Identifying what is going on on the inside, causing us to surround ourselves with stuff, is the very first step in the attempt to simplify our lives. Clearing out the clutter is what will naturally follow on our minimalist path. But, where does one begin? I believe this will actually differ for every person and for every family. There are so many diverse family and life dynamics that will come into play, that there really is no "one size fits all" plan to de-clutter and clear out space. But, that being said, there are some tried and true steps that everyone can take to at least get the process started. Once we can take that first step, the rest will naturally come to each of us in the way that it should. Some will end up with 100 things, while others will still have a house, a car (or two) and a living room set. But, the "stuff" is not the identifying factor in whether or not one is a "minimalist" or living out the "simple life." It's the meaning behind the stuff. The why of it. Why do we keep it? What purpose is it serving? And lastly, does it serve us or are we serving it?
I began practicing "Voluntary Simplicity" back in 2005 when I discovered a little book by Elaine St. James titled Living the Simple Life. The book was mind blowing to me. Having grown up with parents who were ultra consumers and who valued people by what and how much they owned, the idea of valuing time and relationships over stuff was completely alien to me. All I grew up doing was going to the mall with my mom and shopping, shopping, shopping. It's how I learned to validate who I was. Coming across St. James' book was very liberating to me. It taught me something fresh. Something new. Hey, I could actually find validation in the non-material. In relationships. In time. In giving back. Once I read one book about the voluntary simplicity movement I continued to search for more. I wanted to know everything there was to know about it. I started de-cluttering one room at a time, gave up TV for a year, became a vegetarian and started to thoroughly enjoy life a lot more. Unfortunately, I wish I could say that I never looked back. But, that just isn't true. The truth is, simplifying and minimalism is a situation of one step forward and two steps back. Sometimes, ten steps back. That's definitely what happened to me. In the past ten years, since first discovering the simple life, I have gone into it full force and then gotten out of it completely. Some may look down on that and say, "Well then, who are you to tell me how to simplify my life?" My answer? I'm a normal person who's been through this, tried it, failed at it, tried it again, succeeded, learned from it and am now here to share my experiences with you. What worked and what didn't.
So, here we go. What didn't work?
- I got rid of all the clutter FIRST , before figuring out what was going on on the inside that caused my compulsive shopping or accumulating.
- I cleared it all out and then decided that I actually really liked xyz later on and so I went out and replaced it. If you love it don't get rid of it. Plain and simple.
- I honestly wasn't ready to take the step into a simple life. I thought I was. I really wanted it. I did. But, I was not ready. It truly takes a level of maturity and commitment that I honestly did not have.
What has worked?
- For me? Doing it slowly. I know that for others a packing party or something more drastic is what they need to catapult themselves into a simpler life. It did not work for me until I became intentional about it. I need time to digest change, process it, understand it, welcome it, receive it and love it. Once it has been properly processed, I am way more likely to stick to it and not go back to past habits.
- I figured out that I was keeping stuff out of "obligation" to others. Somehow, I felt guilty letting some things go because I thought it would offend those who had given them to me. I also had a hard time letting go of things that represented happy memories from the past.
- I started with one room at a time, as opposed to overwhelming myself with the entire house. Kitchen first, Restrooms second. Closet third. And so on and so forth.
- I asked questions. "Why am I keeping this? Am I getting any value from it? Does it serve to make my life simpler? Can I let go of it and still cherish the memory it represents?"
- I kept, donated, sold, and tossed.
- I chunked it into daily tasks and visited Salvation Army or Goodwill once a day, every single day.
- I looked forward to it. I enjoyed it. I reminisced about the past with certain items and then felt the incredible joy of letting it go.
- I cried. Yes. I did.
- I was honest with myself. Nope. I will never fit into those size 2 Abercrombie and Fitch ripped jeans that still have a tag on them. Besides, who wears those? Ick.
- I kept myself accountable by sharing my journey with others.
- I didn't go to places that could make me fall back into a shopping compulsion again, a.k.a. the mall.
- I volunteered at the Humane Society and spent my time advocating for animals.
- I adopted new passions and hobbies that kept my mind on other things besides accumulating stuff.
Have I gone back and forth since 2005? Absolutely. Life happens. However, every time I fall off the bandwagon, my fall is less and less. I've gotten myself to the point where what is in our house is what we use, love and value. Do we still have excess? We have a growing child, so in some things, yes (children's toys and such). But, I have made it a habit of re-visiting the de-cluttering process in the spring and summer. Twice a year, every year, I start with one room and go from there. It gives me a sense of accomplishment when I am finished. I have given things away to those who could use it. Our house ends up looking spacious and peaceful. It boosts everyone's mood to walk into a house that is clean and open. It increases the quality of our life and our marriage. Less really is more.
Start with the very first space today... your mind. Once you've worked on that, move on to the physical part of minimalism and give it a go. Be kind to yourself. If you fall, get back up and try again. Don't quit. Over time, it will be the very best life change you will ever make.