Signs that Minimalism is Working for You

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I’ve been rocking the minimalist mindset for a few years now. I had gotten myself deep in clutter during my early 20’s and resolved to change it around 24 or so. Growing up, I had picked up my mom’s habit of never throwing away anything for the sake of not being wasteful. A virtuous reason, but not without its consequences. It took me a long time to realize that my time spent cleaning up and organizing my things was also wasteful, and buying more and more stuff was only adding to the pile. Watch The True Cost and you’ll get a not so rosy picture of the hidden tolls behind our consumption habits (the montage of young teenagers showing off their shopping “hauls” on YouTube stuck with me, but here’s an example of what I mean).

Not everything is bad, though. Minimalism when viewed from the outside is criticized as stark, idealistic, and full of sacrifice. When I first heard of tthe  concept, my immediate reaction was defensive. How many things am I allowed to own to be a “minimalist?” How can I be without my things? What if I regret throwing something away? Who would I be without my treasured possessions? So I tip-toed into the journey tentatively, slowly – not quite Marie Kondo style where you go all in, but as the journey has progressed, I’ve noticed quite a few things.

1. Cleaning takes less time. I used to get tremendous joy from the act of cleaning up and organizing. It gave me a sense of accomplishment – as moving around and other forms of exercise usually dies. But it honestly gets old after a while. It’s a bandaid solution to the problem of why does my home get so dirty so easily that it warrants cleaning it so much? Now that there is so little stuff to put away, all it is is some scrubbing and vacuuming of stray bits of dirt and hair every couple weeks and my place is still largely spotless.

2. You no longer have a need to “organize” things. Everything has its place. Stuff that gets used is returned to their places. But for a while, I spent a lot of time perusing The Container Store, looking for ways to better organize all of my stuff.

Then it hit me: Silly Meg – You don’t need more organizing solutions. You just need fewer things that need organizing. I think my dad said it best when he exclaimed that it was ridiculous that I was buying containers for things that already came with free containers. Decanting is generally an aesthetic exercise (unless you buy in bulk).

Not that an utter lack of thoughtful design in your home isn’t valuable – because it is very much a way of creating a sanctuary you actually want to be in – but reducing the stuff removes some of the need for it. I haven’t had to organize makeup since I switched to rubbing some argan oil on my face when it gets dry. If I need makeup I can borrow it from someone who uses it more often so I don’t need to blow money on something I only use a few times a year.

3. Less time looking for things. When you know where everything is, and your system prevents stuff from getting misplaced, then you won’t need to look for things as often. Given the ridiculous amount of time and panic we put ourselves through looking for our things, clearing out all of the hiding places will make what we do own more easily accessible.

4. A decreased need, and desire, to go “shopping.” With fewer things comes fewer maintenance tasks, and fewer tools needed for those maintenance tasks. With how much thought I put into purchases these days, and how little desire I have to get into my car and drive, it’s no surprise that I rarely go to the mall these days.

5. …and subsequently, a change in your spending habits. With less stuff needing maintenance and care, my trips to Target whittled down from once every two weeks to once a month. Purchases made on a whim were reduced as I got more thoughtful about what would make the cut to live in my home. The price of maintaining, storing, moving, and disposing of the item and subsequent environmental impacts are all questions I’d ask myself before handing over any cash. What I do spend my money on – classes, books, travel, gifts for others –  is all tied to innate desires and goals rather than buying stuff that I’ll get tired of in a few months.

6. Less bumping into things – less stubbing of toes, accidentally whacking an elbow, stepping on odds and ends, knocking over decorative knickknacks, and other annoyances. Helpful for adults, children, and older adults too. With a clear floor, there isn’t just room to walk, but room to dance!

7. More time to ponder life. Ohh, this one is huge. Somehow, I’ve gotten myself into a situation where I’m getting identity crises on a weekly basis. With less time living life on autopilot mode (cycling through routines without any break), I’ve gotten more and more thoughtful about how I want to live, which leads to me questioning my thoughts, behaviors, and actions more thoroughly. Living with intention has thus become a habit.

8. More space in your brain. This leads to more calmness of mind, as you have fewer things that call for your attention and valuable brain energy. There are only so many things you can deal with at any one time, and Type A personalities like me tend to forget that. You’ll then also be more able to comprehend difficult subjects or run your brain through something mentally challenging.

9. You’re more efficient with your time. I suddenly found that I was spending so much less time doing mindless, unsatisfying tasks, and spending more time on things that have proved fulfilling. The workout equivalent for me would be the mindless 30-minutes-on-a-treadmill workout vs the lifting progressively heavier weights workout, where I can see and feel progress.

