Just over ten years ago, I published a post titled “Thoughts on Minimalism,” which was all about this new minimalism movement I’d recently discovered that I quickly became obsessed with. I talked about the modern influencers I’d found whose ideas I rapidly started devouring, and I also talked about classic examples throughout history of people who had discovered that a life of simplicity was truly much more conducive to happiness and fulfillment than endless consumerism or busy-ness. (FYI: You can read that original post HERE.)
Once I recognized that minimalism and a quest for a more simple way of living was something I wanted (and needed!) for myself, I wasted no time trying to put its principles into practice. Over the years, I’ve done several series, posts, and challenges to help me stay accountable in my goal to drastically pare down our “stuff,” keep our emphasis on what matters most, and not fill our lives with things just to fill it.
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My Posts on Minimalism
Just in case you haven’t been around these parts for the past decade, here are just a few of the posts and series I’ve done over the years:
- The 50 Weeks to Organized Project
- This is the project that really started it all, the one I first embarked on after discovering the concept of minimalism. My approach was that I focused on a different area of our home each week and then posted before/after pictures in each post, as well as the to-do list I followed in clearing out each different space. If you want a quick round-up of what the breakdown for all the weeks looked like, you can check out this post.
- The Declutter 1,001 Things Challenge
- Years after doing the 50 Weeks to Organized project, I looked around and realized that our house had definitely gotten right back out of control, mostly thanks to moving from an apartment to one home (and then another), and also having multiple kids. I took on the Declutter 1,001 Things challenge as a way to try and reset our space again and get myself back into the simpler frame of mind I’d been shooting for from the beginning.
- A Roundup of Favorite Simple Living and Minimalism Resources
- This list has definitely changed and been updated over the years, but it includes some of the resources that I still use to this day.
- 15 Books to Help You Get Your House in Order
- In the decade since discovering minimalism, I’ve read quite a few books on the subject of decluttering, home organization, etc. This list was a round-up of fifteen of my favorites.
What My Journey Has Looked Like Thus Far
Growing up, I was pretty sentimental about a lot of my stuff. I saved most everything — notes my friends had passed me in junior high, shirts that no longer fit but that I had bought on vacations past, old picture frames intending to reuse them someday, letters from ex-boyfriends, etc. etc. My level of stuff seemed normal to me until I went away to college and saw that some of my roommates had been able to fit everything into their own compact cars (since our apartment was furnished), whereas I’d required my stepdad and mom to drive up in their truck with all of mine.
Then, while most of my college roommates sold back their textbooks at the end of the semesters for extra cash, I kept the majority of mine for “someday” when I’d surely want to reference them again. I also acquired more things for living away from home, more books (naturally), and more letters from ex-boyfriends (ha ha). When Matt and I got married, his contributions to our “stuff” were minimal — meaning he could have easily fit pretty much all of his own stuff into his little Mazda — and we required a small moving van for mine. (Keep in mind that I had still been living in a furnished apartment up to this point!)
We did need some furniture for our new apartment together since it didn’t come with any, so we got a hand-me-down bed, couch and loveseat, kitchen table and chairs, t.v. stand, and washer and dryer. We also got all the stuff we were gifted for our wedding. Suddenly, our two bedroom apartment, which had seemed spacious when we first looked at it, all of a sudden had all sorts of stuff crammed everywhere, mostly thanks to all the stuff I myself had brought into the place. My solution? Buy more shelves!
Thank goodness I discovered minimalism before we added any kids to our family because by this point, our first apartment was stuffed to the gills with, well, stuff. Oh sure, we still kept the more public areas of the place reasonably tidy and normal looking, but we basically had one whole bedroom that was a glorified storage area with boxes from floor to ceiling, which was a habit that (unfortunately) continued into our second apartment, then our first home, and now our second home (though that’s currently changing).
The first big shift happened when I implemented my 50 Weeks to Organized project soon after discovering the idea of minimalism. I systematically went through every last area in our apartment and got rid of probably about half of our stuff, though I never did an exact count of everything. The difference it made was huge, and although I still hadn’t mastered the daily habits to actually keep it tidy (still working on those, actually…), it was far easier to clean up when I did finally get around to it, and I was more motivated in general to stay on top of the daily clutter.
When we moved to our second apartment, we learned we were expecting our first child soon after, and all of a sudden, the minimalist(ish) aesthetic I’d gotten used to was obliterated when we started acquiring all the things that come along with welcoming a new human into your family for the first time. On top of the big things like the crib and bouncer and swing and stroller (which we had no choice but to store in the second bedroom/nursery), we also acquired sizes and more sizes of clothes from my siblings who were mostly done having kids and who were looking for someone to take “the bins.”
Oh, and then we discovered that you could buy up storage sheds at auction and sell the stuff therein for a profit.
