With Black Friday approaching (or, as it seems to be, going since sometime last week), I thought it was appropriate to share with you my views on minimalism and decluttering. Before we get into it all, I want to say that I don't consider myself a minimalist— I have a lot of stuff. I have hundreds of books. A lot of yarn. Probably more clothing than I need (especially since working from home, I'm now using about 5% of it) and a good deal of fairly specialized kitchen equipment (recently considered acquiring a madeline pan). But we do, however, live a fairly frugal lifestyle. We don't buy a lot of things. We're not doing a huge Christmas. We buy things used whenever possible and we try really hard not to buy crap we don't need. We're working towards valuing experiences over things, and the process of minimalizing, like many other life changes, is a gradual process.
I'm not suggesting you throw away everything you haven't touched in the last month, rather, trimming away the unnecessary things which are probably causing you more stress and distraction than good. Reducing the sheer amount of possessions many of us have in order to really appreciate the things we love. Paring down an excessive lifestyle to be able to allocate your resources towards experiences and things which you love, and which enrich your life (in this last category is where I would put the yarn, KitchenAid mixer and the heaps of books— judge me if you must).
A few weeks ago I wrote about how this excessive, blown-up consumer lifestyle can be killing your motivation and creativity (not to mention your wallet and the planet), so if you haven't read that post yet, you should give it a whirl. Here, we're focusing on the more practical side— the steps you can take the minute you're done reading this article. The mindset you can begin working towards right now.
Are you currently feeling like the stuff is ruling your life?
Do you feel overwhelmed by a messy house that never seems to be organized the way you like it?
Do you blow out your budget each month in a cycle of euphoria and guilt?
How about procrastinating doing the things you truly love because your space needs immediate cleaning and organizing?
If you find yourself nodding, keep reading. You're not alone here. In fact, if the stats are correct, you've got millions and millions of people feeling the exact same way.
By moving towards a more minimalist lifestyle, you can reduce your stress, cut procrastination, and get focused on the things which really matter to you. Getting minimalist will help you get mindful. Not only will you have to consider the value of each item before bringing it into your house, but you will develop a much deeper connection with the objects that you do have in your home. You will grow a stronger appreciation for your abundance and truly enjoy each moment you spend interacting with the stuff you choose to keep around. Mere things which you once took for granted can become treasures instead of burdens.
Here are the first you steps you can implement right away to get started on your journey to a beautiful, mindful, and minimalist life. Get out your pen and paper, folks. Write this stuff down. Seriously. Get it on paper, and make sure the folks with who you cohabitate are is totally on board. To make that super easy for you, I've put together a brilliant free workbook and checklist for you to print out. Get it right now.
1. Assess your space
Now is the time to get familiar with your space. Depending on the amount of stuff you have (there are some people out there who have so much stuff they lose stuff, in their stuff. You might be one of them), you may not even be aware of some of the stuff you have. Go through each area of each room of your house and simply look at what is there. Open cupboards. Go through the junk drawer. Lift and push things around. Look under the bed and in the blackest corner of your deepest closet. Don't worry about thinking of which things you're wanting to part with quite yet. Focus simply on becoming totally aware of the things you have in your home (if you're brave, add The Garage and The Shed into this mix). If you're noticing things you had completely forgotten you owned, write them down.
Next, consider which areas in your space are causing you the most stress? Is there an area you just can't bear to look at without your blood pressure rising? Is it the laundry pile which never seems to go away? The clutter that accumulates in the living room? The kitchen mess which stops you from wanting to spend any time in there at all?
Shift the focus: Think about the potential for each of these spaces. Think about how you will feel living in each of these spaces when the incitement to stress is removed. What new hobby might you take up? Perhaps you will spend more time cooking brilliant meals or making big gorgeous art.
2. Gratitude + Abundance
Everyone's threshold for stuff is different. If you've always lived a life with a lot of things, and a lot of clutter, you may be a lot less aware of their influence on your life than someone who has carefully considered each item they bring into their home. A good way to really get to terms with the abundance in your life is to start a gratitude practise. Get comfy in the room in which you spend most of your time and think about all the things in your life which you are grateful for; these things can be actual things, but they can also be feelings, people, pets, etc. I can guarantee there is an almost ridiculous abundance of things for which you can be truly grateful. Consider: warm house, squishy sofa, purring cat, a good set of pots and pans, a fridge full of food, laptops, smartphones, books, movies, husbands, wives, no fear of imminent death.
Keep this going by building a daily gratitude practise into your life. You can kickstart this practise today by spending a few moments each night considering the things you are grateful for throughout the course of that day. You'll fall asleep feeling rather warm and fuzzy.
Shift the focus: Bring it all into perspective. Spend some time thinking how fortunate you might be, and what it may be like to be missing these essentials. What could you truly not imagine your life without (hint: the answer isn't 'iPhone').
This practise is used by Stoics, and is called "negative visualization", which, while it has the word 'negative' in it, actually brings a whole lot of positivity into your life. Spending a few moments thinking about what your life would be like without a roof over your head on a fucking cold ass winter day will help a lot of less important problems and stresses melt away.
