I have been interested in minimalism for some time. The idea of being intentional with what we possess and only bringing into our homes what we need strikes a chord with me. However, I also tend to be a collector. I love collecting mementoes, and I tend to imbue things with a tremendous sense of significance. I love keeping memories and telling our story (more on that in an upcoming post!).
Last week, I saw a recommendation for Joshua Becker’s Clutterfree with Kids. Becker is the author of the blog, Becoming Minimalist. Not only does Becker give practical (and short and simple!) strategies, but he also teaches crucial lessons about our stuff. Although I love organizing, I agree with Becker that my organizing was often just moving clutter around because I have too much stuff.
This book was the push I needed! We’ve moved twice in the last two and a half years, which really puts things in perspective. In both places, I’ve been okay with overflowing closets “because one day we won’t live in an apartment.” But I don’t see an end in sight; we keep accumulating more. Every move, my brother has mentioned the size of my (quite heavy!) book collection. I love books. I love reading them, I love the covers, I love full bookshelves. But Becker challenged me to ask why I am keeping books I probably won’t read again.
So last weekend, I ruthlessly began to purge. But first, I had to deal with myself. I realized that in order to be able to get rid of stuff and feel good about it (and be wise– after all, there’s nothing inherently wrong with having and keeping stuff!) that I needed to write through it–to give myself some self-talk. Here’s what I did:
I made a Word document entitled, “Talking Myself through Decluttering” (nerdy, I know). Then I started with these questions:
1. What makes it hard to get rid of X (books, clothes, magazines, baby stuff–whatever I was working through at the moment)?
2. Then I wrote “but…” and I countered my argument from #1.
3. What makes it worth it?
So here’s a real example (feel free to skim!)
What Makes it Hard to Get Rid of Books
–My identity as a reader and English teacher. But…My identity is in Christ. I am still an avid reader and English teacher whether I have the books or not.
–Comparison and pride. But…This one is not worthy of a response.
–I like the look of shelves lined with books I’ve read. It makes me feel accomplished. But… I don’t even remember some of them, some of them stay with me in my mind (which is the point), and I’ve read them whether they collect dust on my shelves or not.
–I might need them for teaching. But… I can spend my money that I earn from selling them on books when/if I teach again and need them.
–I want to have a record of what I’ve read. But… I can make a list (which I did!).
–I might use some to write Bible studies. But… I can refer to my list to find good ones, refer to quotes I have written down, and find the information again especially if I give some to the church library.
–Liam might need them or we might need them if we homeschool. But… we can find them again either from the library or super cheap used when/if the time comes. I’m not willing to keep so many in the meantime just because we might use a few.
What Makes it Worth It
–Clean Shelves (and closets where the books were boxed)
–Easier to move when the time comes
–Keeping books that I actually love and that show what I value
–Can easily get classics on Kindle and online
I generally scoff at things that make something like belongings too much about the heart. But really, it is about the heart. I uncovered greed, pride, comparison, and fear as I cleaned. I noticed how much I hold onto the past out of fear that the future will not be as good. I like to be defined by what I possess.
Though I feel lighter and freer after getting rid of so much, it’s a complicated path. The day after I took my donation bags, I woke up almost in terror (you know that half awake-half asleep state where things are a really big deal?) because I gave away a blue cloth backpack. I remember saving my money for the backpack and purchasing it. I thought “I should have saved it. I could have used it to store things. I might have a daughter who wants it.” I donated a black Lands’ End fleece that was my signature look through so much of high school. I went from a shy, quiet girl to a confident leader in that jacket. I learned to drive in that jacket. Don’t think I’m too crazy when I confess that I contemplated driving to the donation center and begging for those items back the next day.
And I realize that this is harder than I want it to be. Memories and fears and pride are all intertwined with stuff. But I love the freedom of looking at a cleaner closet and realizing that someone else can stay warm in that jacket. I love that I can store stuff in the nursery closet now (because it’s not full of unpacked moving boxes). Here are my three takeaways from the book and the process:
1. Avoid mindless consumption: It’s so easy to be mindless buying things for ourselves or buying gifts for others. I’m a fairly careful spender, and yet we still have much more than we need or use. I want to be thoughtful when I spend money. I don’t like how often I think about what I want to buy next; I don’t want what I own to define me.
2. Quality over quantity: I love this about minimalism; it’s not so much about thrift and frugality as it is about thoughtfulness.You can buy the best because you’ll do a better job maintaining it. I can keep up with one nice pen easily, while a whole pack of pens disappears in a week!
3. It’s a process: I have to keep working on clutter in our home but especially in my heart. It is freeing to have white space, and I find a great deal of clarity (and lack of guilt) when my closet, inbox, and counters are clear of the unnecessary. I’m spending a lot of time thinking through my relationship with stuff, especially when it is tied to memories.
On a similar note, a fellow teacher introduced me to this website last year. It’s fascinating to see what other people choose; it’s no shock that technology tends to feature strongly on our lists (our whole lives are often on our computers!). What would be on your list? My laptop would definitely be there along with the family albums I’ve made.