It didn’t take long for my once simplified apartment to have gotten taken over (once again) with too much stuff. Although I was far better than I was before, we still had too much. So I did a kind of “refresh” of the 50 Weeks to Organized project, which was helped along by us finding and purchasing our first home, which gave me an easy excuse to get rid of a lot as we packed up to move.
Our first home was actually fairly minimal, at least for the first little while. We had so much extra space (and so much storage space!) that everything easily fit somewhere, even if I wasn’t always super good at actually putting it there. Then two main factors started really working against my continued pursuit of minimalism: 1) I’m always thinking of new projects I want to do, getting partially started on them, and then needing to stop because we lack the money, time, or skill set to go further. And then the stuff sits out of place, right where I left it. 2) I have become the official family repository of all the things no one else wants because I love frugality and love saving money everywhere I can. This helps me a ton in a lot of ways (like the fact I almost never *need* to buy any clothes for my kids), but I’m not always super good at immediately sorting through all the hand-me-downs, which means that they just tend to collect. And collect. And collect some more.
These two things are the main reason why we had to rent the biggest moving van in order to move to our second (current) home, and the main reason why everything didn’t even fit into that one moving van–we also had to take multiple loads in our minivan. Those two things are also the main reason why this current home has also (re)filled up so fast, even though it’s much bigger than our first home was (3,200 square feet as opposed to about 1,900). Add on top of that the kids growing up (and having more of them) and therefore acquiring more books, toys, and school art projects, with the addition of a new side business of flower farming (which comes with its own large stacks of supplies), and it was like I’d never heard of minimalism in my life.
At least that’s how it started to feel.
So we’ve been back at it again — massive amounts of decluttering, massive swaths of time going through boxes we haven’t touched since moving here over two years ago, massive amounts of miles driven to frequently visit our nearest thrift store 55 minutes away to make donations.
And even though I probably say this every time, this time really does feel different.
We’re building on all the successes of the past and the decluttering muscles we’ve built up over time to finally get rid of the “what ifs” and the “somedays” and much of the sentimental. I’m shedding stuff that belongs to an ideal self that never quite got realized (like the post-college me that was SURE I would find time to study all my textbooks and literature anthologies in the years to come), and I’m trying to be brutal about parting with things that I haven’t touched in years, even if I still like them. We’ve gotten rid of literally hundreds of books over the past year, and even though our library is still sizable, it’s not the 28 boxes of books (and counting) we had before when we moved…it’s probably down to a much more manageable 15 or so 🙂
And we’re still not done.
I can tell you this, though — with every load that leaves our house, I literally feel like I’m having a load taken off my shoulders. With every box we get out of our space, I feel much more able and willing to tackle and tidy our space on a daily basis, just because it doesn’t seem like such a Herculean task now. And even though I know I still need to change a few habits and weaknesses (hello, unfinished projects!), I’m feeling for the first time like I finally have the headspace to actually make those changes, simply because so much of my mental energy is no longer tied up in all the STUFF everywhere.
Here’s What I’ve Learned
Minimalism and Decluttering is a Process, Not an Event
As you can clearly see from the summary of my journey above, if I thought simplifying and minimizing was something I’d only have to do once, I was sorely mistaken. However, I have found that by doing one BIG decluttering project early on (for me that was my 50 Weeks to Organized project), you are much more aware from then on of stuff entering your life. Now, that’s not to say you always deal with that influx of new stuff effectively, but you are definitely more aware of it. I’d say that doing that project did effectively reset my thinking forever when it came to being a mindless consumer and buyer of things, and even though I haven’t been perfect (or even close to it) at keeping our possessions always pared down to a manageable, ideal level, I can confidently say I’m far, far better off for having done a drastic house-wide decluttering project at least once.
Additionally, doing a massive pare-down (several, actually) has also built up my decluttering muscles so that it’s no longer such a Big Deal to get rid of things, even sentimental items or the “what if” items. I also regularly go through certain areas of my home (like my closet) multiple times a year so that things never get too out of control, which has also helped me to stay on top of things a bit.
Regrets are Usually Minimal (or Nonexistent)
When you first start drastically parting with vast quantities of stuff, the feeling can be scary. Apart from the overwhelm, there’s often a fear that you’re going to get rid of something that will cause you massive regret down the road. Now, I have talked to people who have gotten rid of some things they regretted. But what I’ve noticed from their experience is that the items they regret parting with are almost always things like letters from loved ones (which are irreplaceable) and never something they were just saving for “someday.”
So I am a little more careful when going through the sentimental things (and if in doubt, I always just take a picture of the item so I at least have that), but if it’s something I could replace with relative ease that I’m not using currently, I just let it go.
(For the record? I personally have never gotten rid of anything (yet) that I’ve regretted, and I’ve gotten rid of an INSANE amount of stuff. In fact, I couldn’t even tell you the majority of what I’ve given away or trashed!)
