Why Have Less?

In my last post I talked about getting over your fears of decluttering, but why declutter in the first place? Many of us feel like we should organize/get rid of things, but have you ever thought about the reasons why? Understanding the benefits can go a long way in motivating you to finally get to the decluttering you have been putting off.

Less Decisions = More Time

This one is huge. Our days are made up of micro decisions (the internet claims we make 35,000 decisions a day): what to wear, what to eat, what to read, which email to respond to first, how to bribe your toddler to eat something besides cereal. If you’re like me, by the end of the day, your brain is exhausted. Simply having less reduces the amount of choices you have, and consequently the amount of time you have to spend deciding between them.

Visual Space

Just looking at and processing a large volume of objects can be exhausting. This is why circuses do not look like spas and vice versa. This isn’t to say that everyone should live in a white box, but rather that you should be in control of what you look at every day. Your walls and shelves should be filled with the things that make you happy; the amount of things you are comfortable with is completely up to you. Wouldn’t you rather look at your favorite things instead of a pile of random stuff you’ve been meaning to organize?

Freedom from your future to-do list

As a crafter, I have a tendency to save things because I might want to make something out of them later. Over time, those projects add up to the point where I can’t conceivably expect to finish them all in my lifetime, and more, after a few years they become stale and boring, and I’m on to the next thing anyway. The same goes for the sushi mat you might use to make sushi someday, or the curtains you might put up someday if you ever buy a house with an extra bedroom. Being able to decide what you’re going to do each day is incredibly liberating: free yourself from everything you might get to, eventually.

Less to clean and maintain

For large items like furniture, maintenance is obvious. You need to dust surfaces and vacuum upholstery every once in awhile, even if you’re not using those pieces on a daily basis. But what about those smaller items that are shoved away in the closet? Surely you are not expending any time maintaining those things… but what about the time you spend thinking about them? There are definitely some people who can happily shove stuff into a dark corner and go about living their lives with no ill effects. But if you’re like me, that mound of junk weighs on your mind, taunting you with it’s presence. Do you remember Monica’s closet from Friends? Shiver

Appreciation for what you have

If most of your stuff is crowded away in “storage”, you probably have little idea of what you own. Unless there is a specific use for what you are storing (decorations that come out seasonally, for example), ask yourself why you still have it. If you have a collection of anything really, chances are the item you were so excited to find and buy has now been dwarfed by the new things that were so exciting to obtain. The really special things lose their luster when surrounded by more of the same.



Decluttering: Facing Your Fears

Becoming comfortable with decluttering has definitely be a process for me, as I imagine it is for most people. It’s hard to believe, but years ago I had every single letter sent to me in childhood, every photo I ever took (even the ones that were blurred), my notebooks from high school classes, and every single paper I wrote from 6th grade through grad school. I have since gotten rid of most of these things, and don’t miss them at all.

Most people are reluctant to let go of these because of fear. Here are some of the common ones:

“I might need it someday”

If you haven’t used something for 6 months or a year, what are the chances you’re going to need it again? For most things, the chance is pretty small. For low-cost items, like kitchen utensils, office supplies, craft supplies, and makeup, the price of having to maintain and store that item is usually worth the risk of having to buy it again. When you have an overstuffed drawer full of kitchen gadgets, for example, it is super annoying to have to constantly sift through it to find something, or keep “organizing” it only to have it become mixed up again. Eliminating that daily annoyance is worth the cost of having to rebuy a pineapple corer. I have gotten rid of a ton of stuff over the years, and only once did I have to re-buy something that I had given away (a cat litter box… we were not intending to have a second cat, but one showed up anyway). If this whole concept makes you nervous, put your extra stuff in a box, hide it away for a few months, and see if you ever need to go back and take something out.

