Day 17: Less Stuff

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.

Challenge #17

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.

Stuff Flow Chart
You should be left with a nice organized space.

2. Reflect:
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

Day 16: Simplify

If you watch much TV or read online ad’s, it may seem like the world wants your life to be complicated.

Of course they don’t say that. Instead they tell you that for every problem there is a solution and that solution is another thing, another class, another app, and another brand. To be happy all you have to do is to own the things you need to solve all of your problems.

But this simply isn’t true. There is very little evidence that owning more makes you happy. Sure financial security and being able to pay for medical care will increase your happiness, but owning another lawn chair or iPhone probably won’t.

So why is it like this?

The answer is simple. People want you to buy what they make. But most of us already own more than we need to survive. So in order to sell you more stuff they create a need, real or not, and then try to fulfill that need with their widget for only $19.99. This isn’t evil; it’s just marketing.

And the problem isn’t that marketing exists. Where you get into trouble is when you believe so many of the messages directed at you, you end up with too much stuff, too many commitments, and too many pieces of information. Soon you can’t focus, and you shut down.

At that point another widget won’t solve the problem, because the problem has become that you simply have too many things. So what’s a boy or girl to do?

The answer is to simplify.

When you simplify you do three things:

  1. You make space for the things that matter. If you walk into the house of a minimalist, you know what’s important to them, because it’s there in a room with not much else. When you simplify your life, you focus on what’s important by creating space around it.

  2. You let go of distractions. All of the other stuff in your life that you kinda sorta need is a distraction. And this goes for commitments as well as information as well as stuff. The more you have to keep track of, the more you have to work at tracking them. Simplification helps you let go of the distractions so you have more time, energy, and joy.

  3. You see who you really are. Perhaps the most powerful result of simplification is that it forces you to see your essence. No longer can you hide in a sea of stuff. Instead you are forced to stake a claim on who you are, what you want to do, and what you need to do it. Simplification is one of the most powerful processes of self-discovery and self-recognition you can go through.

So today’s challenge is all about looking at simplicity in your life and why it attracts or repels you.

Challenge #16

  1. Practice. Take a few minutes to answer the following questions:
  • What does simplicity or simplification mean to you?
  • What do you think it would be like to radically simplify your life?
  • What excites you about simplifying your life? What scares you?
  • What do you think would be possible if you simplified?
  • What would be the hardest thing to give up?
  1. Reflect: Once you’ve answered the questions take a few mins to read over your responses and reflect.
  • What do your answers tell you about your longing for simplicity or resistance to it?
  • What obstacles are you putting in your own way?
  • What are the biggest misgivings you see?
  • Which answers reveal your bravest self and which one’s reveal the fearful part of you?
  1. Share: Please share in one or all of the following ways
  • Blog – Write a post where you explore any of your answers or a reflection on your answers as a whole.
  • Post – using #30dayhappy or posting in our Facebook Group share one answer that interested you or anything else you learned.
  • Comment – Love the idea of simplifying? or hate it? Let me know in the comments below.