I Can Be a Decent Housekeeper…If I Have a Manageable Amount of Stuff
For years, I’ve told myself and anyone that would listen that I’m a terrible housekeeper. And while it’s true that cleaning will probably never be something I love or enjoy, I actually HAVE been able to teach myself to be fairly tidy. The absolute #1 most important key for me to be able to keep a relatively clean house is to have only the amount of stuff that I personally can manage, and no more.
Now, my husband and kids do help out with the house a lot.
But in order for our house to be EASILY maintained, I’ve learned that I have to keep it at just the level of things that ONE person can control, not that five people working with all their capacity can. Because life happens, and our children definitely still need alllll the reminders in order to clean up after themselves. So if I only have the amount of things that I personally can stay on top of, it sure makes it that much easier when all five of us are working together. It means that at any given point (even if the kids have pulled out all the toys and books left available to them!), our house can be put back together in 15 minutes or less.
If I’m Overwhelmed By It, The Kids Are Even More So
The kids’ toys and books were the things that made the biggest difference on a day to day basis in the level of overwhelm we were feeling, but they were also one of the areas where I had the hardest time letting go. There was the guilt factor (“We just bought this for them last Christmas!” or “Shoot, our parents bought this for them and might be upset if we let it go…”) and there was also the sentimental factor (“Remember how they all played with this toy so much when they were younger?” or “Awww, the stuffed animal we were given when they were born!”). And don’t forget the kids’ own feelings coming into play — while we’ve trained our older two kids especially with being willing to easily part with things they no longer need or play with, there is still hesitation on their own part sometimes because of their own sentimental or what if factors.
So at first we just skimmed off the easy layer.
That helped, but it wasn’t enough.
Then we skimmed off another bigger layer, really encouraging the kids to think about whether that toy or book was really among their favorites.
While it all helped, there was something I noticed — when everything was dumped out at once (which it is always likely to be at some point), the kids were completely overwhelmed. They were too overwhelmed to play, and they were definitely too overwhelmed to tidy it up. And when everything was all laid out like that, WE as their parents were too overwhelmed by it and kept putting it off, because we knew that cleaning it all up again was going to take a whole weekend, or at least several dedicated hours.
So I had an “ah ha!” moment — if I feel overwhelmed looking at a mess or a massive amount of stuff, imagine how my kids feel!
Something had to be done. So this last time, I didn’t wait to consult anyone else (except for Matt, if he was around). I just chose a few categories of things to keep (legos, cars, dress-ups, etc.), and if it didn’t fit into one of the categories, it was donated. Then we got bins for each category, and if everything from one category couldn’t fit into that bin, I decluttered down more. I basically got rid of toys until we were down to four small clear bins and three larger ones. I also allowed each child to pick twelve books to go on our shelf out in the family room, and the rest I boxed up for later to use as a library system.
Now if everything is dumped out, it’s only a matter of about 15 minutes to clean it all up because the inventory is so limited and the categories where things can be put away are, too. Our kids no longer complain (too much, if ever) when it’s time to tidy up, and they can also do it fully on their own, without help from me. It has been more liberating than I could ever say.
As the past has shown me again and again, it’s crucial that I don’t let decluttering just become a do-it-and-forget-about-it thing. It needs to be something I’m constantly, regularly doing in order to make sure we actually maintain the level of simplicity we’ve been able to pare down to. Because here’s the thing — no matter how vigilant you are in your own shopping/buying/acquiring habits, you’re literally ALWAYS bring in more stuff. Your kids bring paperwork from school, toys from parties and grandparents, hand-me-downs from cousins, and more. Your mom finds a box of your old items from elementary school, your siblings give you hand-me-downs, you hit an estate sale and pick up things you think you’ll use someday but which you maybe weren’t planning on right then.
And if you’re not careful about it, before you know it you look around and find yourself in the stress/overwhelm/clutter trap again.
Currently the main living spaces of our house that see the most use (kitchen, front room, family room, play room, and kids’ rooms) are pretty streamlined and decluttered. I could always go more extreme, but they’re all easily managed at this point. Right now our main focus is on finishing the complete decluttering process by going through all our storage spaces, too — our master bedroom and closet, our garage and workshop, and the two big storage areas we have in our old basement. My ultimate goal would be that if we move in the next five years, it won’t be overwhelming (at least the packing and unpacking part) because of how much we’ve gotten rid of.
So that’s where I’m currently at after ten years of pursuing minimalism. Getting better all the time, and only loving the results so far.
Is minimalism something that interests you? Where are you at when it comes to your level of clutter?
P. S. If you want to make 2023 the year of less stuff, less clutter, and less stress, you can sign up HERE for free resources, group challenges, and first-look access to Ultimate Bundles’ Get Organized Toolkit. Signing up will give you a (free) ticket to an online organization webinar taught by Lisa Woodruff (founder of Organize 365) on March 15, and you can check out the resources included in this year’s bundle, which will go on sale at 97% off for a limited time (this month only). Click HERE if you’re interested in learning more and signing up!