And eating cake, of course.
Y’know, the stuff that matters.
But how do you enjoy—or even begin to recognize—all that stuff that really matters in life when your house, garage, closet, attic, car, whatever, is cluttered with junk?
Scientists have proved it. According to reporting by BeBrainFit.com on a study conducted by UCLA’s Center on Everyday Lives and Families (CELF), “physical clutter overloads your senses, makes you feel stressed, and impairs your ability to think creatively.”
Psychology Today summarizes a slew of recent studies in which scientists claim that clutter negatively affects our ability to remember simple details, makes it difficult for us to relate to others emotionally, makes us less efficient at work, and even prompts us to eat foods that are bad for us.
Obviously it’s hugely helpful to clear out all the stuff that’s overwhelming you. If making your home less stuff-filled makes you more peaceful, more empathetic, more creative and more focused, it’s got to make you a better friend. Right?
Just imagine how much more awesome you’d be if you weren’t bogged down by all your material thingies. What a great gift, then, it is to give someone as a birthday present: You, only better.
What’s even cooler is if you give your time to that someone special by helping them eliminate the clutter from their own lives.
Make the effort to go through that person’s old junk (only with permission, of course) for them, and find ways to get rid of the crap they’ve been avoiding for years.
It sounds painful, and of course it’s easier to run to Target for a new picture frame and forget about it. But helping someone declutter their life is actually really freeing and generates all kinds of warm fuzzies for you and for them.
Because when it’s not your stuff, there’s no emotional attachment. No dramatic agonizing over whether to keep some old figurine that’s rusty, dented, moldy, eaten by moths, or otherwise useless.
Plus, it's super helpful and always massively appreciated.
This is what we do for my husband, the original Reductionist, on his birthday, which falls on Labor Day weekend, to celebrate his incredible Virgo-ness.
He’s the kind of guy who regularly needs new socks, but that’s kind of it in the gift department. When he needs a new tool, or a new pair of shoes, he goes and buys them on his own. Lucky for me.
A few years ago, I was hard pressed to come up with anything to get him for his birthday. I thought really hard about what he’d actually like or want, but kept coming up with a giant goose egg.
As I gazed around our cluttered house—at the old baby toys, the random end tables and broken chairs we’d packed into our house when we’d first moved in together, the stacks of art work the kids bring home, the boxes of office supplies we’d cleared out of old desks from old jobs (ohhhh, the bags full of dried-up rubber bands and thumb tacks no one uses) all I could come up with to get the man for his birthday was…nothing.
In fact, I knew deep down what he’d really, truly appreciate was if I took some time to wade through the mountains of junk we were avoiding and make that stuff go away, once and for all.
So that’s what I did. I took a Saturday when Andrew wasn’t home, strapped on my big-girl pants, told the kids to join me in the “storage room,” and we got to work.
I downsized the Christmas decorations we never used. Cut down the baby toys by at least half. (Don’t worry, more pour in like magic on a regular basis, so there’s no shortage of fun kid stuff here.)
I went through my own closet and carved out all those ill-fitting, out-of-style-anyway, misshapen shirts, pants and dresses I always truly disliked. Took stacks of old blankets to the animal shelter. Scrap metal to the recycling center.
The kids got into it, too. They had books they were ready to part with. Random junk they admittedly never played with. And tons of clothes they’d grown out of. In Daddy’s honor, with the added element of surprise, it became a wonderful game they loved playing, and still do.
We had a ton of fun with it. We took pictures and videos, and documented our trip to the Goodwill so we’d have proof of the trunk full of stuff we’d gotten rid of.
Then I went out on a limb and shared our little surprise project idea with our families and a bunch of Andrew’s friends. Over email, I told them he’d really get a kick out of it as a birthday gift if everyone got on board by getting rid of something, as a tribute to the man who never wants anything.
And guess what? They did, in a major way! They sent pics, and holy smokes, they thanked us for the motivation to get them to finally do what they, too, had long been avoiding. Because let’s face it, we all have Too. Much. Stuff!
Andrew’s birthday weekend is now an official annual holiday for everyone we know. It’s The Great Birthday Giveaway Extravaganza! It helps that it falls on Labor Day, a real national holiday here in the U.S., where most people have a long weekend. That extra day really helps when you’re tackling cleaning out a garage or a scary closet.
But it still amazes me how, every year, no matter how much clutter we’ve cleared out before, we can come up with at least a few bags full of stuff to either take to the Goodwill or toss out altogether, all in Andrew’s honor.
This will be our fourth year celebrating the Great Birthday Giveaway. And I’ve already received emails from our friends and family showing pics of the stuff they’ve got packed up and ready to eliminate from their lives this year.
When I show Andrew these photos, an enormous smile spreads across his face. Because the joy it brings all of these people he cares about—the joy of doing something productive and truly valuable for themselves that he knows will bring them emotional well-being—brings him incredible happiness.
And that’s the greatest birthday gift of all!
Have you ever given something away in someone's honor instead of buying them something new? How'd it go? Let me know in the comments? And if you have any great Reductionist birthday ideas, send 'em my way! I'd love to hear from you!
I'm Janeen; writer, mother, wife, and full-time, radical Reductionist. I share stupid-easy tips on how to save money while reducing your impact on the environment, & I'm committed to helping others live a life of simple sustainability.
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