What is Essential in Your Life?
Life is a transitory thing. Not in a one day we’re here and the next we’re gone kind of way, although that is also true. I mean that throughout our lives we are on the move and that we pick up stuff along the way that is important at one time, that we later leave behind because it is no longer as valuable and useful as it once was. Any parent can tell you about the importance of a specific rock or leaf picked up on the way to school that is forgotten about by the end of the week. That doesn’t mean you won’t get asked about the rock three months later….
I have spent the past few days sorting through the life of a family member. I’m going to be a bit vague out of respect for their privacy. Due to health issues they need to move out of their apartment and into a more appropriate home. The move will ultimately involve transporting their life’s possessions over many miles to be closer to the rest of the family. This move will be especially great for my kids who will get more regular visits.
When we arrived at the apartment (after 13 hours of travel for me) we felt pretty overwhelmed by the task ahead of us. We weren’t sure we would be able to pull everything off in the two days we had available to us. A friend had been bringing over empty boxes in anticipation of the move and had also done some preliminary work to help tackle some of the more challenging tasks. In the morning we realized that much of the chaos we were facing was actually a result of all the empty boxes everywhere.
How to Disassemble a Life
Once we got to work we set out some basic parameters and categories. The move to be closer to family is going to be expensive due to the distance so we wanted to reduce the amount of stuff to be moved as much as possible. They will also be moving into a smaller space where there is less room for furniture and general stuff. So we made some decisions about essential furniture that would be needed or was important. We had to make the same decisions about appliances big and small. Then we tackled the stuff.
Decide what is important
This is an imperfect art. We all accumulate stuff throughout our lives, lots of stuff. We acquire books and photos, mementoes and decorations. We also accumulate paper and computer files. It is often challenging when we try to reduce and clean up our own collections because everything has significance or may be required or required again someday. In this particular case we had to make some decisions about what would be important now and in the future vs. what used to be important. We had to figure out what was a rock to be discarded and which leaves to press and keep forever.
As we worked through each room we found trinkets and mementoes, including great collections of photos, art work and some videos. We watched one video that gave me an opportunity to see my grandparents and hear my grandmother laugh again – more than 20 years after they passed away. That was a special gift I didn’t expect to find in this difficult process. We look at a lifetime of memories captured in pictures. We found ourselves as much younger individuals, in the days when we all had more hair. We kept all those mementoes and memories. At least I hope we got them all.Making decisions about the essentials of someone's life involves hard choices and prioritizing. How do you do it?Click To Tweet
Setting Aside Tools of the Past
Work is a big part of our identities during our working lives. When people retire they have to carve out new identities that are not tied to a job or profession. Part of my day job is to help people transition to the next phase of their lives when they decide to move on from their professional life. Some have a difficult time with the process.
Most of us accumulate items related to our working lives, including tools, books, paper, awards, etc. It all depends on the tools of our respective trade. Some of those things are useful beyond our careers and others lose their value over time. I have a collection of tools that belonged to my grandfathers and some of them are almost completely useless to me because I do not share the same trades as they did. They have more staying power than the tools of my day job though and so I keep them and I use them as needed. These are things that my daughters will also learn to use and will perhaps become useful to them over time.
In my work life I use and share knowledge. The books, documents and electronic files of my work life will hold no value to me when I stop working in that field. So many of us are knowledge workers now and as we learn more, we find new books, we learn new skills and we set aside the documents that are surpassed by new knowledge and become out-dated. This was an area of difficult decisions in our process. In light of our established priorities we had to make the choice to leave behind many of the books and tools of the trade that were no longer needed.
Rebuilding a Life
It is a challenge to strip a life back to essentials and memories. It is difficult to dispose of the ephemera that we all collect on our journey. This is where we are now in my family. We have combed through and pulled out and retained those threads and things that are important – or at least we hope that is what we have retained. Now these memories and pieces that we have kept will serve as the foundation upon which to build a new identity, new memories and begin the next stage in a continuing journey. Once we have made the move, then it will be time to start collecting new stuff…
What has been your experience with reducing life to essentials, whether it was your own or a friend / family member? How did you do it? What were your challenges?
What would you keep if you had to strip your own life down to the essentials?