13 New Rules of Decluttering
Growing up, I never had much money. But while it was hard, as a kid, to appreciate hand-me-downs, my reflexive frugality eventually allowed me to survive as a freelance writer. Then I married a man who excelled in a technical profession, worked long hours and reveled in being able to buy things without consulting the price tags. Together we built a life: nice linens, a decent couch. By the time we added the ice cream maker and midcentury modern media unit, all closet space—and breathing room—had disappeared.
Before we could upsize, I left Oregon to spend two months in New York for work. My husband and I had only been married for three years, but the forced separation made us realize we were happier apart. I stayed back East, telling him to keep our stuff. When I returned for my clothes, I was greeted by a few duffel bags and boxes of books. Everything I owned fit snugly into the corner of my mom's home office, where I stashed it temporarily between her printer and aloe plant.
First, I felt panic: I'd taken a liking to sleeping on 600-thread-count sheets, and now I'd regressed to couch surfing, unable to host a proper get-together or show off my good taste in eclectic textiles. But as I contemplated the things I no longer owned, I saw them in a new light. Our high-end stove-top grill reminded me that my ex refused to try the foods I like. Our gigantic flat-screen TV, purchased to indulge a shared love of film, now signified the hours I spent distracted by the violent blasts of his video games. I hadn't noticed the weight of the disappointments I'd been living with until they were gone, until my failed marriage was no longer staring at me from a bookshelf stuffed with board games and camping gear from our doomed attempts to connect.
My ex assumed that he got the better deal because he didn't have to buy new plates. But I got a lightness both physical and psychological. I now live with two roommates, and my room is mostly empty. To see a blank slate in place of my formerly curated life is at once terrifying and thrilling.
When you have nothing, there are no small additions. A cheap dresser can't hide in a corner when it's the only furniture in the room, so I pause before allowing new things into my life. I want to own objects that comfort me or inspire me to seek adventure: maps of Morocco and Turkey, books by Joan Didion and Susan Sontag, who motivate me to write. Reminders not of who I was, but who I want to be.
Friends act as though I've barely escaped a fire, emerging from the wreckage with only the clothes on my back. I prefer to think of myself as the architect of my own life, purposefully rebuilding from the ground up.