I will admit that in some ways I am new to the concept of “minimalism”. While I have known for years that I “have too much stuff” and “need to do something about it” there wasn’t any reason behind it other than frustration. And whenever I did any research about it I ran into opinions and methods that seemed extreme. People competing to see who could keep the fewest things like some bizarre contest. Getting rid of everything and only replacing things you “truly need”. Major lifestyle overhauls that need to be done right now!
And I floundered. Because none of those methods or ideologies worked for me. And then, in a moment of pure serendipity, I found the Minimalists Podcast. Now I’m not big on podcasts. I had only ever really listened to one podcast years ago and I decided to look up that podcast to see whatever happened to it. It was still going so I downloaded a podcast app for my phone and started downloading. Well, I happened to look at the list of Top Podcasts and saw the Minimalists Podcast and decided to give it a try. After all I was trying to downsize my life. And it worked for me. The way they present it – here are some ideas that have worked for them or others, take what works for you, modify to fit you – made sense to me. I’ve taken some of their advice and mixed it with ideas I found elsewhere. I’ve finally figured out my why.
Not to say that they don’t have their detractors. I’ve read comments ranging from “they don’t say anything new” to “they aren’t extreme enough” to “they don’t think capitalism is bad”. But to all of those people I say this – how many people have you gotten to reduce their footprint in the world? How many people have you helped off the treadmill of seeking happiness through item acquisition? No, I’m never going to be in the running for title of Minimal-est and have everything I own fit in a grocery bag. But I am going to pare down because of the ideas and encouragement I first found in that podcast.
Here is what is going away today. Yarn, needles, and a knitting book from when I decided to try knitting. That experience has made me appreciate knitters even more. A small metal pail that I picked up at work one day to keep office supplies in. A book that I read 9 years ago and kept “just in case” I wanted to loan it to someone.
Decluttering doesn’t have to be about removing big items that have been stored for years. It can be a little thing that takes up space instead of making life better.
The blue pieces are from a tea set I purchased about eight years ago. Back then I was more into the “ritual” of tea than I am now. I liked the process of filling this mug, taking back to the table or the dance room (fancy term for living room with no furniture), and letting it steep while I sat. Now I’m more of a “large pyrex container and a strainer” girl. Don’t want fancy, just my tea. This may be going to my dear friend Kate who had something similar that broke in travel years ago. She’s going to try it out this morning to see if she likes it.
Next to that is a bell. Someone at work gave that to me when I broke my ankle a year ago. When your voice doesn’t carry well you sometimes need other ways to call for help when bedridden.
Finally, a PS3 box. I don’t have the PS3 anymore. Traded it in last summer. But even before that all this box was doing was holding up other stuff.
There. It doesn’t have to be meaningful. In fact, a lot of things going away will be quite the opposite – meaningless. Or at least they will no longer have meaning – everything I’ve shown so far was important to me at some point. Soon there will probably be things that never meant anything to me past the rush of pleasure at buying them.
Why am I doing this? What is driving me to get rid of stuff that I have had for decades? Yesterday I decided to get rid of things that I have had for 20 years. I’m sure that there are older items yet to come.
Simply put, I have finally come to the realization that stuff does not equal happiness. Oh, I’ve known it in my head for years. But I didn’t really understand it. It was one of those things that “everyone knows” but that no one ever follows. I was dissatisfied with something in my life and felt that the next knick knack or doohickey would bring me happiness. But now all this stuff does not support what I want to do or who I want to be.
As I said in my very first post – Jules and I want to get a tiny house but we own too much -some people would say it owns us- and would never fit into a tiny house. We talked about getting a storage unit but that seems like it isn’t the right solution. Oh, we will probably have one for seasonal items, like camping gear or winter clothing, but there is no need to store things away forever.
Now we might not end up in a tiny house. We might just move into a small apartment. Either way we cannot do that until we have less. Our stuff requires space in the form of a storage unit or a large apartment and that costs money. Prisoners of our possessions.
So, in that vein, here is what I am finding another place for today:
On top is a food mill. I used to make chile sauce out of various dried chiles I found in a local market. It was fun and the sauce was very tasty. But it went bad before I could use it all and I never started canning like I wanted to preserve it longer. Someone will use it.
The other is a bin full of nail polishes. Some of them were mine from a period when I actually used them. Some of them were presents. Some were left to me when roommates moved out. I think I’ve worn nail polish once in the last 4 years – and it wasn’t one of these.
