March 17, 2013

Minimalism: How to Purge Yourself of Clutter & Embrace Simplicity

What Mandy Thinks: "Words of Advice" post
My father calls us a "stuff family." Take it from him, the guy who turned the house into his art studio and storage center the second he decided to retire. (Besides his own art room, he has his own shed in the backyard next to the family one. And don't get me started on what he's done to the living room, or his "office.") I've embraced the awesomeness that comes with being "stuffed" including always having something to break the ice when friends come over, but a quote I saw recently really struck a chord with me.

"Clutter is a physical manifestation of fear that cripples our ability to grow."
- H.G. Chissell

This quote came from one of the many minimalism and decluttering eBooks I've read recently.  After my recent move from a one-bedroom (where I lived in the living room while roommates used the bedroom) to my very own studio, there's been a lingering question of "Do I really need all this stuff?"

Here are my six words of advice for minimalism and how purging yourself of clutter and embracing simplicity will improve not just your living space but also your "stuff" habits for the better:
1. Whatever you have that makes you feel LESS for having, get rid of it!  Feeling "less" can include guilt over not using something Grandma Suzy bought you for Christmas three years ago, regret for not fitting into a pair of pants purchased a year ago that you thought you'd fit into by now, and laziness because it's easier to keep it in a closet to "deal with later" than to actually deal with it now.

And another thing: worrying about what other people think of you when they don't see a gift being used is something a minimalist doesn't let happen.  And who wants a gift-giver like that in their lives anyways?  Giving something only to make themselves feel better makes the gift's receiver (you) feel less.  I'm not saying bring up the fact that Grandma Suzzy's gift was given away because you never used it.  Just internally accept the fact that even though it was very thoughtful of them, it's just something that you will never use and MOVE ON. 

What about those pair of pants you still don't fit into?  Chances are within another year you won't fit into them either if your behavior doesn't change.  If your torn between keeping something to store or getting rid of it, ask yourself how it makes you feel for having it vs how you will feel not having it or that it is not in your life any longer.

2. Practice annual "purging."  Purges are a way to trim a lot of stuff from your stuff-filled life if done regularly.  I like to go three months in between purges, going through every drawer and every coat hanger to make sure the clothes I have are what I regularly wear and continue to keep up with my current style.  I check out my junk drawer to see if any of the "junk" I've saving for later is better off in the trash or in a donation bin than tucked away not being useful.  I encounter a little voice in my head that asks so many what-if scenarios that I just need to shut her up and PURGE. 

The key to a successful purge is to a) dive right in without a second thought by pulling out as many not-so-useful things as you can, b) whittling that massive pile down into groups like "donate/re-gift", "toss", and "keep", and c) sticking to your final piles by actually donating them, tossing them, and putting away the kept things.  If your purge ends in a small donation pile, you can save it in a DONATE box or bag in your closet that you can add to for the next few months until your next purge or when it gets too full to keep around.

(Some of my "keep" items are actually for "re-purpose" more than anything, so don't forget to ask yourself if you can make a not-useful thing useful by changing its purpose.)

3. Everything needs its own place.  I have been guilty of buying something I don't need and bringing it home to realize that I can't find a place for it.  Before you make a purchase, you must visualize that thing you want to buy in your home or on you if it's wearable.  How do you see it matching or going with other things in your home or wardrobe?  If the answer is not easy to come by, this item is not worth buying.  Don't get something because you "think" you can make it work.

Don't keep something around you already own if its "place" is not easily identifiable either.  I keep all my clothes in the closet, including my dresser since my semi-walk-in closet is big enough to keep that monstrosity out of my main room.  All desk items are at or near my desk within arms reach.  My dining table and chairs are in my kitchen due to limited space and to separate the main living space from the space for food.  There's only one closet and a ton of cabinets in my kitchen, so I separate out the largest cabinets farthest from the kitchen as my "second closet" for smaller items I use a lot like paper towels, candles, batteries, and the dreaded "junk drawer."  Evaluate your current organizational structure and consider a way to make it better with signifying clear places for items in your home.

4. Take a minute out of every day to keep clutter at bay. One whole minute.  That's all you need to start with.  Who can't spare 60 seconds to put a pair of shoes away or at least place dirty dishes from the living room into the sink?  Practicing these spurts of cleaning times makes a huge difference once it's done regularly and with habit.  Soon you'll notice it's second nature for you to tidy up when a moment can be spared or at a specific time every night like right before bed.  The more you carve out these cleaning times throughout your week, the less messy and more organized your space will be on a regular basis.

5. What's really important: your stuff or your life around the stuff?  What you own and how you live are completely separate things.  There are plenty of minimalists out there that strongly agree that the way you live your life is way more important than the materialist things you have.  I'm not saying give everything you own or anything this drastic.  Just consider what is really important to you in your life that is not a material item you can replace.  Sifting through all the clutter doesn't feel so daunting if your priorities are in the right order.

I'd argue that you should keep a long-term perspective by asking yourself a few "good what if's" that force you to consider the important things in life.  What do you often hear from victims of house fires or natural disasters?  "We lost some valuables but most if it is just stuff."  "It can be replaced."  "All that matters is that we're all OK."  For those who are fortunate to be reading this without having gone through a complete and total loss of their belongings, there's some "what if's" that could happen to anybody when it's least expected.  If all of it is gone in an instant, what will you miss the most?  If I suddenly die without warning, what will become of my stuff?  If I had to leave at a moment's notice due to a disaster, what would I grab and would I be able to grab it all in time (meaning is it accessible quickly)?

6. Stay positive!  That last suggestion may have been slightly depressing, but all of that aside it's the stuff itself that can depress you as well.  Staring down a bloated and messy closet just makes you feel bloated and messy.  Always envision what life will be like for you in a better light: All your stuff is put away where it should be, there's no piles of unnecessary items in drawers or on the floor or anywhere.  Cleaning up takes much less time since you've spread out time throughout the week to manage it all.  Life is great in this less-cluttered world, so get yourself there with positive habits and an attitude that will last.

For all you hard-core minimalists out there who can live out of a duffel bag, more power to you.  For all you organizational freaks (I say this with love) who can't let anything sit outside of a labeled box, more power to you, too.  For those who like to keep an extra shed for your mountains of stuff (I'm talking to you, Dad-e-o), there may be something you can do to reduce your mountain to a more manageable mole-hill while still living the life you want to live.  This post is NOT about behavior control or forcing ideals onto those who don't want to change.  I'm only here to suggest ways to make your life easier by keeping away clutter and embracing some minimalistic practices.  It's helped me focus on what's really important in my life, and I hope at least skimming this post has helped you in any way.

Have any other minimalistic / organizational / clutter-free tips to share?  Let me know in the comments.

No comments:

Post a Comment

follow mandy