10. You’re happier . This is the bottom line, right? All of these enhancements should lead you to become a happier, more fulfilled human being. If it’s not working out this way, then perhaps there is another type of change that needs to happen. Minimalism is just a means to an end.

Passion and Mom’s Closet

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Passion is a curious, paradoxical thing. It has the capability of completely wiping out our energy stores faster than we can replenish them, at the same time endowing us with the energy we need to take action. It is a catalyst for hard work and dedication, breeding elite athletes, scholars, and artists. Passion makes us scream, yell, and cheer at sports games. It makes us cry and hit things when we feel frustrated. Passion keeps us awake at night, mulling over thoughts and kneading them over and over like a lump of dough. It is an emotion that is fraught with intensity to a level that defies logic. And that is why we must keep it in check, lest we careen over the edge of sanity and sensibility, and it turns against us and overdo ourselves to our breaking points. Then we step into the land of Unhealthy Choices.

Too often, we use stuff as a measure of how much passion we have. To show our passion for others, we shower them with gifts. We don symbolic jewelry and graphic tees. We plaster bumper stickers on our cars. We buy logos and proudly display them. We buy gear and supplies, often hoping that the purchases will guilt us into following through on an activity we’ve been meaning to do. We keep things to display to others who we are and what we represent.

These outward shows, as we know, are just the tip of the iceberg. We can draw some inferences from them, but only just a sliver. We truly get to know people by being with them, not by just looking at them or watching them from afar. By experiencing life with them. By having a two-way conversation with them. By listening, taking in, and comprehending. No need to agree or disagree with them, perhaps – but you know, the beyond-the-stuff and beneath-the-skin difficult and mushy stuff we all keep repressed deep inside.

The journey of sifting through of things and letting them go is a truly personal experience. And this was a journey my mom had to go through when she decluttered her closet. Decades of stuff piled up in boxes and on shelves were confronted and thanked for their service before being passed to another owner. And then the newly found time and energy was redirected to writing about her childhood memories. How awesome is that?! These stories helped me know her better than a pile of things ever would. Stuff has a way of occupying the mind despite not actively interfering with day-to-day life, and confronting it helps us refocus our attention to our passions.

Let’s Talk Jewelry: The Oxymoron that is Minimalist Jewelry

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I know, I know. We need to talk about jewelry. I am a young professional woman and a so-called self-proclaimed  minimalist. And yes, we are going to have the jewelry talk. Before you come at me with your pitchforks and cries of heirloom problems and diversification of assets and judgmentality – just relax for a second and just know that I do indeed own and wear jewelry. I’m not here to tell you to throw it all away – what a scary thought!

Yes – fundamentally, there is never a need for jewelry. There is no reason why anyone would need jewelry to survive. Nobody climbing icefalls on Everest would ever decide to take a pearl necklace because it would help him or her safely ascend the mountain, and animals certainly don’t care to wear jewelry. The value and meaning of jewelry is assigned by culture or religion for symbolic reasons only – traditions, memories, class, aesthetics – all of which don’t really require material things. Historically, silversmiths and goldsmiths hammered away at crafting fine crown jewels and intricate adornments for members of the upper class. It was rare to see a peasant wearing a gold necklace.

Today, jewelry is still used frequently as a marker of social class. This is where my vexation starts. We tell prospective husbands that a wedding ring should cost three months of salary, but we don’t tell them that the cost of the ring correlates with their chance of divorce. To think that financing a rock is a thing. Just like how we ask questions like “How much house can I afford” rather than “How much house can I buy to maximize my LIFE EFFICIENCY?!” Life efficiency defined partially as: less time spent sitting in traffic and more time enjoying the immediate community without requiring a trek. These days, loans have made it ridiculously easy for most people to purchase things they cannot really afford. They’re essentially the opposite of sale prices. Instead of 10% off, a loan is really a way of saying, “pay 20% of the price, then another 10% on top for every month that you haven’t paid the remainder of the price!” In a country like America, uninformed people get sucked into predatory lending contracts all the time and end up in financial disasters when they realize that perhaps they didn’t get the whole picture of what they were getting themselves into.

I realize that I went off on a tangent – but the point I’m making is, fine jewelry is generally a poor investment – diamonds are not actually rare – and at least in this country, because we can easily take out a loan and buy one, mean nothing in the realm of social class. The appearance of social class is becoming meaningless anyway. These days, when I see someone’s fancy car, I wouldn’t automatically assume that that person is well off. That person could be in crippling debt, or just be willing to toil away at the office a bunch of extra years to afford it. Moreover, after having spent enough time in the corporate world and paying a lot more attention to people’s conduct and professionalism than the jewelry they are wearing, I’ve become numb to the presence of jewelry. I’ve only really paid attention to it if it was particularly distracting, like clinking bracelets, oversized necklaces, or baubly earrings. My mom has told me stories of people cutting off strangers’ fingers in China to steal rings for money. I’m sure they’re mostly freak situations, but nonetheless – just like with expensive bags, I prefer the peace of mind of not having “STEAL ME” posters all over me than the “pride” of walking around with a thousand dollar necklace. Lighter, freer, more peace of mind. No need to remove jewelry at the airport security line and no need to worry about someone stealing fine jewelry.

