One of my favorite books about the voluntary simplicity movement is by author Elaine St. James. In Living the Simple Life she tells the story of a family who lost their home in a fire. When the time came to begin replacing their possessions, they suddenly realized how few of their former things they really needed.
They had experienced a shocking loss, yet were able to see the silver lining in their tragedy. They got a chance to start all over again, creating a life (and a home) that was a true expression of their values.
If your house was on fire and you had only moments to escape, what would you take with you?
Most of us have at least a few irreplaceables: photos, mementos, family heirlooms. But stop a moment and think. How important are those things, really?
What I've found as I've done layer after layer of my own purging is that there is really very little that I can't live without. I'm fond of my favorite possessions, yes - but my life will not be diminished by their loss.
There's something very freeing in this attitude. If my things don't matter, I can spend more energy on the stuff that does - like friendship, and joyful activities, and personal development.
I moved last fall, and I've helped others move in the months since. Every time I lug a box full of stuff that I know won't get unpacked for months - if ever! - I question the sanity of our culture (and my friends and clients).
Sometimes I entertain a fantasy: What if I moved to Europe? What if I couldn't take more than a couple of suitcases with me? What if I lived my life with everything I needed, packed into a carry-on bag?
This is extreme purging. And I'm feeling the pull. Every time I let go of another thing I once thought I could never live without, I feel like I've lost 20 pounds. (Do I smell a reality show somewhere...?)