Fear and Keeping the Things We Hate

Does your room look like this?

Most of us have a possession or two of which we think, “Ugh, I hate this thing.” It can be anything: clothing, books, kitchen utensils, tools, appliances, decorations, gifts.

This past year I’ve reduced my collection of shirts from around 60 to 36. It required a significant amount of mental effort, but I frequently came across shirts that some deep part of me really hated. Why had I kept them all those years? This was also the case for other items, such as camping gear I never used but which was always cluttering my storage spaces. Sometimes it was technical books that had the potential to boost my career but which I despised owning.

I began to realize that fear was my primary motivation for keeping things that I hated. I kept work shirts because I feared I may need them if I lost my job. Sometimes I would keep shirts for the simple fear that I may want to wear them in the future. I’ve kept Christmas and birthday cards out of the fear that one of my relatives may pass and I would regret not having kept their kind words, symbols of their love. I have feared that if I got rid of some of my programming or cyber security books that there would come a time when I desperately needed them and would have to shell out top dollar to get them back.

To describe to a fuller extend how much fear has dominated my physical realm, for a long time, my primary reason for keeping a decently large movie collection was the fear that I would have a girlfriend and she would be bored because there would be nothing to do. Forget that I have, historically, never been interested in girls who wish to spend all their time watching TV and movies, I let my fear force me into the “library” mentality of hoarding entertainment. Over the past few months I have finally identified the true nature of this fear, so I gave away around 50% of my DVD collection, with plans to get rid of more. My friends thought I was crazy, but I feel much more like the person I have always wanted to be. I also found that less entertainment gets me out the door more often and has significantly increased my happiness.

Here are some more case studies:

  • I had a large stack of photos from the days before cheap cameras and smartphones. I had ordered duplicates for many of those pictures, at the advice of my parents and sister at that time, and years and years later I still had the duplicates to protect them from loss! I shredded all the duplicates, and also shredded the pictures I didn’t care to keep, which was most of them.
  • I had a programming book that was a Christmas gift from my dad several years ago. I had specifically wanted this book and he had spent a decent amount for it, but the concepts were more related to IT than software development, so the material ended up not being as interesting as I had thought, and I never made much progress past the first few chapters. I kept it because it was a gift from my dad and I had wanted it so badly, but I ultimately had to accept that keeping it around wasn’t doing me any good and was only making me feel guilty for not reading it. I gave it away and haven’t regretted it.
  • Like most people, I finally liquidated my CD collection. I had chipped away at it over the years, but I kept the most sentimental albums. I now only have one because I need to stop being lazy and copy it onto my computer. This CD collection had also included obscure driver software, programs I would never use, and even a DVD of my high school band performances. This did not occupy a ton a space, but the box I kept them in has been a “hold-out” box which just refuses to die because of the slight value of its contents. I’m actively in battle with this box, and need to find a way to get rid of more inside of it.

Here are the things I plan to get rid of:

  • High school yearbooks. I may keep my senior year book, but I suspect my reasoning there is also flawed. I’ve never really looked back through them, and I know how to contact the friends from that time who still matter to me.
  • More DVDs. My local library allows you to check out a huge selection of movies. I’m moving into an experimental time in life where I want to see what I can go without.
  • The headboard to my bed and the bed frame. They aren’t necessary at all, and I’m kind of drawn to extreme simplicity.
  • More books. Still hard for me to do, but I love playing the mental game of “if I could only keep ten books, which would I keep?” I guarantee you they’d be only the best in my collection.
  • My small coin/currency collection. I guess seeing what people pay with in the Bahamas is kind of cool, but really it just sits there.
  • The final 3 stick-piece¬†hockey cards from my old collection. I honestly do kind of hate these, I may have to drive to a card store and donate them. Supposedly they’re “valuable”, which means you may be able to finagle $10-20 for each on ebay, but my job pays much, much better.
  • Miscellaneous stuff. It’s all been simplified to one large and one small plastic container, but I want it all gone, all of it!

There are many other stories to tell, but these are positive illustrations.

What I love about minimalism is the intellectual challenge that it posses to the individual. Because we live in a society that values quantity and convenience, it takes considerable effort to challenge those assumptions and escape from them. Although I’ve been reducing my possessions slowly for the past decade, I’m realizing just how far I still have to go. Fear is not the only reason we keep things (pride and self-image come to mind as somewhat obvious alternative motives), but I think we would all find that reducing the fear in our lives necessarily comes with the reduction of our possessions.