But that doesn’t mean I go to my nearest Claire’s and try to get the sophisticated look with fake pearls and cubic zirconia. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Sterling silver tarnishes and gold wears down. My favorite material of choice…happens to be stainless steel.

Yes, surgical stainless steel. The kind they use in dental implants and other medical devices. It’s durable, hypoallergenic, easy to clean without nasty chemicals, and doesn’t stain easily like sterling silver does. Best of all, it’s not expensive. Yet, it’s so hard to find places that make jewelry made of stainless steel (my favorite vendor is from the Netherlands). As far as jewelry, I am partial to studs because I can put them on and forget about them. Rings, necklaces and bracelets usually get in the way of athletic pursuits, not to mention the danger of snagging on delicate materials. Studs are a simple way to adorn myself without much fuss. And isn’t that the point of minimalism? To reduce the amount of fuss you have to make so you can focus on what’s truly important to you?

Minimalist Design and User Experience

My new faucet!

Recently, I was at Home Depot looking for a new faucet. I wasn’t about to replace the entire sink, so I needed one with a 3-hole configuration. For about 30 minutes, I stared at the gallery of faucets on the pallet racks, slowly narrowing down my choices. The thought process I was going through reminded me that I was applying my intuition of user experience to an everyday product. My brain was getting flooded by all the options and thoughts, but the one I chose in the end was influenced by a combination of ease of use, cleanability, price, and aesthetics. The single handle mechanism makes it simple to calibrate for temperature. Of course, not everybody has the same purchasing factors in mind. Maybe price is the limiting factor and the cheapest option will do. In my case, I really wanted something that was easy to clean – no gaps and limiting of weird edges that are hard to get to with a sponge.

“User Experience” is a term familiar to anyone working in the digital realm, especially in a corporate setting. Good UX generally requires a fundamental understanding of its principles and a robust backing of research-based findings. The tech industry is really honing in on ensuring good user experience in its products e- part of the iOS’s appeal is its ease of use. My 3-year-old niece picked up the iPad interface quickly – she probably knows more about how to use it than I do.

I’m not professionally trained on the subject, but after reading the thoughts of designers, evaluating and re-evaluating of products on the market (read: former shopping addiction), and architecture/structural engineering study, I’ve decided that overdesigning these days is rampant. We’re so focused on adding unnecessary elements that end up making systems cluttered and inefficient. Our brains don’t need to be overly stimulated by all that is in front of us – decision fatigue is a thing. Design should be used to improve the speed, efficiency, and effectiveness of a thing. Done right, and it will be naturally visually pleasing already. What frustrates me is while we can design impressively user-friendly applications in niche areas (like our purses), we often fail to create positive user experiences elsewhere. Long commutes are terrible uses of our time (especially if we drive). Slews of ugly and over-designed spreadsheets and illogical file structures at work (why we accept having flowery backgrounds as a design feature is beyond me). Piles of forget-about-it stuff in cabinets. Perhaps it is my structural engineering background that makes me gripe about pointless architectural design (and why the best designs intersect the need for structural integrity with visually pleasing aesthetics), but there is a sort of intuition that comes from exposure to good design that makes sense. It cannot really be learned from school.

But what we can start doing is questioning how we set up our lives, and whether or not they have good user experience in their own right. Are our life systems efficient, effective, and fast? Do the layouts of our homes make sense? Do we have to spend more time taking care of something than we do actually enjoying it? Do we even want to use said thing? Would we be better off decluttering something rather than continuing to maintain it?

5 Items I Don’t Miss & 5 Items I’m Glad I Own

via PixaBay

Is it ironic that a minimalist would write a post on “stuff,” the very “stuff” that we’re trying to detach ourselves from? Yes, humans invented millions of tools and objects, but I’d still give credit to the people who devise clever things that actually make our lives better or easier. I’ve decluttered hundreds of items from my life, but a few of them stick out in my mind as things I’m certain I made the right decision on.

