Each time we spend some of those numbers when we purchase something, we’ve traded our time for that item. For me, a $350 pair of jeans was around five hours of my time. Forty pairs of jeans (at $200 per pair) is around 114 hours or, two and half weeks of work. Expressed another way: if I could have managed with one pair of jeans, I could have taken a two and a half weeks, paid holiday with the money that I’d spent on those jeans!
Graham Hill has a TED talk titled “Less stuff more happiness” on this topic which is worth watching. [5 min video]
If you’re feeling like you need to clear out some things in your life why not join our 30-day “Free yourself from stuff” challenge?
Below are the 150 items that I own and a list of the items that I pack for long term travel.
Disclaimer: I currently own two pairs of jeans as I am visiting my brother in Canada and need to have long pants to wear when my other pair is in the laundry!
Till next time.