Full transcript of Liz Wright’s TEDx Talk: Getting Rid of 1000 Things at TEDxBedford conference.
Notable quote from this talk:
“A lot of the stuff we have has an emotional attachment, either from when you bought it or when it was given to you. And about your own stuff that’s quite an easy judgment to make, but for other people’s things actually more difficult, and it’s about encouraging them along the journey.”
Liz Wright: Today, I want to talk to you about living your life with design, and thinking about the things that are in your life.
We’ve heard about big ideas today, so I want to talk about something smaller and closer to home.
A couple of years ago, I read a book called The Happiness Project, by Gretchen Rubin. One of the things that I took from that personally is I thought a lot about the big things in my life. So I thought about who I married, where I lived, what I did for a job, and how those contributed to my happiness.
But what I didn’t really do is think about the day-to-day things, the things I brought into my house or took out of my house, all the small decisions I made, and how they led to my own happiness.
So it started me thinking about a project to get rid of 1,000 things.
Before I start, I don’t want you to think I was a hoarder, my house wasn’t crazy, it was a normal house filled with normal things.
But I do think I was a perfect storm of a generation in terms of I had my parents’ post-war values about holding on to things, saving things for best, what happens if you don’t have anything, look after the pennies, look after the pounds, that whole kind of: “You need to keep stuff because you might not have it forever.”
But also being an 80s child and being a consumerist child and part of the MTV generation, I definitely had those things on my bike from the Kellogg’s packets. I had all of those things. So I had this weird mixture of values, which were basically like, “I need to keep hold of everything I have, but equally, I need to buy a lot of stuff, and that makes me feel good and the consumerism element.”
So suddenly, I had a house full of stuff and I didn’t really recognize some of it or didn’t realize I had it.
So I started to think, “What would happen, how would I feel, and how would that affect my happiness if I just got rid of 1,000 things?”
Being an auditor, I wanted scope and definition and rules, so I gave myself a list of a few to-dos. I wanted to count things that were usable in one item. So a pair of shoes would be one item for the purpose of this project, but an earrings and jewelry set that you could use independently would be two items.
I didn’t want to do this to raise money although I did sell some things as part of the process; the process was about getting rid of the stuff.
How, why, and where it went to was of less importance to me. Although obviously, I made sure that I could donate or recycle as much as I could, the essence was about it leaving my life and the happiness that I would open up.
And finally, it was okay to get rid of some stuff that people are giving you. I definitely was a product of: “If someone gives you a gift, even if you don’t really like it you keep it because it’s rude not to.” So I definitely gave myself permission to get rid of things.
One thing I did find was hard, though, was getting rid of my husband’s things. It’s very easy to get rid of my own, but actually, increasingly more difficult to get rid of other people’s.
A lot of the stuff we have has an emotional attachment, either from when you bought it or when it was given to you. And about your own stuff that’s quite an easy judgment to make, but for other people’s things actually more difficult, and it’s about encouraging them along the journey.
I have to say he’s getting better, but he certainly hasn’t got rid of 1,000 things like I have. So I set myself some challenges and encourage you to use some of these tools if you’re going to embark on something similar.
One of the things I did was set myself challenges. So I would say, “I’m going to the charity shop on Saturday, I need to take 50 things with me.” That helped me to be a little bit more ruthless when I was going through things.
The second thing I did was something I called the hanger challenge. I went into my wardrobe, and I turned all the hangers the wrong way around, and then over a course of a few months, if I wore that item, I turned the hanger back around and hang it back in.
At the end of the time period, I could see all the clothes I had worn and all the clothes I hadn’t. Particularly as a girl, I was quite emotional about some things, I was going to get slim and get back into that dress, or I was going to find the perfect accessory.
In reality, you often don’t, so it was just kind of: “Right, categorically, those things I haven’t worn in a period of time, so they need to go.”
And then the final thing was a box challenge. I’d empty a drawer or an area into a box, and over the course of the next few weeks, as I used the items, I took them back out of the box and put them back in their place.
If, at the end of the time period, that stuff was still in the box, I probably didn’t need it anymore. Those were some of the things I used to help me get through the challenge.
I’ve now completed my “clear of 1,000 things,” and my house is lighter, brighter, and more airy because of it, but it’s also taught me a few things.
Firstly, I get just as much of a high from getting rid of something, particularly if it’s gone to someone who I know will appreciate it or use it than I did from buying it. Actually, I can remember more of the things I’ve given away than the things that I’ve kept, so for me that’s a really important legacy.
The second thing is that stuff doesn’t hold its value. I don’t know about you, but my house is not full of antiques; I don’t have artwork; I have nice furniture but not very expensive furniture. The point is it doesn’t really hold its value, so holding on to it for this perceived worth is a kind of pointless exercise.
Once you’ve spent the money, it’s spent, and it just becomes an object, so don’t look at things in terms of monetary value, just in terms of the function and use they have in your life.
The third thing is: storage solutions are the not the answer. Whatever IKEA tells you, whatever the adverts are, they’re not the solution. Just getting rid of your stuff is; having less stuff makes it easier to store. Buying stuff, repairing stuff, keeping stuff takes time, money, energy, valuable resources that we all claim we don’t have enough of.
The more I got rid of things, the more time I felt I had to do other things. It was easier to invite people over because the dining room table was already clear.
I didn’t have to think about things. I had less cookbooks to choose from, so I can totally pick out recipes a lot easier, rather than having to wade through stuff. So it gave me more energy, more time, more openness.
And the final thing is even when you get rid of it, you don’t really get rid of it. With eBay and other kind of things like that, actually, if you really miss some things you got rid of, you can just get it back, probably at a fraction of the price you already paid for it, so it’s like a big storage solution in itself.
You put stuff on, you take stuff off, like, that’s how it works. There is very few things that actually, genuinely, you won’t be able to replace or won’t be able to get. If you are worried about something, just let it go and then see how you feel.
So today, I’d like to challenge you to go home and get rid of one thing, or ten things, or 100 things and then see how you feel.