Once I had settled on a seven day cycle for removing extraneous items from my life I knew I would start on a Sunday. Not because of some belief that a new week is a special place to start. No, just because it will be easier to remember which day of the cycle I was at. It is already going to be challenging enough without adding unnecessary mental and emotional overhead.
With the extra time I wanted the item I chose to have some importance or meaning, even though I can’t really explain what that would entail. I just knew that it would be more than an old pair of socks. And this morning I figured out what that item was:
My massage table. Twenty years ago I studied to be a massage therapist. It was something I really enjoyed and would gladly have left my IT job to pursue it if I hadn’t hurt my wrist. But I kept the table. Kept it in a closet, in a storage unit, or under a bed. It has been used perhaps three times in twenty years. The only time it hasn’t been under a bed in the last seven years is when I switched bedrooms five years ago. It meant something to me in the past but it can go to someone who will use it.
But that’s not all. While I was pulling the table out from under the bed I found even more stuff that can go.
These are saddlebags for a motorcycle I had even before I studied massage therapy. I got rid of the bike and never got another one. I’ve used them to haul stuff from one place to another when I moved.
Dog coat and boots purchased in the winter of 2008-2009. It was so cold my dog could not stay on the driveway or street but the snow was too deep for her to walk through, much less go potty. Even though she hated these they kept her safe. They have been in the saddlebags ever since I moved here from Wisconsin.
And there they go. It’s amazing how deciding to remove one thing can lead to the discovery of other things that can go along with it. It is also amazing how removing that one thing can change how you see things – from where I’m sitting I can now see at least ten things taking up space that could make someone else’s life better.
It isn’t easy to change a habit. The ingrained autopilot routines can catch us when we’re not paying attention. Just grab the remote and start channel surfing; pop open the laptop and play games; pick up the phone and check social media.
We have to put stuff in the way of those easy paths if we wish to change. Not because those habits are bad but because they impede us from being who we want to be.
My biggest reminder at the moment is this:
That is a leather bound notebook of hand made paper. I bought it months ago, wrote in it once, then left it on a shelf. I would see it and think that I should write something. The notebook now resides on my laptop. I have to consciously acknowledge the notebook’s existence and purpose every time I turn on the laptop.
And in the past few days I have written more both in and out of that notebook than in the past year. Will I keep up this pace? Who knows. I will be getting back to other things in life that mean something to me.
And I’d rather choose between meaningful things than meaningless things.
Decluttering does not come naturally to me. I tried many times on my own under the thought of “I should do something about this”. But I get overwhelmed or bored so I stop. Or I make a bit of progress and then never start again because it was too much.
None of the methods I had heard about really seemed like they would work for me:
- KonMari – gathering everything in a category and then processing that single category required a lot of work just to set up – what categories to use, what things fit in which category, the process of gathering everything together – before you made any changes.
- Packing parties – getting friends to come over to help pack everything you own. Clothing, furniture, dishes, toiletries. Everything. Then you simply unpack things you use as you need them. After a period of time you see how few of your possessions you actually use and can remove things you don’t need. The issue here is personal – I get anxious in rooms full of moving boxes. I just don’t like it. I would end up unwrapping everything.
- Progressive removal – one item on day one, two on day two, etc. Go on for as long as you care or are able.
- Just doing it – just “suck it up” and clean. Also known as the “Val putters around for an hour or two” method.
The more I read and the more I think, though, the more I realize I need to do this in a way that is meaningful for me. So I decided to do a weekly cycle. On Sunday I will start a pile with one item, Monday I will add two items to the pile, until Saturday I add seven items. The next week I will start again at one and everything will go into a second pile. After the second week I will get rid of the first pile. This will allow me to reconsider whatever is in the first pile before I find it new homes.
Part of the process for me will be taking a picture each day of the items and coming to terms with what value those items brought to my life and accepting that they no longer do. If something comes out of a pile, it will be because I realize it still adds value.
One of the tools that the Minimalists speak of is a “Must List”. Their thought (like mine) is that people say they “should” do things but never get to it. They just took it further and realized that our goals must be reframed as something we “must” do. When we view our goals as something we “should” do then we give ourselves a way out.
With that in mind I have started working on my list of what I feel I must do to live the life I want.