5 Things I Booted Without Regret

  1. Bath mats. I used to own two memory foam bath mats and had them lying in my bathroom for my wet feet. They got so dirty so quickly, caught a lot of hair/dirt/lint/grime, took forever to dry, and had to be cleaned so frequently that eventually I threw them out. It’s not much extra effort to dry the bottoms of my feet before stepping out of the
  2. Dish drying rack. After a few iterations of dish racks, I settled on an oversink solution. I have a dishwasher and everything except my pots, baking pans, and knives are dishwasher safe, so I don’t really need more than that. More counter space and no more moldy plastic!
  3. All of my leather bags. Leather is high maintenance and good leather is expensive. My Patagonia bag is big enough for a 3-city trip in Europe and durable enough for daily bike commutes.
  4. Decorative porcelain and specialty glassware. Not worth the storage space/worry about knocking them over/cleaning off the dust, and like most decorations with no purpose other than to look pretty, I got tired of looking at them.
  5. Jeans. As an athleisure addict, I stopped wearing jeans. Even Uniqlo’s ultra stretch jeans, which I wore for years before finally donating them (and they were still in excellent condition!), couldn’t beat the comfort of stretchy skinny Ponte pants. Jeans are fashionable, sure – but if you’re like me and prize comfort/practicality over fashion (but look for pieces that intersect the two), you might find that jeans, while excellent for heavy-duty work or painting jobs, are just too stiff and take forever to dry to earn a place in your closet. There, I said it. I don’t own jeans, and it’s okay!

On the flip side, here are…

5 Things I’m Glad I Own (this list was harder to write!)

  1. My road bike. It is my workhorse in fair weather. It is my workhouse in less than fair weather. In exchange for just a little more time, it has greatly improved my commuting experience, strengthened my body, given me another appreciable form of transportation, and another network of friendships. It is a life-giving, money saving item!
  2. My electric toothbrush. If you haven’t upgraded from a normal toothbrush to an electric one…you’re missing out on epic levels of cleanliness in less time and effort. The first time I saw my dentist after buying an electric toothbrush, he complimented me on how clean my teeth were, and I stopped getting cavities!
  3. An oversized 8×10 shag rug. My mom had a couple of extra couches that she gave me, but I often have more guests around, and instead of buying an even bigger couch for my already small living space, I bought a giant, thick, and fluffy rug. It doesn’t shed, is insanely soft, and the high pile makes it fun to lie around in. The drawback of high pile shag is that they are harder to clean, but for how much use it gets, I don’t mind it at all.
  4. My speaker system. I grew up on music, and the difference is palpable when you have a sound system to enjoy it with.
  5. My iPad mini 4. Some minimalists may chastise me for this one. But I am an ultralight traveler, and bringing a laptop is almost always too much, and bringing only a phone is bad for my eyes. My iPad is just perfect. Apps can help me great fun digital content (videos, pictures…) and I can read eBooks on it. The portability makes it easy to record aerial videos and even whip up a blog post in a pinch.

It ended up taking me twice as long to finish the second list, which just goes to show how easy it is for me, and indeed most people, to take things for granted. Sometimes, it is a fun exercise to analyze what you have in the house and realize that your real needs (outside of survival) are satisfied by meaningful relationships, activities, and interactions. Everything else is just stuff. Stuff doesn’t reciprocate.

Bring on the good life, fueled by what matters most to oh-so-unique you.

Clean, Organize, or Neither? The Choice is Yours

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Who thinks they never have enough time?

*raises hand*

We always talk about being busy and complain that we don’t have time to spend with one another. Our busy-ness is sabotaging our relationships and making us exhausted and stressed. We’ll talk about decluttering our schedules another time, but one way we can free up some of our precious time at home is reducing the amount of home maintenance we need to do.

The idea of needing to spend a day “preparing the house” for guests is not new to me. I was fortunate enough to grow up in a large family in a very large house, but whenever guests were expected, the kids were responsible for helping Mom wipe everything down, put things away, pretty up all the rooms, weed the garden, polish the wooden floors, vacuum the carpets, shake out the rugs, and organize all the messes – magazines, bathroom products, clothes strewn everywhere, and so on. Because the house was so big, these were whole day affairs. Kudos to Mom and Dad for splitting the labor among us and teaching us home maintenance skills of course, but after doing it over and over again, I developed a strong desire to severely reduce the amount of maintenance I needed to do in my own home.

I was never taught about decluttering. Throughout grade school, classmates would crowd around the kids who owned glitzy cool stuff. Just having a cool thing earned you a ticket to popularity. But no one told me about the burden of ownership, so I thought that having things was equivalent to having friends. Sometimes this mentality leaks into adulthood – being friends with the one person with the cool house or cool car, for example, earned you inclusion into that social group or social standing. At home, my family taught me to conserve and capitalize on the resources available to me and appreciate everything we had. We never threw things away if they were salvageable in some way. The idea of not wasting things and money was drilled into my head, from eating every last scrap of food on my plate to the clothes I owned. Reducing waste is important, no doubt. But not throwing anything away led to a steady accumulation of stuff over the years, and I learned something along the way:

The intention is to save everything to waste nothing. But keeping everything does end up wasting something very very special:

TIME!

