For years I lived in clutter. And I’m not talking the usual kind of clutter like too many credit card offers on the kitchen table. I’m talking about the kind of clutter that is right on the edge of squalor.
I lived in rooms with overflowing ashtrays, bongs on coffee tables, and dirty dishes littering nearly every surface of my home. I delayed litter box clean outs. I hid trash. I chose clothing based upon proximity and smell.
I didn’t do this because I thought it was a great idea. I did this because I thought it didn’t matter. I saw cleanliness and order as just another affectation of the bourgeois middle class lifestyle and I wasn’t having it. I refused to play the game of empty career pursuits, Ikea acquisitions, and preppy attire. No I was a rogue, an independent, and a free thinker.
The only problem was that my rebellion and slovenliness couldn’t have been more cliche. I was the most boring and ordinary of hippies. I didn’t live in nature, protest against the war, or join a commune. Instead I lived in the suburbs, smoked pot, and dressed like any number of ubiquitous patchworked pants Phish concert attendees.
What I didn’t understand was that even in my rejection of the mainstream I still thought I was what I owned. And I figured if I owned different stuff, I would be different. But I wasn’t.
But when I moved into the monastery I was forced to live with very little. I was forced to live simply with only what I needed.
No longer did I lose things all the time. No longer did I need to sort, organize, and catalog everything I had. No longer was I burdened with the idea of myself as a person who owned this and that.
Instead I was able to see that while the things were useful. These things weren’t me. And even better when I let go of the things that didn’t matter, I had more space to be grateful and appreciate the things that did.
But of course you’re probably not going to move into a monastery, so here are some simple principles that I still strive to follow on my path to being a better minimalist.
- Don’t love it? Then don’t own it.
Most of our houses are filled with things we keep because it would be a shame to throw them away. But the truth is it’s a shame to hold onto something you don’t love.
- Having Less Isn’t Wasteful
Yes I’ve gotten rid of things I’ve had to buy again, but this is exceedingly rare. Most of the stuff I’ve tossed I don’t even remember. If you’re holding onto it but not using it, that’s truly being wasteful.
- Memories Not Stuff
I try to keep a few really treasured items that remind me of events in my life. With the rest I snap a picture, save it in an album online, and then I toss it. The true treasures are your memories, not your stuff.
- Stuff Isn’t Love
Love is contained in the giving and in the thought, not in that god awful lamp. If you want to remember it take a picture. Honor the love, not the stuff that came with it.
- Reduce And Repeat
You are attached to your stuff and so letting go of it is hard. So don’t do it all at one, just shave 10% off the top. Then wait a few days or weeks and do it again. With each cycle you’ll be able to get rid of more and more stuff.
- Set Limits
I try to limit myself to two shelves of books and one shelf of CD’s. These limits force me to think about whether or not I want to get something new or keep something old. So pick a limit that is doable but challenging and stick with it.
- Get Excited About Purging
When it comes time to go to Goodwill I get excited. I’ll never have to move this stuff again. I won’t ever have to sort it. I will be free of this stuff FOREVER. If you can focus your mind on the joy of having less instead of what you’re losing, then you’ll be much happier.
- Be Patient With Yourself
Letting go of stuff takes time. Don’t be in a rush. The long term path is to diligently reduce, reduce, and reduce again. A big purge can be a good step, but remember owning less is a practice not an act.
- Take Action
If you’re not sure about an item take some action to deal with it. If you think you don’t need it, put it into a box with anything else you aren’t sure of, and label it “Do I Need This?” Put a date on it, put it in the closet, and set a reminder. If you didn’t go into the box in 3 – 6 months. Give the whole thing away. You don’t need it.
- Trust the Universe
As woo-woo as this sounds it’s actually quite practical. Trust that if you really need something you’ll be able to get it. Most of the stuff I’ve gotten rid of and needed again I’ve been able to borrow or buy without much expense.
The good thing about other people owning too much is that they probably have what you need when you need it. The only exception to this rule is emergency supplies. It’s probably not a bad idea to keep a bit extra of the stuff you’ll really need if something goes down.
Ok now for the challenge.
Choose one area of your home that gets really cluttered but won’t take you more than 30 minutes to clean. Think kitchen counter, bedside table, door side table, or desk.
Take everything off of it.
And go through these items one by one.
For each item use this flowchart to sort it.
You should be left with a nice organized space.
Once you’ve sorted, reflect on your experience.
How did it feel to clear this space in your life?
What things were the hardest to decide on?
What feelings came up when you were forced to decide what you really needed?
Do you think you could do this again and get rid of even more?
What if you did this for every space in your life?
Does this idea scare you? Excite you?
3. Share: As always share in one or all of the following ways.
- Blog – Write a post about what this sorting process was like. Or write a post about why you think you have so much or so little stuff. Write about what it might be like to radically simplify what you own.
- Post – Post a picture of your sorted area on Facebook and brag about how awesome you are. Or post a picture of a cluttered space you vow to get rid of.
- Comment – Let me know why minimalism is awesome or why you think it’s dumb. Just let me know what you think