Philosophy of Less

I have come a long way in my adult life, in terms of the things that occupy my space and time. I remember a time when I could pack up everything I owned and cart it around in a little old Mazda hatchback. Including my grandmother’s rocking chair! Sometimes I miss that level of stuff and the natural minimalism of my life at that time. Then I remember that I didn’t own my own mattress, and that’s a special relationship that I enjoy these days. I also now live with the stuff of a family of two adults and two children, not a single college student. I dearly value those relationships and their trappings, even if it sometimes means stepping on LEGOs.

I have been on a journey of minimizing the stuff in my life for several years now. I once thrilled at the idea of collecting all the things that make an “adult” life. Now I can’t wait to have more adult life and less adult stuff. Even though I still have plenty of stuff, I consider myself a minimalist. Minimalism is the practice of decreasing the material goods in your life. It’s not an objective in itself, but a method to achieve a variety of desires. For me, less stuff means:

  • Less time spent on the maintenance of my objects and surroundings.
  • Less mental work concerning the maintenance of my things.
  • Less time spent tidying and organizing my space.
  • More ease and less cost when it comes to moving or making big changes in my lifestyle.

All of this amounts to freedom for me and my family. That’s my ultimate objective.

How does your stuff figure in your priorities?

Purge. Minimalism in practice.

How to Minimize

Relationship with Things

I want to acknowledge that minimizing our stuff in practice means selling, returning, donating, or simply throwing out those things that don’t continue to live a useful and indispensable life for us. This is hard, mostly because our things become imbued with sentiment from the memories we associate with them, from the people who gave them to us, from the people who cherished these things before us, and sometimes from our simple attraction to the thing. It’s hard to fight the deep feelings we have for our things.

While, it’s possible to dig in and figure out the madness of our stuff by yourself, I’ll always advocate accepting help when offered. This time, the help lies here: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo. Kondo covers two distinct subjects: how to get rid of your stuff, including the emotional challenges, and how to store the stuff you do keep to most advantage. I would argue that the decluttering aspect of the book is the most helpful. I do use her principles for organization and storage, but the point is not to spend a lot of time and effort on organization. Just get rid of the stuff that spends so much of it’s time shifting from place to place or taking up storage space.

So what’s the secret to putting to bed the emotions that well up when we attempt to part with our things? Simply put, you must physically hold or touch each object and consider its present usefulness to you. Kondo suggests you ask “Does it bring joy?” I agree, this is a consideration, but I would say that joy is a part of usefulness, and considering whether it brings joy in the present, is key. If you don’t use, wear, or otherwise currently enjoy something, it most likely should go. Furthermore, sometimes we need things that don’t  bring us joy, simply because they have a level of necessary utility in the house, and there’s no sense in replacing them before their useful lives are spent if it means simply acquiring a marginally more joyful substitute. For example, I really hate microfiber towels. They bring me no joy. Those fuzzy little space-fillers sure do help get the house clean, though. A necessary utility if there ever was one.

When I evaluate my relationship with my things, and I do regularly, I’m thinking about my needs, my wants, and my emotional attachments. This process will occupy me for the rest of my life, and I encourage everyone to consider why they have each of the things in their life, and whether that’s an important reason to keep each thing. In terms of my own emotional attachments, I find that using Kondo’s suggestion of holding and acknowledging my gratitude for the joy I’ve received from the item is usually enough to part with it easily. When It feels a little trickier, like it did with the items in the photo at the top, taking a photo of the things helps bridge the gap between my attachment and the ability to let go. And so, with the photo above, I let go of my older daughter’s torn kindergarten backpack, the disassembled Waldorf doll that a friend custom made with a G-Tube to help when baby sister had a strange new plastic piece attached to her, and the felt woodland animal mobile that I made to hang over my girls’ changing table.

Space

The space I have been able to call my own has changed over the years. Growing up I always had my own bedroom. In college, I shared a dorm room for a couple years and then had my own room in shared apartments (the days of the Mazda hatchback). Since college, I have lived with my now husband in apartments, duplexes, and houses ranging in size from 900 to 2000 square feet. I’ve always felt grateful to have what space I could call my own but I have discovered that the bigger the space I have access to, the more stuff I will fill it with, and the more difficult the battle to minimize.

When we moved to Texas, we dropped from 2000 square feet to 1200 square feet. In preparation for that, I conducted the biggest purge of my life and I have never felt better. That purge was the push and practice I needed to be able to continue to let go of things with ease. Now that we anticipate moving onto a boat with something close to 1/10th the space, I feel prepared to conduct an even greater purge in the near future. Once on the boat, the need to continually purge will still occupy our time.

Time

Getting rid of stuff takes time: time to sort, time to clean and set aside, and time to sell or deliver to a donation center. All this time, though, still adds up to less when you consider all the time we take to tidy and organize those things, and wrestle with finding places for new things on into the future.

To save some time, we have a bin in our house that always has out-going items in it. When it fills, I empty it into a bag or box and schedule a time to haul it to a donation center. This continuous purge method helps to minimize the time I spend sorting though stuff. However, even with a regular one or two bag donation, I still end up with the occasional huge haul as well. I find it necessary to take the time to conduct more intensive purges on a seasonal, or at least annual basis. Not only does this make for a more serene home space and keep me close to my preferred level of freedom, but the regular practice makes it easier and easier to let go of the emotional attachment I have with things.

More Stuff

There will always be more things. Between the generosity of our loved ones, our shifting needs, and our whims, more stuff always shows up in our home. Children exacerbate the issue. The continuous practice of minimalism saves us from drowning in things and has become a lifestyle for everyone in our home.

We are privileged to always have too much. Can you imagine what this means in terms of wealth in the world? With our sailing dreams we will eventually get rid of almost all of our things. We will do this willingly to move on the boat in a physical sense. It will also be a life lesson for everyone in our family. A lesson that we will hopefully grapple with again and again as we see more of the world–more of how others live with more or less–and as we learn to find joy with fewer and fewer things. In the end, with fewer things, we have more space for life.