Time, our most precious, nonrenewable resource! How can we forget?

Cleaning and organizing are simply maintenance of existing spaces. And when you have to clean and organize over and over again – putting things back in their places day after day after week after week for years and years – every second you’re spending reorganizing is another second of your life gone forever. Sure, we won’t be eliminating it ALL or we will take it too far, but removing anything will still help reduce the constant organizing and reorganizing. Without that need, how many minutes of our lives can we save, I wonder?

Next time you reach over to pick up something to throw out, ask yourself if the time you’re spending is better spent elsewhere. Ideally, you’ll want to reach a state in which your home is guest-friendly within 5 minutes of picking up after yourself.

If no one else has faith in you, I do. Start today. Here’s a list to kickstart your decluttering efforts (and here).

10 Things to Declutter – Bathroom Edition

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With decluttering, sometimes we need that little push to get us started. Reading other people’s decluttering stories can sometimes give you the much-needed push when you hit a decluttering slump.  The “10 Things to Declutter” series is intended to do just that.

Bathrooms are special. They are temples for self-pampering and renewal, either to rejuvenate ourselves after a sleep, freshen up after a long day, or get ourselves ready for the world. They are relaxation hubs where we can reflect in peace. And so, naturally, it would make sense to keep them clutter-free.

via Pixabay

If I was to envision the perfect bathroom, I think of a serene, open space where I don’t feel overwhelmed by personal care products. Of course, we can highlight the plump, fluffy towel and tasteful soap dispenser, but as a general rule of thumb, bathrooms, like bedrooms, as relaxation rooms, should ideally be kept as minimal as possible, if even simply to make them easier to clean. And everyone prefers a clean bathroom. You know it.

via Pixabay

So now, without further ado, here are 10 things you can safely declutter from your bathroom.

  1. Are you a bar soap person? If not, why do you own bar soap? Declutter the soap, and the soap holder.
  2. Spent bath poufs and rags. They don’t last forever.
  3. That pile of beauty samples you collected. The world will go on if you don’t use them.
  4. Old, unfinished containers of lotions (Bath and Body Works has a way of making you buy millions of flavors of shower gel with matching lotions, hand sanitizers…you name it). You know the one you always reach for when you need to moisturize? Keep that one.
  5. Those dried out tubes of mascara and eyeliner. And the giant eyeshadow palettes too…unless you are a make-up artist or work in a profession that requires complex makeup (circus anyone?). While you’re at it, toss away the foundations and moisturizers that didn’t work for you.
  6. Those cheap razors that always make you bleed.
  7. Extra toiletry bags, and the junk in them that are in there because you don’t use them. You know the saying, out of sight, out of mind?
  8. Makeup brushes that you don’t use. Yes, it’s okay to declutter them, even if they came in a set. If you’re not using one piece of it, then your set is just a bit more minimal. You’re just make it work for your needs!
  9. Extra hair brushes. Why do we need so many again?
  10. Do you take baths? No? Maybe once a year? You really don’t need all the drama that goes with it. Declutter the candles, the bath bombs, and the bubble bath solutions.

Happy Decluttering!

Decluttering Furniture

via Pixabay

To me, furniture is the most satisfying category of stuff I can declutter. It’s so freeing to finally unload a heavy, bulky item from your living space and give your home some breathing room. I’m of the belief that less is more, but especially so with furniture. We worry about making our rooms look “homey,” so it’s tempting to fill our havens with lots of fancy furniture. This often leads to our rooms becoming cramped if our efforts get out of hand.

Since the amount of furniture in your living space is dependent on your living arrangements, it’s important to understand that everyone’s situation is unique. I am unmarried without family, and I live in a two bedroom condo unit which is just the right amount of space – not too much space that I need to clean and not too little that I feel cramped.  It has a small kitchen, a dining/living area, and a small bathroom with just enough room for a bathtub, toilet, and sink.  One of the bedrooms has a closet and the other bedroom has two closets. There is a linen closet by the bathroom and a coat closet. I also have a storage locker in the basement where I can store bikes (but I do not store extra furniture there). In other words, I already have a lot of shelf space and closet space. The smaller bedroom is usually occupied by a roommate, so I will not count the furniture in that room as it varies when roommates switch.

With that in mind, these are the furniture items I currently own (the below are not affiliate links).