3. Fear + Letting Go
One of the biggest roadblocks to letting go is fear. It weighs down your decisions and keeps you up at night, playing out scenarios that might never happen (read as: probably will never happen). Fear is our friend. Fear helps keep us safe. Fear typically has our best interests at heart, but Fear is a bit overzealous at times, causing us to shy away from those changes which would actually bring positivity and joy into our lives.
What do you fear letting go of? Which things seem to have the strongest hold on you. What do you think may happen if you release some of the material possessions in your life? Do you fear what other people will say? Are you fearing regretting letting go of some item?
Shift the focus: Weigh the options. What will your life look like if you continue on the same path you're on now? When you think back over the past five years, what has made you truly happy? Are there things you have had you could imagine your past without?
4. The Aftermath
Though it's important not to focus too much on the end result, and to actually enjoy the process of getting there (definition: life), it helps to take a few moments to consider why you're heading into this lifestyle change. Why is it you're wanting to get more minimal? How are you feeling right now? Then consider: how you think you may feel after decluttering and moving toward a more minimalist lifestyle. How do you envision your day to day life will be? What will be the best improvement for you? Hold this in your mind when you feel the doubt creeping.
Shift the focus: Rather than focusing on the things that you will no longer have, focus on the gorgeous amount of new free time you will have to dedicate to the things you really love. What have you been wanting to learn or do for ages, but have been putting off? Take up those paintbrushes, mavens!
5. Start with the elephant
It's time to get started with the real work, wonderfolk! There is probably something (or quite a few somethings) that clearly stand out as objects which you can part with. That stuff that has always driven you nuts, gotten in the way, and added to the clutter. Those things which you've been meaning to get rid of, but never quite got around to parting with. Now is the time. Put it in a box, and do it. You've taken one step. If needed, get out a second box. Awkward wedding gifts? Regrettable impulse buys? Sixty mismatched mugs all crammed up in your cupboard? Treadmill you bought when you decided you were going to get fit? Get accountable: let someone know you're doing this, and have them check in to see if you well and truly parted with the goods.
Shift the focus: Don't think of it as throwing stuff out. In fact, don't throw stuff out. Donate it, so that someone who really needs the item can breathe new life into it. Don't donate crap, dirty things, and broken items. The folks shopping at Goodwill don't want this stuff anymore than you do.
6. The Six-Month Box
Now, without a doubt, some of the things in your space will be a lot harder to part with. A lot more grey. A lot more emotional. Perhaps these things were given to you by loved ones. Perhaps you bought this item on a trip. Perhaps you wore it to your graduation. Though some folks will find this harder than others (I personally have very little sentimental attachment), there is a lovely method which you can use to help make the decision to part with some object easier.
It's called The Six-Month Box.
To begin, you will need A Box. Anything you have not used in a while, which you are not sure of (you know, those jeans you keep because they might be in style again, or may fit someday), put in the box. Close the box, put the box out of sight in a little-used closet or basement, and mark it on your calendar. Leave it for six months.
If, in six months, you have not needed to go into that box to retrieve an item which you are about to immediately use, you will then donate the whole box. Don't open. Don't look back at the stuff and get nostalgic. If you've never had to go into the box, there's a good chance you won't even remember what is in there. This is the aim. These things cannot have such a great impact on your life if in six months, you have never needed them. Chances are, you will never need them. When deciding whether or not an item belongs in the box, consider: have you used this item in the last six months-year? Does this item give you joy in your life? Would you buy it again today? Chances are if you wouldn't buy this item today, it's safe to part with.
Shift the focus: If you're feeling a little bit fearful of parting with items lest you need them again in the future, consider selling some of these items you're not using. Besides items with sentimental value, there is a very good chance if you DID need the item in the future, you could repurchase it used for about the same price you've just sold it for. The payoff in the mean time (way more space, way less stress) is totally worth it.
7. The Explanation
For some, this is the most daunting part of a big life change. How will I tell everyone? What will people think when they see this new behaviour? Will they think I've become some strange different person? Will they still like me? Will they think I'm being false or fake?
The truth is, these are all possible. It can be disconcerting for a lot of your loved ones to see you undergo what may see to them to be a drastic change. They may not understand why you're doing what you are doing. They may not agree with what you are doing. These scenarios are all perfectly okay, I am totally confident with your ability to take them as they come! Most of the time, concerns from others are coming from a place of love. Those people that truly care for you will stick around through your personal development. If there are people in your life who are really throwing a lot of judgement at you, I urge you to strongly consider their place in your life. This is not to say that you should up and ditch friends and family, but you may see as you go along that your goals, your dreams, your paradigm, doesn't jam with that of those people you're most often around.
Take time to let your loved ones know what is going on, and help them to understand why you're making these changes. Assure them that you are moving in a direction that will bring you freedom and happiness. The people who deserve a part in your life will want the best for you.
Shift the focus: Consider how much value you are attributing to the opinions of others. We all only get one shot on the rock. You don't want to live your life the way someone else wants it. You want to look back twenty, forty, sixty years later and feel confident you lived your life, however it may have been, for yourself— for what you love, for what you belief in, for what you desire.
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