“I worked hard on that and it doesn’t seem right to throw it away”

The value in creating something, whether it was a term paper, painting, or bookcase you built, is in the actual process of creating. In the process, you probably learned a lot; it’s the knowledge that is important, not the product. Your bookcase may have taught you how to measure or use a saw, but if it’s slightly off-kilter and you never use it, it is not worth keeping. I am a prolific knitter, and after 15 years have accumulated quite the amount of knit goods. I recently parted with a large number of sweaters and socks. I didn’t wear any of these things because they did not fit me correctly, but I somehow felt it was wrong to get rid of them after all the hours I put into creating them. But then I realized that the act of knitting these things had taught me the skills that I now use to create things that fit and I use. They served their purpose, so it was time they moved on.

“My grandma gave that to me”

Sentimental items are probably the hardest to part with. Of course I am not suggesting that you get rid of things you love and bring you joy. But if you have something you actually don’t want, but keep because it belonged to a relative, it’s totally fine to donate or sell it. The person who gave you the item undoubtedly had good intentions: they thought that whatever they gave you would improve your life. Keeping something out of guilt is not improving your life.

“It was expensive”

One thing I really liked in The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up was Kondo’s ideas around your possessions serving a function and teaching you about yourself. Say you bought an expensive tool because you wanted to start woodworking, but years later never used it. That purchase was not a waste of money; it served the purpose of teaching you that woodworking is not something that you really want to pursue. If something is still valuable, you can always sell it and recoup some of the cost. Or, you could donate it with the knowledge that you are helping someone else.

“There is just too much work to do and I’ll never even make a dent, so why bother?”

Despite what Marie Kondo would have you think, decluttering can take years. The work of sifting through possessions is certainly time-consuming, but changing how you think about possessions is a long process. Once you have identified what you want to achieve (more space, less cleaning, less weighing on your mind), it’s important to keep those goals in mind. Give a gift to your future self and begin, tackling one area and going from there. Of course you won’t finish overnight, but one sure-fire way to never finish is to never start.

Decluttering is less about finding the time for action than transforming your thinking. Once you reach a place where you are emotionally ready to get rid of the extra stuff, the process becomes much less overwhelming.

Love Your Home

Turn on almost any channel and you’ll see someone looking for or building a tiny house. The common narrative among these tiny house hunters is that they want to have experiences and travel rather than spend money and time on their home. There is a tone of “You’re a better person if you hate owning things and want to see the world.”

But what if what you really, truly love is home? What if home is the best place in the world, and you want nothing more than to be surrounded by the things and the people you love? What if you really want to own nice furniture and craft supplies and cooking utensils and books? What if you like traveling, but you like coming back home more?

These are all the more reasons to only have things that you love. You can honor your home by keeping beautiful, meaningful, or useful things. When it becomes a junk receptacle, a constant, overwhelming to-do list, home loses some of its comfort. Your home should be a place where you can relax and live your life away from outside obligations. When it becomes just another obligation, then it’s time to reevaluate your situation.

For some people, this might actually mean living in a smaller house. If you hate maintaining a larger home, this can solve a lot of problems. For other people, this might mean decluttering and defining how the space can better serve you. Think of your best memories of home. Was it spending a Sunday cleaning out the basement, or was it snuggling with your pets or kids watching a movie on the couch? Was it doing laundry or washing dishes, or sitting down at your desk, writing or sewing at your machine? Spending less time cleaning, organizing, and thinking about extraneous possessions can leave more time for your favorite activities.

Life is not a game that you win by getting by on the least amount of possessions. I recently listened to a minimalism-themed podcast where the topic was boredom. The hosts used the example of someone who loved scrapbooking, but had gotten rid of all their scrapbooking stuff and was struggling to find something to occupy their time. Their answer was to take a hike or read a book, but my answer is scrapbooking. If you love something, taking that away from yourself to be surrounded by nothing is detrimental to your life.

On the flip side, however, if you always wanted to scrapbook, and went out and bought a whole bunch of cute supplies, and four years later haven’t made one page, maybe it’s time to let that stuff go. Recognize that you are not going to become a champion scrapbooker and clear that space, making room for something else, or just for calm. The important thing is that your home works for you. Frequently, eliminating unwanted items will get you closer to that goal. Sure, you’re never going to get out of doing laundry, but by having fewer clothes, you will do less laundry. Don’t get started because you should; get started because it’s truly possible to love your home more.

