We came to California with four suitcases and ten boxes, which summed up our eight years of life in Singapore. Four years later, we had doubled it. How we managed to stuff all this into our tiny apartment was beyond me. Maybe years of playing Tetris had trained me to use up every storage space we had, from floor to ceiling. Four years later it was time to move, and I knew we had to downsize. A few months before we moved I casually picked up Marie Kondo’s book and I was hooked. It made me realize how the ‘I might use it someday’ attitude had led me to keep things that were of little value to us but we just didn’t have the heart to throw them away. Ergo, there was only one answer to it: ruthless decluttering.
The whole decluttering process didn’t happen overnight. In fact, I started it months before the moving date. The easiest place to start is the one that we don’t use that often. For us, it was our wardrobe. Getting rid of clothes that I didn’t wear anymore was easy. But decluttering my partner’s? Not so much. There are clothes that I knew held sentimental value for him such as his first company swag or T-shirts he had got from coding competitions (I married a geek so there are tons of those), so I let them stay. But I had been stuffing the rest of his old T-shirts in the least accessible part of our drawer. After a few months with no reaction, I went on a secret mission to Goodwill and got rid of those. The same thing went for the children’s toys.
Little by little, we decluttered every part of our apartment. Donating items, throwing junk, and reorganizing. We made sure only to keep things that are necessary.
This decluttering process made me wonder how our retention rate can be twice as fast. When we lived in Singapore we didn’t manage to amass that many belongings. I realized how the American lifestyle of bulk buying and consumerism had led us to having way too much. Think about it: When have you gone to Costco and not ended up with twelve giant rolls of kitchen towels and five big tubs of Clorox wipes? Do you need twelve kitchen towels? Sure, but not immediately. And that’s just the consumables. Clothes, toys, furniture, gadgets, and other knick knacks are all easily attainable in the US — for a much cheaper price too. How do you carry these giant-sized items into your house? By using a giant-sized SUV of course! Big cars, big shopping carts, big storage — all conspire to make us think buy, buy, and buy.
Another factor that accelerates our retention rate is always saying yes to people’s donation. Some of our friends had moved in the past. In between the panic of packing and moving, they found themselves unable to throw some items and ended up giving them to us. It started with good intentions: ‘These might come in handy someday’. But accepting a bike accompanied by another bike (that turned out to be broken), or a basketball, or a pan meant that the amount of stuff kept growing and in the end, we ended up with a lot of junk. We finally learned to say ‘No’ and offered to help to throw away or donate stuff instead.
After weeks of hard work, we managed to donate and throw away a lot, as well as selling items through social media. For the last few weeks we lived in the old apartment, I could feel how much more space we had. I could see clearer, breathe easier, and enjoy living more. I regret not having it done earlier. Material possessions make you happy, but only to some extent. The more you get, the more you will be buried underneath. Own less and you can enjoy more.
Have you decluttered your life? Or do you need to? Let us know!
There is a lot I wish I'd known before my relocation from London to San Francisco. For those about to begin the adventure here is what I learned.