  1. 2 couches (1 3-seater and 1 2-seater) (inherited from family – not at all fancy, but do the job)
  2. 1 platform bed (this particular one comes with built-in nightstands)
  3. 1 rolling coffee table – I tried to do without one for a while
  4. 1 console table
  5. 1 rolling tv table
  6. 1 round dining table
  7. 4 stackable plastic dining chairs (plastic = easy to clean!)
  8. 2 folding chairs (for guests)
  9. 1 standing desk
  10. 1 rolling C-table

One theme you’ll see from the list above is my tendency to buy furniture with casters. Casters make furniture moving so easy. I love CB2’s “peekaboo” acrylic pieces because they don’t take up much visual space, making my rooms look bigger than they are (and making it easier to find things in general – no need to look underneath a table if it’s transparent!).

These are the furniture items I’ve decluttered:

  1. Ottoman – in a small space, ottomans take up too much floor space. I ended up needing to move it around all the time until I finally decided it wasn’t worth keeping.
  2. Dresser – after decluttering my closet, I happily got rid of my dresser. Behold my suddenly spacious bedroom! There are so many ways to optimize closet space. Since all of my clothes are stored in one place, I only have to check that one place to find something I want to wear.
  3. Extra chairs that don’t fold – another space saver!
  4. Side tables – typically they are just space hogs. I have my rolling C table in case I’m in need it extra table space.
  5. 2 small couches or loveseats – I had two darling couches from my antiquing days. They ended up looking dated and out of place in my modern space, so I sold them on Craigslist.
  6. 2 twin beds with mattresses and box springs, which I replaced with a single queen bed.
  7. Extra card table – the dining table does the trick. If I’m entertaining, I can put food on the kitchen counter instead of the dining table. Fewer spaces to wipe down, and fewer items to store.

Must you need more inspiration?

via Pixabay

Open kitchen and dining area – an example of how empty walls actually open up a room

via Pixabay

Just like my bedroom – a sanctuary that is simply a place of rest

Pixabay

If only my bathroom was this big…but even if it was, why fill it with stuff? It’s so serene the way it is.

Extra floor space – yes, please.

10 Things to Declutter Right Now

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With decluttering, sometimes we need that little push to get us started. Reading other people’s decluttering stories can sometimes give you the much-needed push when you hit a decluttering slump. So without further ado, here are 10 things I think you can safely declutter without much consequence.

1. Cheap jewelry that you wore as a teenager that would look completely out of place if you put them on right now and wore them to work.
2. Wedding favors from other people’s weddings. Napkins, containers of long expired candy. Why do we keep these again?
3. Freebies from job fairs, like stress balls, frisbees, other things with company logos. Heck, you could probably get rid of these types of freebies or “prizes” you obtained at current or past jobs you’ve held.
4. Unitasker kitchen items, like slicers that only cut one type of fruit, pancake presses, or egg separators.
5. Stuffed toys and other cutesy gifts you received from past lovers. They’re not helping you move on. Remove them and give yourself the mental and physical space for real love.
6. Ugly tote bags you’ve collected over the years and only use when you’re in a hurry.
7. Single socks…unless you like to wear mismatched socks.
8. Textbooks that are no longer relevant to your career and education. LIkewise, notebooks from your schooldays. If you need something from it, scan it or take a picture of it and file it away.
9. Craft projects you haven’t touched in years. It’s time to let it go.
10. Instruction manuals for stuff you’ve already assembled. You could probably download most of these online anyway. How many of your belongings would you disassemble and reassemble using the instructions?

Celebrate a lighter, freer life. Happy Decluttering!

Minimalist Challenges: You Have Permission to Declutter Gifts and Heirlooms

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“It’s an unhealthy setup, in which people become slaves to inanimate objects [ . . . ] Once you’re defining it as something you can’t get rid of, you’re not in control of your life or your home.”

– Barry Lubetkin

Gift-giving goes back to ancient times. History textbooks make it a point to elaborate on various treasures that were gifted to leadership figures such as kings, queens, religious figures, honorary soldiers, and others. Gifts were exchanged as symbols of respect, collaboration, and loyalty. I’m no history buff, but at history trivia games, one can at least figure out that gift-giving was a really big deal when it came to impressing people back then.

Gift-giving continues as a tradition today, but they’re mainly tied to holidays like Christmas and birthdays. Growing up, like most kids, I just loved looking forward to Christmas morning. I loved the shiny gift wrap, the sparkling tinsel, the giant ribbons and bows, and the shining Christmas tree. And I loved getting stuff for my birthday. When you’re a small child and you don’t have the freedom of easily acquiring stuff of your own, the prospect of getting toys and stuff is incredibly exciting. In Asian culture, gift-giving is still a pretty big deal. So much so, that among traditional Asian families, people have come to expect gifts as mandatory courtesy (though they won’t say it out loud). You come to my house, you’d better bring something with you. I was born in America to immigrant parents, so growing up, I witnessed much of the gift-giving culture firsthand (it carries on even today). These gifts are usually consumables – boxes of fruit, multivitamins, traditional desserts, tea, or other foodstuffs, but sometimes home goods, like decorative plaques, lotions, or toys for the kids would be given.