Nike Got It Right: Just Do It

Fill in the blank: Someday, when I have more money/time/motivation/energy, I will __________. Your blank might be to write a novel, travel more, learn a language, decorate your house, or spend more time on meal planning. Or maybe become the president if your own small country or start an award-winning magazine for muskrats. If you think it will make your life better, go for it!

Here’s my advice: Just do it. I’ve got news for you: You will never have more time, more energy, or more motivation. (You might have more money if you’re lucky, I’ll give you that one. But don’t count on it.) The hardest part is getting started. Thinking “I need to sit down and work on my book” is immediately overwhelming, and easily pushed off until tomorrow. Divide your goal into small, reachable subtasks. If your goal is to write a novel, your list might look something like this:

  • Write down the name of your main character and their qualities
  • Spend 10 minutes working on an outline
  • Before you go to bed, write one page
  • Google the plot of your book to make sure that no one has already written it

Now, today, I want you to pick something off your list (not the list above, I made it up and it’s probably terrible writing advice) and do it. Seriously, find 10 minutes to do it before you go to bed tonight. Then tomorrow, either do that thing again, or pick something else off the list and do that thing instead.

I have no intention of taking credit for this idea; in fact there are many established projects where you do one thing a day, such as taking a photo or writing a certain number of words. But here’s the thing: eventually that one thing, repeated over and over, will become a burden. Miss too many days of writing and you’ll start to feel like a failure. The point here is not to complete a repetitive exercise, it’s to get enough momentum going that you have something to work with.

One thing to keep in mind is that you actually want to do the thing, rather than just liking the idea of doing the thing. I love the idea of running a marathon, but actually getting out there and running miles, not gonna happen. If you want to write a novel, it turns out you’re going to have to actually write a novel. Amy Poehler wrote in her book Yes Please, “Doing the thing is the thing.” Get out there and work on your magazine. The muskrats will thank you.

Introducing Simple Living for Practical Humans

I have a tendency to fall down internet rabbit holes. I know you have too: you click from link to link to link, and all of the sudden you realize there are whole communities of people obsessed with certain diets and planners and breeds of rabbits. A few months ago I fell down the hole of minimalism. This wasn’t completely shocking, as my husband says that one of my favorite things to do is to throw things away (true story!) I realized that I wasn’t the only one, and there were whole communities of people who hated clutter and loved throwing things away.

I immediately googled and signed up for all of the minimalist blogs I could find. At first it was as if I had found my tribe, but then I started to notice a few things that got on my nerves. Most annoyingly, a lot of the writers seemed to have an agenda – they wanted to monetize their blog, sell services or ebooks, or get a publishing deal. If that’s your thing, then whatevs, I just couldn’t shake the feeling that I was more consumer than part of a community. Many of these writers were overly earnest, and convinced that their way of life was the right way, and they had stumbled upon the meaning of life while the rest of us poor shlubs continued to stare at our smart phones like sheep.

While some of the advice I found was golden, a lot of it was too religious or mystical. I don’t feel like I need to love myself more, meditate, or reflect on the Bible. I also didn’t intend on selling my house, traveling the world, quitting my job, or only growing my own food. Really, all I wanted was the validation to live my life however I wanted to, and gain a little bit more time for exercise, being outdoors, and my hobbies.

Simple Living for Practical Humans was created out of my desire to write more. I don’t have an agenda. I want to provide support for people who want their life to be a little less hectic. I’m not going to tell you you’re doing anything wrong. I’m not going to tell you to move into a tiny house and grow a beard (unless you want to!) I don’t pretend I have it all figured out; in fact most of my posts will be me trying to work that out for myself. If you want to read along, go for it. If you love having a giant house and a bunch of stuff, that’s totally cool! We don’t need labels for everything, and life should be a little less serious. I hope you stick around to see where this goes.