So, after spending the last 6 weeks clearing out my mother-in-law’s 5 storage units, I felt a not-so-sudden urge to simplify my own life even more. In recent years, I’ve become increasingly fond of the movement towards minimalism. Dealing with the results of a lifetime of hoarding caused this affection to grow exponentially.
Stuff is killing us.
There’s just too much of it. Every surface, every cupboard, every draw – more stuff! How much of it do we even use? How much of it requires us to spend money on storage and space just to keep it, even though it adds no value to our lives?
I find clutter exhausting. It collects dust, costs money, and fills up precious white space. I like my white space. Just look at the lovely margins around this blog post. Aren’t they soothing?
This is why I’m driven to pursue a minimalistic lifestyle. Contrary to popular thought, that does not mean divesting oneself of all possessions and living like a monk in a stark cell. It means curating one’s possessions and pursuits so that money and time is only devoted to things that add value to your life.
What do I mean by ‘adds value’? Anything you own or do should bring you joy. That could mean the blessed relief your humidifier brings you in the dry, dirty winter, or the smile that involuntarily reaches your lips when you see that photograph of your best friend, or the comforting, snuggly warmth you feel when you curl up in that soft blanky.
The three extra spatulas in your draw that you never use – not bringing you joy.
That curling iron that makes you feel guilty every time you see it because once again you don’t have the time to create glistening tendrils to frame your face – not adding value.
Once you get the mindset right, it becomes easier to let things go. You just ask yourself: “Does this add value to my life? Is this costing me more in time/guilt/maintenance/storage space than it’s worth? If I put it in a box for 6 months, will my quality of life suffer? Will I even notice it’s gone?”
The minimalistic mindset doesn’t happen overnight. I’ve slowly removed ‘layers’ of things from my life, gradually pairing things down until I have just enough of something to make me happy – not so little I feel deprived, not so much I feel guilty for never using it or irritated by the clutter. It’s an ongoing project, but I feel lighter as each layer falls away.
So where do you start? It’s exhausting and frustrating to declutter your entire life in one go. Start in one area of your life and pair down the items. Here’s a 3-step process that can help.
- Sort like items together rather than spaces. For example, books and magazines, music, shoes, make-up, etc. This will help you spot duplicates and see how much of one sort of thing you have.
- Focus on what you use and love, and therefore want to keep. Put those items aside.
- Donate, give away, or sell the items that don’t make the cut.
Don’t look at each thing and think about how it’s a shame to get rid of it, or how much you spent on it, or how you might need it one day. Think of how it’s lying in your drawer, lonely and purposeless, waiting for someone who will give it the love it deserves. Think of how happy someone else would be to receive it, knowing they will use it often and enjoy it.
If you really can’t decide whether to get rid of something or not, put it in a box for 6 months. If you don’t use it (or even notice it’s gone), re-home it.
Beware the 4 evil excuses of doom:
- What if I need it? What if the world ends tomorrow? What if unicorns are real? You can’t live your life based on what if. There are endless possibilities of what might happen, but the odds are, if they do, you won’t remember you had the thing you now need or where you put it or it’s outdated or you don’t like it anymore and…you end up buying a new one anyway. Keep the things you use daily, weekly, monthly, seasonally. If you’re not going to use it more than once a year, do you really need to keep it? Could you borrow one when you do? Will it cost that much to hire or replace?
- If I just… Don’t keep items that require significant time or money investment before you can use them. For example, “If I just lose weight, I could fit into that dress.” “If I just alter/paint it, I could use it.” “If I just buy more stuff to go with it, it would work.” You’re living in a dream world where you have time, money, and energy to do a bunch of things you will never do in real life. Don’t you feel guilty every time you look at that “If I just” item? You don’t need that in your life. Cut it out.
- But Great-Aunt Mary’s cousin’s nephew gave it to me. Again with the guilt. Does the item make you happy? Do you use it? If not, it shouldn’t be in your life. Remember people through experiences and photographs, not things. Either take a photo of the item OR keep one item to remind you of the person (not every little thing they ever gave you) OR display a photograph of the person instead. Wouldn’t they be happier to see a photo of themselves in your house rather than that awful urn they brought you from Greece?
- It has sentimental value. Why? Because it reminds you of something, right? Wouldn’t you rather record the story than keep the thing? Kerry the Mac explained how to do this here.
- But it was so expensive. And you’re still paying for it in storage space and guilt. Sell it and let someone else benefit from it. Then use the cash for something really useful, like coffee and cake.
As I continue to purge my own possessions, I’ll post about my progress and any wisdom or tips I pick up along the way.
Have you had any experience decluttering, minimizing, simplifying, or purging? Share it with us in the comments!