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8 Questions to Feel More Free

Photo by Caroline Sleeper
Maybe the life you’ve always wanted to live is buried underneath everything you own. ~Joshua Becker

As a full-time nanny of four, I typically used the family’s van when picking the kids up. One day, however, I unexpectedly found out that I needed to use my own car.

This wasn’t a problem for me. I just had to put some stuff in the trunk and say my least favorite phrase: “Please excuse the mess.”

As I suspected, the children weren’t thrilled. But at least it gave us something to talk about.

“Wow, your car is, like, rotten!” the six-year-old boy immediately exclaimed.

“Where do I put my feet?” his older sister asked.

I thought surely the next time would be better. They’d be used to it.

“Why don’t you clean your car?” It was yet another good question asked by the eight-year-old girl.

I had a list of excuses that clearly weren’t good enough for her:

  • I don’t have time.
  • I focus on more important things.
  • By the time I get home, I’m tired.
  • I travel a lot, so it’s nice to have stuff with me. Otherwise I might forget something.
  • I don’t normally have other people riding in my car, and it doesn’t bother me.

These excuses suited me just fine.

It was more than half a year later before I began thinking, “Maybe I should let it bother me. Maybe I should make it a priority and take the time to fix it.”

Changing My Mind

Because I wanted to live in a tiny house, I read lots of blogs about people downsizing. I didn’t need to do this because a tiny house would actually give me more space than the room I was living in at my mom’s.

Then I remembered: not all of my stuff was contained in that one room. Over the years, it had spread to another bedroom and even to my sister’s house. To keep from crowding my future tiny house with stuff I didn’t even care about, I started getting rid of it.

This was a fairly slow process to begin with. What made it faster was changing my mindset. The best way to do that was to ask myself questions about the items.

These questions gave me clarity.

I’d heard people talk about not letting your possessions own you. I honestly didn’t think they did. Once I answered the following questions about the items I was surrounded with everyday, I realized how much control my stuff had.

1. Does It Make Me Feel Imprisoned?

Maybe it has bad memories associated with it. Maybe you feel like you have to keep it because it was a gift or because someone told you everyone should have one. If so, get rid of it and let those invisible prison chains fall away.

2. Could I Buy It (or Something Similar or Better) Later?

We don’t even think about how easy Amazon and thrift stores have made it for us to buy items fairly quickly and inexpensively. Instead, we keep piles of things we aren’t even using.

3. Would I Be Happier Without It?

Maybe you use the item, but only because it’s there. I had so many clothes that I liked, but they didn’t fit.

I wore them, but I didn’t really like how they looked or felt while I was wearing them. I’m so much happier without them because there’s more room for my favorites.

4. What Else Could I Do With the Space?

I was so sentimental about the past that I was running out of space for new things. I tell people all the time now: Dream about how you’d live differently if you were clutter-free.

Most of us need to be a little more sentimental about the future.

5. Could It Someone Else Benefit More?

One of the most common questions people ask themselves is “What if I need it one day?” This leads to keeping things we don’t need or things we won’t be able to find when we do need them.

Asking “Who might need this now?” will help us find a place for the item to do what it was made for rather than take up our space.

6. Is It Worth the Trouble of Keeping It?

It seems so much easier to keep an item than to figure out who to give it to, load it into the car, and drop it off, possibly in a different town.

Yet we forget how many times we have to move it to get to a drawer we want to open, how annoyed we are that we need to repair it or what a pain it is to wash. If you can do without it, get rid of it along with the chore of taking care of it.

7. Would I Buy This Now if I Saw It in a Store?

Some of the things I have in my house would never catch my eye while out shopping. Yet I keep it in my house as if it were one of the best things in the world.

For so long, I just kept things by default. I didn’t have to ask myself all these difficult questions about the item, but these questions are worth asking.

8. Does Seeing It or Thinking About It Bring Me Joy?

When you are surrounded by things that bring you joy, it follows that you are more joyful. And when you are more joyful, that joy spreads to the people you love.

I didn’t realize how frustrated I got by just glancing at a box of papers I needed to go through. Once I faced it little-by-little, I was able to get rid of it and the feeling I got every time I looked at it.

Possessions Robbed Me

These questions helped me notice how much space in my house and my mind were being taken up by things I didn’t like or use. These items were robbing me of time I could have spent planning the vacation I ended up not taking because I ran out of time to adequately prepare.

I allowed my possessions to have space I could have used to make friends and family feel welcome and relaxed.

Using these questions has helped me get rid of:

  • Twenty-nine pounds of paper
  • Eighty books
  • Seven boxes of clothes and random stuff

If someone had told me that a year ago, I would have been horrified. I would have said I love my books too much to get rid of them. I mean, I spent four years getting an English degree! Yet I was able to easily let these items go and have no regrets about it because my mindset had changed.

Beauty & Freedom

Plus, I was the one in charge of making each decision. No one else was telling me I should get rid of something. They weren’t telling me I was stupid for having it in the first place. It was actually a pleasant experience, and I’ve been able to see spaces in my room slowly open up.

Just as these questions helped me get rid of things that have uncovered the life I’m living now, I hope they help you experience more of the beauty and freedom that comes from not letting your possessions own you.

And you should be glad to know: my car is no longer rotten.

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About the author

Megan Starbuck is now a decluttering coach helping others overcome the same obstacles she was afraid of approaching. If you want the answers to the top five questions she gets from her clients (such as “Where do I start?” and “How do I get my family to declutter?”), sign up for her newsletter at mcstarbuck.com. She hopes your day is as awesome as her last name.

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2 thoughts on 8 Questions to Feel More Free

  1. “Would I buy this now . . .” Now that got my attention! How often I hold onto things for now apparent reason. That question sure puts it in perspective for me!
    Thank you, Megan!

  2. Hey Megan,

    I used to store everything up for the ‘just in case’ emergency. And my car was my second home. Until I realised I used my car so much that, I made a rule. Everytime I got out of the car I had to take something from the car with me. Before long my car was clutter free and I appreciated a mess free car far more than I did a tip.

    I was also drawn to sales signs or second clothing stores that had cheap marked on them. ‘What a special’ I would think and race over to the pile, elbowing anyone in my way so as not to miss a bargain. Until I thought about it. Half the time I was conditioned to purchase because I was saving myself money. But was I? I think over the last couple of years I have bought one top on special and have forced myself to wear it because I wanted to reinforce that a bargain is only a bargain if you enjoy it. And this top I did not.

    As for the books, I used to shift around, taking loads of books in boxes. Now I make the library a place I visit. I don’t like ebooks because I spend so much time on the computer. I feel I am relaxing and not working when I read a paperback.

    My point being that I agree with you, if you don’t use – get rid of it. And if you do need something, because we have changed our ways, we have cash to purchase whatever it is we may need in the future.

    Great food for thought, thanks Megan

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