So I also loved having family friends over…not just because I would potentially have a playmate, but also because they’d usually bring me treats and trinkets. Due to customary gift giving in the culture I grew up in, I was taught at an early age that stuff was something I should expect from visitors and friends. Looking back, I am not sure I noticed that we also gave gifts because I was too excited about receiving things.

There isn’t usually anything ill-intentioned at all about gift giving. In almost all cases, we are simply communicating affection or appreciation to the receiver, nothing more. Unfortunately, opportunistic businesspeople have turned gift-giving into consumerism bait (read: Hallmark Holidays). Heck, gift-giving is even touted as a love language, and I suspect that it has something to do with childhood grooming of my future (now past) stuff-obsessed self. Thankfully, it is not my primary love language, but at one time, it might have been.

It is really hard to declutter gifts. You feel like by removing the item from your home, you’re throwing away or giving away the good intentions that the giver had, not to mention the money and time spent on acquiring the item for you. And if that person finds out, we dread the possibility that he or she may very well feel offended. The more the item is worth, the worse the guilt. And when the item is an heirloom or a prized family treasure, even more is at stake. The perceived value of an item is dependent on more than monetary worth and replace-ability (rarity) – its value is also tied to what it represents. We dread communicating to others an unappreciation for what it symbolizes. Getting rid of your grandfather’s war medals would suggest to others that you perhaps don’t appreciate his sacrifices and your good fortune that he did what he did.

That guilt and fear is enough to paralyze people in their decluttering efforts. But I am here to tell you that:

  1. These feelings are perfectly normal, and in fact, perfectly healthy ones, and
  2. Your feelings about a particular event, person, or concept, do not have to be tied to you keeping something associated with it, or even to the item itself.

The fact that you even have guilt as you declutter a gift should be enough to clarify your true feelings about the subject at hand. Because if you thoughtlessly threw something in the garbage without any regard for who it might affect, then it would really suggest a lack of care. Because your feelings about a person does not live in a thing. It lives in you. And you, are so much more precious than a thing. Any reasonable gift giver would not want you to feel burdened by a gift. And as any responsible gift giver knows, the minute you give something away, you are effectively passing ownership to someone else. If you wanted it to be kept, you should not have given it away.

Let’s not gift burdens to other people. There are other ways to give to others: (see here, here, and here). I’ll eventually make a list of my own, but for now, I’ll let other minimalists speak. It is okay for you to declutter gifts. Release the burden and honor the intention.

Post-Decluttering: Living with Intention

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When we think about minimalists, we often think about decluttering and not having too much stuff. However, the most important thing about minimalism is who we truly are and who we become after we strip away the stuff. After all, our stuff defines our lives, and we buy stuff to help us live our lives the way we want to, don’t we?

A few weeks before I started this blog, I had entered my final stages of decluttering. I was still finding things to get rid of here and there, but the 5-10 new eBay listings a week slowed, I had difficulty filling a donation bag, I had more shipping supplies than I had items to sell, and, in a odd state of awe, I suddenly had more free time. At first, the shock disturbed me. I had become so used to not having enough time to accomplish everything on my to-do list, and the first words that popped into my head were:

“uhhh…now what?”

I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to capitalize on my newly found free time, and I spent some time pondering my new reality. Marie Kondo was not kidding about tidying up being “life changing,” but she left so much unsaid about life post-decluttering.

Fortunately, The Minimalists address this – decluttering is not the end-all be-all. It simply marks the start of a transformation – one that takes place when your energy stores is redirected towards your passions, discovered or undiscovered. And that is when we get to the magic words that minimalists love: “living with intention.”

Living with intention is simply the opposite of mindlessness. Rather than live a certain way because of reasons like:

  • I don’t have any other options
  • This is just the way things are
  • I have nothing else to do

We strive to live a certain way because of reasons like:

  • I want to make a contribution
  • I want to do my best work
  • I want to meet a goal
  • I want to create art
  • I want to be an inspiration

Intentional living is about acting in harmony with your motives and life philosophy. What that looks like will be different for everyone, but if you are curious, here is my life philosophy. If you don’t already have one, the next time you have 5 minutes of peace, grab a pen and peace of paper, and write out your life mission without putting down your pen. Don’t think too hard…just write like there is no tomorrow. Let the words flow without abandon.

Your mission is yours alone – a raw, beautiful piece of you.

