Why I Began Simplifying Life
Although it’s been about two months since I landed in San Diego, I have a couple walls of boxes that are still packed. After living out of a suitcase for over seven weeks (at least three weeks before the move, and four on the road-trip) those boxes don’t seem too urgent. Part of me wants to never even open them, just drop them off at a thrift store. But as a lot of that stuff is not actually mine and I am still missing a book I wanted to finish reading, the remote, my Sharpies, and some vital paperwork, I am going to find those things first. After all, they are probably somewhere–I found my shower curtain just the other day thrown in with some picture frames and snow gear (the later of which will surely be used all the time in San Diego).
One thing that has become clear to me it that simplifying life is an art that all advocates and activists need to embrace. I began to move into a more minimalist lifestyle the first time I did the Little Black Dress Project (you can read about what I learned from this here) and it was amazing how freeing it was to reduce the clothing in my closet. I knew I wanted to apply the same idea to my home, but I really didn’t have any margin of time to work on it much until It was required of me by moving.
Here is a fancy stupid poem I wrote just for you to express my feelings about this procedure:
Bags of stuff, and lots of fluff!
Toys and pens, gobs of them!
Throwing trash out of the door,
Mrs. Johnston was in uproar.
Garage sales, thrift stores and many lists,
Still minimizing to be just the best.
Over eight years, despite purging every couple months, it is amazing how family of five and a few roommates’ stuff piled up when living in the same home. Our move was a six week whirlwind of selling, giving away, and throwing out stuff to fit all we owned (including ourselves) into two cars and one 16x8x8 container. Although I am not yet sold on having moved away from my community (yes–still grieving), I am totally sold on how important taking six weeks of our life to minimize was.
You see, the fluff we had didn’t really help us–no, the fluff took time to maintain and remove when we could have been using our time in more useful and enjoyable ways. For example, twice a year I would take over a week just to sort through sizes/seasons of my kids clothing! Yes, I my philosophy was that I would give it away when done using it. But I could have just kept (or only bought) 25% of their wardrobe in the first place!
I want to be free of things that tie our family down and make us less flexible. Who cares if we use it when it is around because it we don’t notice it is gone, then wasn’t worth the energy to maintain in the first place. Our stuff is a distraction and a lie.
My Decluttering Genius
A little while ago I was helping a friend of mine, an avid organizer, write a business plan for a potential simplifying and decluttering business. This chick has skills, too. When moving I brought her a pile of boxes and bags. Enfolded within them was all the random kids junk leftover at my house, in my van, and anything in a cupboard or drawer from one of our bathrooms. Two hours later, she handed me back two medium plastic bins, a basket of kids toys, and bin of CDs for the car.
What happened to everything else? I don’t know, I don’t care, and I sure don’t need it.
In the business plan, I kept writing phrases to express what she is good at, like “Simplicity to Stress-Free!”
That might sound trite, but there is so much truth to it. Why do us advocates need to take the time to work on own clutter? Because otherwise our stuff ties us down, stresses us out, and even sucks us dry. Or maybe if not us personally, the people who live with us, like family and close friends can be affected by stressful lives–stressful stuff. What if we chose simplicity by removing junk from our lives?
Three Questions To Help You Minimize
I might believe in it, but like most average people, I have a hard time with it: What if I need it? But they kinda play with it, though! I generally like it. Because I sorta have a space for it, I should keep it just in case.
But this is the question I am training myself to ask in regards to stuff:
Is the cost of keeping it worth being hindered by it?
I think teaching yourself to see the cost is difficult. For example, concerning the intelligent refrigerator toy that I often find myself cursing: I step on the alphabet pieces all the time while cooking, and goop always gets on them because food regularly falls off the kitchen counter for no apparent reason. The “A” that says “aah” and the “D” that says “duh” and the “O” that says “ahh” (which subsequently bothers me, as I deeply feel within me that the “O” really should make a different sound) do not stay in the kitchen, but wander into every nook and cranny in the house and car and I just get so mad because they freaking belong on the refrigerator door!
Then this question occurred to me after nine months of this torture: Is my toddler’s enjoyment of this toy worth my frustration (and besides, will this effectively teach him the necessary linguistic skills to turn him–incredibly so–into a proficient reader by age two)?
No and no! Just like that, I am free of this wonderfully meaning, but terrible in practice toy. Now to find all the pieces . . .
A friend of mine gave me two other questions to ask, which I’ve found helpful in parting with my junk. First, he said I should keep anything I am currently using regularly (by this standard, I’d keep my coffee grinder, but not my George Foreman). If you’re not using it now and don’t really need it, you can probably find it used somewhere without spending too much. A minimalist blogger I listened to encouraged people to consider thrift stores as your storage closet.
Secondly, If you’re not regularly using it, but if you could categorize it as something that brings you joy, then keep it! I would never keep a closet full of shoes. But for some people, shoes are their passion. It is okay for you to keep your shoes if that feet swag makes you really happy (at least until we become professional minimalists). Yet if your books don’t make you smile every time you see them, chuck those puppies. I, on the other hand, just love to stand and stare at my bookshelf (or my friend’s bookshelf in the below picture). Let’s just say that although I got rid of a box or two of books before I moved, I brought even more with me. Just because they make me so happy and I love to pet them! (Not really, but, well . . .)
This qualifier really helps me work through the “but I like it!” dilemma. It is okay to like it, I just don’t need to keep it if my feelings are that mediocre. One less thing to clean/pack/put away, adding up with all the others like it. BOOM–more simplifying life!
Again, here are three questions to help you declutter:
- Is keeping it worth the cost to you, your family, your finances, your feet, etc…?
- Are you currently using it regularly?
- Does it bring you great happiness?
Advocate, unless you create margin to clean up your own junk (both internally and externally), you might not be able to foster financial margin, being able to give as freely. You also might not be able to find the time to spend volunteering and caring for those in need. If your desire is to love others and be a healthier person, I challenge you to work on this counter-cultural simplifying life project with me.
We need each other on this journey to help us get rid of rather than get more. In fact, we might all need to hire professional organizers and declutterers to simplify and live with less stress! I am far from a minimalist, but because I see the value in keeping my life unhindered, I am working through the process of not being held down by stuff.
“let us strip off every weight that slows us down . . .” Hebrews 12:1
What is the most difficult thing for you about simplifying? What is your story when it comes to being hindered (or not hindered) by stuff?
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