Starting out

Over the past month or so I’ve become increasingly worried about my bank account and savings.  I’m in the middle of my second semester of graduate school and I found out I have quite a bit more in undergraduate loans than I realized.  Luckily I’ll be in grad school–taking on no additional debt– for roughly four more years and all my loans are subsidized, so I won’t be accruing any interest for that time, but I also obviously won’t be making very much money either.  So with $20,000 in loans I needed to start saving.

This lead me to wonder- where is all my money going?

So I calculated my monthly spending, at least the big things, and found that based on the amount I spent on rent/utilities and groceries I *should* be saving around $500 a month.  So why was I still taking money out of my savings account?  The only thing I could figure was that it was being spent on frivolous things and stuff.  Stuff I didn’t need and–based on the amount of free time I have as a full time PhD student–wasn’t using.  Clearly it wasn’t making my life any better, if anything it was just adding to my stress via money woes, so I needed to tackle my problem with “stuff” head on.  I read up on a couple of minimalist blogs–ones where they could count all their possessions… and the number wasn’t even in the triple digits.  Now I don’t want to go that extreme, but I had to admit that I just had so many things that were just cluttering my home and my life.

That’s when I realized I needed to simplify.

So I started cleaning.  I would do a little each day, and I would go over the same place every couple of days.  One of my proudest bits is that over several iterations of my closest and dresser I was able to drop off nine grocery bags full of clothes and shoes in the St. Vincent de Paul bin across my street.  These were clothes I *never* wore, or specifically knew I didn’t like wearing.  I now have two empty drawers in my dresser and a metric ton of empty hangers, and it’s one of the best feelings in the world.  Not to mention that someone who needs them gets to use them now!

Then I attacked my bathroom.  Overflowing with products and tools and jewelry I hadn’t used since middle school but kept with the thoughts: “maybe someday I’ll use that curling iron I could never get to work without frying my hair,” or “it might be handy to have that root-touch up color that doesn’t match my current hair color,” and “these huge tacky shell necklaces totally might come back into style.”  No.  I hadn’t touched them in eight years, so I wouldn’t miss them anytime soon.  Another box of stuff to go off to Goodwill and an entire bathroom cubby empty and a great feeling.  For the past week whenever I’ve walked in the bathroom I get a wonderful feeling because of how much cleaner it seems when the counter’s not crammed with stuff.  I guess that’s the theme of this post, no more “stuff.”  I did similar work on my shelves, filling up the rest of the box for Goodwill.  I would run across things I had kept as “memories” and realized I had written about them in my journal, or had plenty of pictures to keep the memories fresh, so I really didn’t need these little knickknacks.  So into the trash or Goodwill box they went.  I would take pictures of movie ticket stubs or concert playbills, but for the most part it was just “stuff.”

Probably my favorite part of this journey so far has been that, as I consolidated all my paper books into ebooks to put on the Kindle I already owned, I realized all the books I wanted to read.  And in the last week I finished a book I had started a year ago and forgotten about amiss the clutter of my room and started a new one that I’m a quarter of the way through and thoroughly enjoying.

Now it might not seem like these steps are going to solve my financial woes, but for the past few weeks when I want to go out with friends or on a date, and they want to go to the mall, to the clothes stores to replenish an already full spring wardrobe, or to CVS to buy fun hair products and colors, I pause for a minute.  I don’t need these things and I probably won’t use them, so guys, why don’t we go for a hike instead?  Or along that park path we’ve never been down?  To the new exhibit at a museum in DC?  Yes, it’s partly about saving money, but a large part of it is about changing my way of thinking and separating my happiness from this dreaded “stuff.”

It’s been a process over the last couple of weeks, but every step I take I feel happier and, quite frankly, freer.  And now I’m taking one more step by starting this blog.  So here’s my invitation to you to not let your life be overwhelmed by clutter and “stuff.”

Stop. Unwind.

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