I've lived without immediate access to the bulk of my belongings twice in my life. These times were extended moments of pretty extreme circumstances both of which laid a great foundation for what makes me really good at helping people let go of their belongings. Here's how you can do the same in case you end up in a similar situation, are simply craving a less cluttered life or are hitting rock bottom. I'm here to tell you those things, when faced with real strife, don't mean as much as you think. Life is what matters most, the actual living, breathing, gift of life. Clean water, that's a thing worth keeping. Shelter, real shelter with a roof that doesn't leak, walls that are secure, electricity, these things are a need. My stories are what have made me stronger, a better Professional Organizer & someone that fights for non-violent resolutions as well as a desire to take good care of our environment both within our home & out in the world.
The 1st time the bulk of my belongings went into storage was when I purchased 17 acres & a disgusting, dilapidated, run-down cabin in the middle of the Manistee National Forest with my then boyfriend. Naively, at 24 years of age, I entered into that venture thinking that the home would be finished on time & on budget. Every bone in my body told me I shouldn't take this step but the romantic in me thought it was the right thing to do. This was his dream to build a home in the woods & then next it'd be my turn, we'd move to New York (my dream at that time) & I'd get my dream for a little while. After a month & a half of living in a tent when we lost our apartment because our landlord had found a new tenant & knew we were headed out eventually the tent living situation ended with a lightening strike. Yes, an actual lightening strike. One work day morning as a storm rolled over the forest we were struck with lightening. It burned the front of the tent we were in, fried my houseplants next to the tent, blew thousands of holes in his truck tires, snapped the sheathing of the house & arced off of the refrigerator inside the shell of the house, fried an outlet that was laying on the floor & the microwave. By a Miracle of God we lived & so did our dog. We had side effects & PTSD but we were alive. So all that stuff from my past that was in storage, ballet slippers from dance class as a kid, my varsity jacket from high school, the photos, the servingware, the home decorations, all of it became way less important. I had my life. We had lived. I saw & heard lightening & thunder from a perspective that I hope to never see or hear again & it was the beginning of the reality check I didn't know I needed. Believe in Miracles, Lesson 1. My family has always said I have 9 lives & this was one of them. For the record, I've used about 19 of them. I feel very fortunate. We continued to work on rebuilding our tiny house while living in a 5th Wheel for 10 months through a Michigan winter where the heat often didn't work. Our dog's water dish was frozen by morning. I had never known cold on this level in my life. Throughout this process I went on & off without a toilet, a shower, basic shelter & a lot more. I found out what I was made of, how to build a house & how stuff really isn't that important. Even the keepsakes. Without our life, the very basics for living, those things didn't matter. I thought a lot about the survivors of Hurricane Katrina during that process, how they had lost everything & lived in FEMA trailers. At least my stuff, that wasn't important, was in storage. At least no one had died. At least I could still feel the sunshine, hear the thunder in the distance & walk in the woods. There's more to this story but I want to stay focused on the point: how to live without your stuff from the past & why it's important to be able to do so.
The 2nd time I lived without immediate access to my belongings was when I left that home 6 years later at 30. There's a lot to that story too but for now let's leave it at I was incredibly unhappy & fulfilling my dream wasn't happening. I had become a shadow of myself. Living far from friends & family, commuting an insane amount to a job I didn't like, having left the theatre work I wanted to do, unhappy in my relationship, unhealthy physically, emotionally & mentally I had had enough. I was being treated badly at home & I knew it wasn't what I was supposed to be doing with my life. I then lost that corporate job I hated (a different story for a different day) & it was the catalyst for change that I needed. I looked around & thought "What am I doing here?" About a month & a half prior I had realized I wanted to become a Professional Organizer so when I lost my job I knew exactly what I was going to do for a living, to help others & take back my life. The day after I lost my job I asked my dad if he'd help me leave the home I now hated - not the physical home (which still wasn't finished & was around 550 square feet) but the environment - to get the blank slate I knew I deserved. It was best for me, for my then boyfriend & for our lives. Two weeks later I packed & moved my life belongings out of my home between the hours of 8 AM & 3:30 PM with the help of my parents & a moving truck borrowed from my cousin. We moved my stuff into storage at my parent's home & I moved in with family temporarily. For the 2nd time I lived with my stuff in storage as I guest room surfed around the state until almost a year later. In the meantime, I launched Organized by Melissa in 3 markets in this order: Grand Rapids, Ann Arbor & Detroit. It was an overnight success. I lost a lot of weight, at that point by 2013 I lost 50 of the total 60ish. I was stepping into my own. I moved into my 1st ever solo apartment, a studio apartment in Grand Rapids that was 300 square feet. I purged a lot to make it work. I donated thousands of dollars of clothing due to becoming fit, tons of stuff I didn't have room for & I pitched so many keepsakes. It felt amazing.
So if you're feeling like you're in a similar situation I want you to know that you can do it. That you deserve your blank slate. I want you to know that feeling overwhelmed by the thought of starting your life over is normal but your life is worth fighting for. If you are simply craving a less cluttered life I want you to know that when you start purging in a deeper way you will feel motivated to declutter your entire life from top to bottom. And if you're hitting rock bottom, barely holding on by a thread I am here to tell you rock bottom is the best place to start again. You are going to have a comeback. You have life. There is nothing more that you need. Life, breath, water, shelter. Focusing on these things is what is important. Keep perspective.
My Top 3 Tips for Living Without Your Things From the Past:
1. Take inventory of the basic things you really need to live. Then take inventory of the things you are so lucky to have. Recognize that those things are not necessary to live. You're allowed to have them, of course, but if push came to shove & you had to leave them behind you could. This is the honest conversation my clients have with their belongings during the 1st Phase of my 3 Phase Process, Sort & Purge.
2. Recognize that the keepsakes & memorabilia are not actually the people or memories themselves. Just because you get rid of that blanket your Grandma made you because you don't love it, don't need it & don't use it doesn't mean you don't love your Grandma. The blanket is not her & she is not the blanket. Love your Grandma, donate the blanket.
3. Stop living in fear. Live in joy. It's okay to grieve the loss of relationships, a loved one or a lifestyle. What's not okay is clinging to stuff & living in an overwhelming, cluttered environment that causes you stress because you're afraid to get rid of things you might need if the Apocalypse happens, financial distress occurs or someone you know needs to borrow it. Keep things you Need, Use & Love. Live in joy.
I urge you to begin living without your things from the past if you're feeling stressed in your current home & feel the difference the Power of Purging will give you. You can do it. One foot in front of the other, walking toward your blank slate one step at a time. You've got this.
"In the long run men hit only what they aim at. Therefore, though they should fail immediately, they had better aim at something high."
~ Henry David Thoreau
I'm sure Mr. Thoreau meant people, not just men.
This smile on my face is evidence that new beginnings, even when bad stuff is still happening, are possible. I still love the woods. I still love life.