Sarkar: Lessons from living in CWRU’s small spaces

A majority of people will live in a small space at some point in their lives. Some grow up in small houses, small rooms, or like me, in small towns. In small towns, everyone knows each other’s names and business. Your teachers know your brothers and sisters, you have class with the same five or ten people every year and you see too much of everyone, everywhere. So when I was getting ready to go to college, I was excited to get out of my small town and into a school where I didn’t know everyone’s name.

Little did I know that there was a new kind of small space awaiting me in Cleveland, and this one was literal. Everyone knows that dorms are small, but knowing it and living it were very different things. Living in a dorm forced me to reevaluate almost everything I had and everything I thought I needed.

Here are a few things I’ve learned in the process of adjusting my belongings.

The first would be that you don’t need nearly as much stuff as you think you do. You may have heard of the KonMari method, of keeping the things that bring you joy. My personal method was very similar to it, except I focused on keeping the things that brought me joy as well as things I actually needed.

For example, I had a small collection of about six sweaters prior to my decluttering. Of those six, I’d only worn two in the last six months. After I acknowledged that, I put the other four sweaters in the donate pile, and I haven’t looked back. I did the same with my shoes, books and other personal belongings.

For years, I used to keep things because they looked nice, or because I was waiting for the right opportunity to wear or use said item. But that attitude bred a sort of hapless hope inside of me. As I hoped for a future where I could wear a pair of heels to a wedding I didn’t even know if I would get invited to, I felt frustrated and displeased with my present.

At a certain point, it began to seem as if owning objects and wearing clothes led my thought processes, instead of being just another part of my thoughts. It was at this moment that I remembered something my parents had taught me since I was a child: “Things are not everything.”

Intuitively, I knew that. However, just knowing this meant nothing if I couldn’t actively apply the sentiment to my life. What made the difference to me was making the conscious decision to stop seeing my life as a collection of things, and instead to view things as just part of my life. In other words, shoes are what I wear while I eat dinner with my friends, not what dinner with my friends is for.

This change in thought process has affected my life in ways I did not expect. Obviously, move-in day this year ran a lot smoother than last year: I had a better idea of what I needed and packed less and more efficiently. In addition, my outlook has become much more positive and appreciative. Instead of focusing my attention on making a particular grade in my classes, I focus on learning the material.

Probably the most significant example is that in my day-to-day life, I am able to enjoy spending time with friends, reading and writing more than I used to because I have let go of the frustration and hapless hope of a ‘better’ future and instead embraced the present.

So here is my suggestion: Whether you live in a small space or not, do a little decluttering. You might be surprised by what you discover.