By the end of January, we will be moving.

When we moved to Wisconsin, all my copilot and I had was what we could fit in our vehicles. A few days after we’d settled in, some of my family stopped by, dropping off some much needed furniture (you can only go so long using a yoga mat as a bed). We were convinced, though, that we’d have enough time between then and our next move to make packing that much easier.

Sadly, stuff happens.

After a wonderful Christmas and a couple months of living in one place, we can’t fit our lives back into our cars so easily. With beds and desks and new kitchen gadgets, it feels like our clutter has doubled — and we haven’t even found a new place yet. How in the world are we going to move at this rate?

The Benefit of Doing Without

I’ve been paring down hard this week. Clothes, office miscellanea, dishes and cookware, box fans and mis-matched linen. Anything that I think I need to keep (but that I don’t need this minute) goes into a box, ready for the move. If I still haven’t used or needed any of that stuff by the week before the move, I’m going to donate it.

If you’re used to having stuff, living in an empty room can be odd. My closet is bare; I’ve left out just enough clothing to last the laundry cycle. My only decorations are the bins that I’m filling. My desk drawers are practically empty; just my files, a couple pens, and some tape and power cords. The only thing I needed to pull out of a box was my camera charger, once I realized it wasn’t on hand.

When you restrict yourself to the things you need to get the job done, you get the job done. Clutter is the background noise that keeps you from concentrating. It makes rooms feel uncomfortable, workspaces unproductive, spaces that you used to love spaces that you’ve come to hate. It takes work, controlling what you own, but you’re rewarded with the energy and clarity to do more.

Parting with Nostalgia

Getting rid of things you don’t like is easy; getting rid of things you don’t need is another matter. We all hold on to things without knowing why. It might be to justify the purchase, or to remember the giver; it might be because you can’t get over the object’s theoretical value and address the fact that you don’t use it.

Liking something isn’t a strong argument for keeping something. There are plenty of things that I like that I no longer own — favorite books, good CD’s, comfy sweaters, fancy cookware — because those things no longer had the role in my life that they once did. If something’s important to you, you’ll remember it. Don’t let your desire to remember everything stop you from living in the present. You don’t need mementos from every moment in order to have a good life.

If it helps, divide the things you want to keep into groups based on how frequently you use them or interact with them. There are things that only get seasonal use that you’ll want to keep, of course, but also things that you only think of when you find them. Take all of the things that you don’t use or interact with more than once a year and set them aside.

If you hadn’t found them now, would you remember that you had them?

If you get rid of them, will your only loss be emotional?

Do you value the object, or the memory?

Valuing What You Have

The things I keep have value, because I decided to keep them. The fact that my meaningful things fit into my backpack makes it all the better, because there is no burden in having them. Everything from the pants I wear to the pen I carry has a story, and rather than remembering those stories when I find things in the attic, I get to be surrounded by them every day.

Many argue that minimalism is a luxury — it costs money to not have backups, to not take advantage of having extra — and to some extent they’re right. The minimalist aesthetic is one of clean surfaces and premium materials, but everyone’s interpretation of minimalism is different. For me, it’s about valuing the things that have survived, trusting the rugged strength of handmade goods, and being willing to make the things I don’t want to buy. I buy my clothes used, I make my own salsa, I own over a hundred pounds of cast iron cookware. Mine is a kind of messy house minimalism, but that doesn’t make it any less viable.

I value the things I have, and I cherish the things I’ve given away. Every week, I try to pare things down. I do so knowing that I’m increasing the value of the things I keep at the same time.

The benefit of doing without, is that it teaches you the value of respecting what you have. Don’t be afraid to part with things you value; you’ll learn something about happiness along the way.