It happened to me by accident.
When we first moved to Panama, our family lived for six weeks with only ten percent of our possessions and discovered the gift of time. We met our neighbors. We explored. There was nothing to maintain or care for.
The minute our "stuff" arrived? Well, life went back to normal and there was work associated with things (making beds, cleaning dishes, etc), choices to be made (what to wear, which toys to play with) and all of the distractions we'd been living without (television, toys, etc.)
That experience hung with me, but I didn't realize there was a name for it: Minimalism.
Writers like Leo Babauta, The Minimalists, Lorilee Lippincott, and Courtney Carver inspired me to make changes in my lifestyle. The following are the steps that helped me simplify my possessions:
1. Get rid of furniture that doesn't fit. In my old house, I kept furniture because I thought I would use it when we moved to a bigger house. As it turned out we lived in our starter house for about 13 years and it felt small because rooms were filled with too much furniture and items that were too big for the space. When we finally "right sized" the elements in the rooms the house felt really good. There are tons of websites out there about designing for small spaces that can give you inspiration, and thrift stores and Ikea are great places to get stuff that "fits." Also, just looking at what is taking up floor space and removing a piece or two can sometimes be all it takes.
2. Clear off flat surfaces. Having kitchen counters that are open creates workspace. But more importantly, there is a sense of visual peace when we walk into a room and our eyes can land on a place to work. It's a good idea to figure out which appliances we rarely use and either store them away or consider donating. For tables and shelves in other areas in the house, limit "decorations" and keep those areas visually clean. Deal daily with any hotspots where mail, toys, or random items collect.
3. Empty your bathroom and kitchen of consumables that you don't love. Lotions, bath salts, gourmet cocoa...we all have things that aren't used because we don't think they are awesome. Either do a swap with friends, donate to a foodbank if unopened or toss it. (Why keep it around? It is already trash, it just doesn't know it yet.)
4. Cleanse your drawers and closets. Most of us have a working wardrobe. Then we have those pieces that we see, wear for a day, then remember why we don't wear it more often. Donate what doesn't get worn every two weeks.
5. Cleanse your collections and hobbies. This is a difficult one because these things were once a part of how we defined ourselves. Many things we like, but just don't have time for. If it isn't being used...if it is creating clutter...minimize down to what is useful and donate the rest.
6. Get rid of "unitask" items. Why did you buy that quesadilla maker? You can totally make that happen in a skillet. What about the watermelon slicer? (Again...duh...knife.) Unitask items take up space. Invest in cookware that will serve multiple purposes and purge the rest.
7. Stop feeling guilty about what you paid for it. Marketing is powerful, and I have spent a LOT of money under its influence for things that didn't work out the way I thought it would (workout videos anyone?). It was a waste. And it is no less of a waste if we hang onto the item in the back of a closet. We have to reconcile that we will never, ever get that money back. The item doesn't have the value we originally assigned to it. Experiment failed. Get over it.
8. Structure your possessions for the "now." Tastes change. Phase of life changes. It is a good idea to audit our possessions periodically so that we are structured for the life we have in this moment. That hobby we don't have time for? Let it go. That jewelry we just never wear? Donate it. That expensive leather jacket we used to love but now are vegan and would never wear it? Gift it. Who we used to be and the roles those items played in our identity doesn't matter. Live for now.
9. Things are not relationships. Someone we love may have given something to us, but if it is no longer serving us releasing it doesn't diminish the relationship. Take a photo of the item and scrapbook it if needed, but definitely decouple the relationship from the thing.
10. Donate wisely. It is efficient to drop at a Goodwill center, but we can also be a bit more directive in where we take our stuff. Consider...
- Magazines to free clinics and nursing homes.
- Art supplies to schools or women's shelters.
- Professional clothing, jewelry and accessories to organizations like Attitudes and Attire or Dress for Success who help underemployed women get better jobs.
- Craigslist for workout gear and hobby items. (You can sell or gift in lots. Craigslist matches items with someone who wants them and wants the discount of buying used.)
- Do a "free garage sale" as a swap between friends of almost anything!
Minimalism looks different for different people--from the radical tiny house movement to simply deciding to declutter. One thing is for sure though, most of us in the US own more than we need or use. There are benefits to letting some of it go.