16 March 2014

40 bags in 40 days

My friend Melanie from my home town posted a link on Facebook the other day to the 40 bags in 40 days challenge: Get rid of excess stuff that's lying around your house, one bag a day for forty days. A "bag" is loosely defined -- grocery bag or hefty or anything in between, whatever works for you.

Meanwhile, the New York Times ran an article claiming "you probably have too much stuff," and I was pretty sure they were right, about me as well as about many middle-class North Americans. When I lived in Shanghai in 1987, many families lived in one-meter-square apartments. They probably didn't have enough stuff. But those of us living middle-class first-world lives aren't likely to have that problem.

Yet my first thought was classic Manhattan one-upmanship: "I might have a little excess, but I don't have 40 bags of stuff to get rid of."

But then Melanie mentioned books. Hmmmm.

And then I thought, "there's no way I can do this on 40 consecutive days."  And so I decided I'd just count those 40 days as they come.  And if I clear out more than a bag on a given day, I'll count days for bags. And if I run out of stuff before 40 days is over, well, fine.

I should add that I'm not advocating a completely spartan life. I'm lucky enough to have met three of my four great-grandmothers; from one, I have a silver necklace, from another, a handmade doll, from the third, a set of dishes, silverware, and some furniture. Yet I buy stuff, mostly books, sometimes clothes, and many of our holidays are organized around gifts, i.e. acquisition of more stuff, and somehow it just accumulates.

Day one (March 6) : It took me around five minutes to fill a big canvas bag with books squirreled away in various corners of the living room and entryway.  Some were duplicates given as gifts, some I've been saving in case I want to read again. Ready to go.

A friend of Melanie's mentioned paperwork -- another thing I hadn't thought of.  I've got crazy piles of printouts of articles lying around related to essays I think I'm going to write some day... or worse, essays I've already published.

Day two (March 9): paper.  Not all the paper, but a big box went to the recycling bin. It's really freeing to think in terms of starting the project, but not feeling compelled to finish it on a given day.  I've made progress, and it may be days or weeks before I make more progress -- but that doesn't negate what I've accomplished.

Day three (March 10): the bathroom. Once again, it's helpful not to have to worry about completeness, but just get something done. Old sunscreen, expired medications, empty packages of OTCs. The FDA has helpful information on how to discard old medicine (note: don't flush).

Days 4-5-6-7-8-9 (March 15): four bags of books, a huge bag of clothing, and a crate of toys. Spring break is coming up, so it's a good time to drop off dry cleaning -- and asking myself if I really wanted to pay to clean a given item helped make decisions about keeping things, or not, whether well-loved and worn or not-so-loved and never-worn.

Day 10: The sister-in-law of the mom of a classmate of The Offspring's (phew!) is a second-grade teacher and would love the kids' books for her classroom. Yay! Yesterday's clothing went to the textile recyclers at the farmer's market, along with the compost.  Also: a pile of half-read magazines to the recycle bin, and I'm counting that as "a bag."

The break means I'll have time to go through some more closets, drawers, and shelves in coming days; I'll update, eventually.