The Lightbulb Moment

Moving house can completely change your outlook.

For many of us, moving house offers a chance to pare down and clear out all of the extras – things we don't use or need.  Not only does this make packing up and loading, transporting, unloading, and unpacking easier, but it adds to the feeling of a fresh start which a move always brings.  It just feels lighter and freer to move with less.

But that's not the way it happens for everyone.  Maybe it depends on the reason for the move, or other factors which affect your mindset at the time.  Some of us feel the need to bring everything to a new home.  Maybe it's a way to relieve the sense of loss that comes with parting from someplace where we've been rooted, where we have history.  Carting along everything we own is a way to bring that sense of belonging into a new place. 

Edison light bulbs

A moving story

At least, I think that might be how it happened for Denise, a reader of this blog who moved from Illinois to Florida back in the 1990's.  Denise wrote me a long letter last fall in which she described how she and her husband packed a huge moving van, a large pickup truck, and a six-passenger sedan for their move.  This included eight large bins of Christmas d├ęcor, many boxes of photos – which Denise admits she disguised by packing them in suitcases – and the contents of a giant tub that she called "the first 20 years of my life."

Denise writes that the first thing they did upon arrival in Florida was to rent a storage unit "the size of a bedroom....  Not for furniture, but for STUFF.  Stuff I couldn't part with even when moving over 1,400 miles away."  I presume this was for items that weren't going to fit or find a place in their new house.

Once the movers finished unloading the van, Denise discovered that her vacuum cleaner and what she calls a "small box" of kitchen utensils were missing.  Even though she was pleased that the movers were friendly, efficient, and hadn't damaged any of her furniture or other items, she of course filed a claim for the missing box and vacuum.

Now maybe my idea of "small" differs from Denise's.  I was surprised by the list she sent of things she could remember being in the "small" box that was lost.  She listed 199 items, including:

  • 8 saucers that matched her dinnerware, never used
  • 12 napkin rings and 15 cloth napkins
  • 3 can openers
  • 4 wine bottle openers
  • 31 kitchen knives of various types
  • 7 spatulas
  • 12 various serving spoons/forks/scoops
  • 3 whisks
  • 2 potato mashers
  • 2 thermometers
  • 2 basters
  • 8 escargot forks

and "tools to remove seeds from strawberries, core apples, devein shrimp, zest lemons, grate, strain, peel, scrape, spread, and ladle."

A moment of clarity

In filling out paperwork to file her claim with the moving company, Denise shone a light on her habit of buying and collecting way more than necessary (kitchen utensils were only the tip of the iceberg).  Her eyes were opened, and she saw her situation clearly for the first time.

She writes,

The conversation with myself went something like this...

How many knives DO I need?
When was the last time someone helped me mash potatoes requiring one masher for each of us?
When did I ever plan on having escargot at home?
Who needs two sets of measuring spoons?
Olive fork... why?
Spatulas (plural)... I had a favorite I always used.


The missing saucers debate was interesting.  I learned that I prefer mugs and therefore the cups I'd moved [the ones the saucers went with] I wouldn't use either.

Good for you, Denise!  An important step to permanent decluttering (as opposed to a regular or semi-regular clear-out that simply makes room for new stuff) is to question the way you've behaved in the past.  Ask yourself WHY you have so much, so many duplicates, so many nifty gadgets.  How did you get into your overcluttered situation, and is it really serving you?  What's really important to you, and what is simply in the way? 

Denise says that replacing the lost kitchen utensils was actually a fun exercise in a new way of thinking.  She writes, "I asked myself 'What did pioneer women pack in  their covered wagons?  That's probably all I need.' "

Brava!  Denise questioned her past habits, and then she cultivated a new approach.  Her role model was an American pioneer moving across the continent in a covered wagon.  A minimalist by necessity, this lady would have been very savvy about her actual needs, choosing the most practical and versatile items available.  Even if she also carried a few sentimental keepsakes, her ultimate goal and sense of purpose would have helped her limit those items to the ones with greatest value and meaning.

What was your lightbulb moment?

Joshua Becker has written that his own lightbulb moment came after he spent an entire day hauling things out of his garage in order to clean, then hauling them all back in again, all while his young son played alone in the back yard wishing Daddy had a different purpose for his time and energy.  A neighbor pointed out that maybe Joshua didn't need all of the stuff that had occupied his Saturday, suggesting minimalism as an alternative.  What a life-changing moment for Joshua, his family, and the millions who have read his blog or his books, watched his YouTube videos, or taken his Uncluttered course.

A move, a new baby, retirement, or a day spent cleaning the garage – I don't know what led to your own minimalist wakeup call (maybe someone shared one of my blog posts with you!), but I'm glad that turning point led you here.  I hope I can offer practical strategies as well as inspiration for a whole new mindset.

Thank you for sharing your story, Denise!

Related article:  5 Ways to Live More Simply Even If You Can't Declutter Yet


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