Downsizing part 3: Keep shedding

Upon publishing my last column, I received a phone call from a friend.

“You have to help me!” she said. “I want to downsize, but I’m afraid I’m kind of a hoarder! I mean, I’m fine getting rid of all the papers and stuff. But what about my clothes and my shoes? You need to write something about that.”

I was, ironically – or perhaps not – on my way to the Goodwill with three bags of clothes, books, and board games in the trunk.

I looked down at my own clothes. I was wearing one my favorite weekend tops — I only have two. The bag in the trunk contained a bright purple sweater that I had worn for years but recently stopped wearing, criteria for disposal. I thought of my friend. She is the essence of fashion. I’m sure she has at least three weekend tops, or maybe — dare I suggest something so outrageous — even seven or eight?

I realized that this wasn’t going to be an easy question for me to tackle; comparing my wardrobe to my friend’s is like comparing an ice cube to an iceberg. A beautiful iceberg. Or something. You get the point; I’m not much for similes.

“It’s like mental anguish,” she said. “You never know when you might need that one sweater. And I paid a lot for them. What am I supposed to do?”

I was out of my league.

Returning home, with that post-drop-off high of knowing there were no longer three bags of stuff in the trunk, I thought about a book I recently read: “Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less,” by Greg McKeown.

Luckily, I take notes on informative books such as this one (since I return the books to the library and can’t easily reference them on my bookshelf or Kindle; if you’re wondering, no, I don’t have a Kindle, because you have to buy a Kindle, which would be both a waste of money and storing capacity, even though you can get Kindle versions of books on loan from the library for free, and the Kindle itself would take up less space than library books do… so yes, I may be convinced someday, but not yet). I opened my documents, found the “books” folder, and found my notes on this book (as I said, please keep an organized digital filing system. It makes a world of difference. You didn’t think I meant notes on paper, did you?).

Here’s what McKeown has to say about cleaning out your closet (pages 17-18):

When an “Essentialist” approaches a closet, s/he takes three steps. You may find them a bit harsh:

  1. Explore, Evaluate – Ask yourself “Do I love this? Do I actually wear it? Do I look great in it?” (Do NOT ask yourself, “Might I possibly someday in the future consider wearing this when my favorite weekend top is dirty?”
  2. Eliminate – At this step, McKeown says to ask yourself, “If I didn’t already own this, how much would I spend to buy it?” If your initial thought is, “I probably wouldn’t buy this!” or if you’re only offering a dollar or two to buy what you already have … You see where I’m going with this, or where McKeown is going, actually. 
  3. Execute – McKeown says a huge part of keeping the closet paired down is creating and keeping up a disciplined system. I suggest keeping a donations bag/box in the closet itself.

I hope that helps, dear friend. The book is actually about paring down everything in your life, not just physical stuff, and the closet is just a metaphor for that – but a useful one! If you’re lucky, maybe we’ll go into more detail on the book sometime.

I also looked up my notes on “The Upside of Irrationality” by behavioral economist Dan Ariely. His experiments show that people find it difficult to give up what they already have because of “loss aversion.” In fact, because of what he calls the “endowment effect,” people overvalue things that are already theirs. I think this is what McKeown is getting at in Step 2 of his closet metaphor. Pretend you didn’t already own that sweater. Would you really go out and buy it? Or do you just want to keep it because it’s yours and it pains you to get rid of it?

With those words of advice, dear friend, I encourage you to get rid of a bunch of your stuff, and think hard before acquiring anything else.

I leave you with a recent S”herman’s Lagoon” comic strip that my husband came across (my mom likes to give him back issues of the Sunday comics; don’t worry, we recycle them when he’s done). I think this about sums it up.

My point is, in short: Get rid of stuff. But please don’t offer it to me.


Carissa Jean Tobin lives in a condo in Northeast Minneapolis with her husband. Her hobbies include creating humorous surveys for friends, lounging at the Wilde Roast Café, and administering the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator to interested family members, friends, and strangers. She teaches kindergarten in North Minneapolis.