Active Minimalist Decluttering: 5 Questions

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Decluttering is different when you’re decluttering as an active minimalist. Whether or not I still love an item and when I last used the item are still important questions, but there is more to  consider if you live an active minimalist philosophy. Below are 5 questions you can ask yourself as you declutter or consider a purchase.

  1. Is this item weighing me down? Item weight for someone who is always moving around becomes more significant. I am a huge fan of minimalist travel and ultralight packing for this reason, as getting from place to place is not just a breeze, but with your speed, you can even create a breeze!
  2. Does this item restrict my movement? Similar to 1, but instead of focusing on weight, we are focusing on size. Every “thing” takes up space, and it’s up to you whether or not the real estate it is occupying is worth the expense of not being able to move, dance, do cartwheels, or whatever your heart desires. A decluttered space or home also gives me room to breathe, just as a boyfriend fit shirt allows my body to move freely with no inhibitions.
  3. Is this item representative of my active philosophy and does it enable me to stick to it? Being active can mean something different for everyone. On this blog, I refer to active in a physical/fitness sense. Thus, it would not make sense for me to keep a comprehensive collection of pencil skirts, but it would make sense for me to keep an ample quantity of workout clothes so I am not always doing laundry.
  4. Is this item “aspirational clutter?” In other words, is this something I keep around just in case I pick up an old hobby again? This recently happened to me with arts and crafts. I used to make clay miniatures, draw anime characters, and scrapbook. Since my interests shifted to circus, fitness, and cycling, I retired those hobbies and the materials that went with them. It was really, really difficult to let go of things I used to be so passionate about, but I’m glad I did it, because it freed me from the angst I felt every time I looked at unused supplies and unfinished projects, wondering when I would pick up a former hobby again. Ultimately, letting go helped me accept and appreciate my new interests – I ended up becoming more passionate about them too.
  5. Is this item hard or time-consuming to maintain? I talked this topic to death already, but it is hard to do things when your stuff is demanding your time. Anything you own is a demand on your time or your mind in some way, so we ought to choose carefully – will a thing truly make my life easier, as its creator claims?

Now, go forth, and declutter with ease.

10 Things I Wish I Can Declutter

High heels

While I have pared down my belongings to only stuff that adds value to my life, there are still things that I keep purely out of obligation. We all face mental blocks when we declutter, and “just in case” syndrome strikes every aspiring minimalist at some point. Here are 10 things I own that I struggle to come to terms with.

1. High heels. I have one pair of black office pumps that I never wear. Why? Because I dislike wearing heels. I am less agile. I feel pain. I have to actually think about how I walk. Why do I have them? “Just in case.”

2. My one business suit. I work in a casual office, so the only reason I have this suit is for job interviews or formal business events. Suits are fussy – they need to be dry cleaned, ironed, and hung. They are tailored and stiff, so it is hard to move around when I’m wearing it. They’re difficult to transport. Well…since I work in the finance industry, I just have to own a suit.

3. Boxes used to transport kitchenware, such as my beloved Le Creuset dutch oven. There is no better box that can transport my dutch oven in the event that I decide to move. Even though I don’t plan on moving anytime soon, I still keep the boxes “just in case” I do.

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Why Have Less: The Cost of Ownership

Every item you own has a lifecycle. Let’s call the item “Joe.”

1. Acquisition

Items come into our lives through many channels.

If you bought Joe, then you spent money and time looking for Joe, and if you had to travel to acquire Joe, you definitely spent more time, plus gas, or a bus ticket, or a train ticket (and in extreme cases, a plane ticket). If you bought Joe online, then you may have to adjust your schedule to sign for the package, unpack Joe, and dispose of Joe’s packaging.

If it was gifted or inherited, then your costs will mainly be mental. You may or may not like Joe. Joe may not be right for you. Gifts are inherently not “free” – once the process of gift-giving starts, there tends to be a cycle of two people wondering if they’ll get something in return from the other person, if they’ll need to give for every holiday, if they’ll owe that other person something every year, if they feel guilty for not giving, and so on. Gift giving is even touted as a love language. Couples will fight over not buying something. Is Joe really worth that? If Joe was inherited, the person who wanted you to have oh precious him trusted you to keep him safe. If you end up accepting him, you may worry about the person giving him to you feeling betrayed should you choose to let him go down the line.

Gift

Not pictured: anxiety, ca$h money spent on the gift, inner monologue of “what do I do with this, what shoud I give in return…”

If you got Joe for free, well…you still have the next few steps to go. If you purposely took a separate trip to acquire him, you’re still spending time and money to fetch him. Or, in the case of giveaways – you might be giving personal information to a bunch of unknown marketing companies. Who knows how much junk mail you’re going to get now?

The burden of gifts is often more than people realize, and the cost of buying Joe is more than what is on the price tag.

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