Start 2017 right by getting on a minimal path. Here are 7 tips to get you started.
1) Know the difference between organizing and minimizing; between rearranging and reducing. It’s tempting to voice the same old New Year resolution about reducing clutter and then taking action by buying yet more stuff in the form of storage boxes, baskets, etc. There’s nothing wrong with being tidy and organized in what you do have, just don’t mistake hiding for purging. If you’re serious about minimalism, about reduction, then remove first, organize what’s left later. Most often, if you’ve done an honest ‘purge’, you need far less (if any) ‘organizing tools’.
2) Start. The first step is always the most hesitant one. That’s the case for every new journey, that’s what makes it exciting. So, if emptying all the closets and having a garage sale right off the bat makes you a bit nervous, don’t do it. Try these things instead:
- Choose just one room, one closet, one area of the garage only AND commit to continuing to select a section of the house each week thereafter to purge. In other words, you can ease into it by taking small bites.
- Can’t seem to part with ‘out’ pile? (a great opportunity to sit down quietly and examine the reasons why - what’s holding you back from the liberation of unloading?) Box it up and tape it. If you don’t have to open that box in 6 months time, you will have proved to yourself that it’s not necessary for you to own. I personally think a clean break is much more empowering, but if you need to take baby steps, that’s perfectly okay.
- Start living in less space within your home. The fact is we already do live in far less space than we’ve designed for ourselves. Notice how easily we manage when on vacation to function perfectly well in a hotel room: a space to sit and read or have a meal, a space sleep, a place to hang our clothes, etc. Yet our everyday living seems to require thousands rather than hundreds of square feet. (actually, it doesn’t, and that’s why the majority of the time all that space is full of stuff). Start noticing just how much space you actually take up, actually utilize, and actually require. Sit down first - it can be quite a shock.
3) Ditch plastic. Start with all those containers in the kitchen. If your household is like most, you probably have more lids than bottoms, and the ones you have don’t fit. Also, your stack of containers is likely unruly, tumbling out of drawers and cupboards, even though you purchased that nicely telescoping matching set. You’re not alone. When I switched to glass containers I was amazed to find that I am able to easily function with 5 bowls with lids rather than three thousand plastic containers. It’s one of those mysteries of the universe. So, tidy up that kitchen space, put your food into something that won't leach chemicals into it, and keep the environment a tad cleaner.
4) Take 5. Take five outfits from your closet that you wear most often and put them in a prominent place in your closet or into another space. Wear these to work next week. The following week, mix the items around to create variations and wear these same items in different ways. You get the idea. This is an awareness exercise. We have closets jammed full of clothes (well, I don’t anymore, but I once did) and we only wear a small portion of them. This exercise will show you what you prefer, what you habitually choose, what you ‘forgot’ and had to go back to the original closet for. The result is a dramatically paired down, fully functional, and preferable weekday wardrobe. We prefer certain items, we are comfortable in them (whether the item itself is comfortable or not) and these are the pieces that we choose over and over again, no matter how many other items of clothing are in the closet. So it begs the question: “Why keep all of those other items on hangers?”
5) Relax and reflect. We tend to want to immediately ‘do’ something. Thus the urge to go out and buy more stuff in the way of ‘storage solutions’. The best starting point, I think is to reflect on what your actual goal is. It’s not to have an empty garage or closet. It’s to (pick one or several): decrease financial burden, increase free time, remove anxiety, create physical and emotional ease. Nothing else compares in terms of motivation than acknowledgement of the true reason for minimizing. With a clear picture of freedom in mind, there’s little chance of backsliding.
6) Family cooperation - or not. As individuals, or a couple, the transition may be a tad smoother than it is for multiple personalities. Respect one another. What may seem inconsequential to you, might hold great sentimental value for a member of your family and it not so easily parted with. Agree as a family, if possible, to get on a minimal path together. Then allow each to walk the path at their own pace, nudging only when someone has actually stopped altogether. Offer support, not criticism. Celebrate achievement so that everyone, including you, stays motivated. The best way to do that is to spend time together enjoying each other - time that would otherwise been spent maintaining ‘stuff’, for example. Use the box technique mentioned above. Just as adults reach for the same sets of clothes, children reach for their favorite toys. The excess just takes up space. Let family members choose their favorites, their must haves (within reason) and put the rest out of sight. The result a few months down the road will be very revealing.
7) Start the year with a moratorium on spending. Designate the first quarter as a no-spend period. Obviously, if a car tire needs replacing or something of similar urgency and obvious NEED arises you’re going to use common sense and take care of that. Begin with 3 months: no new electronics, shoes, vinyl, home decor, etc. You can do it. Keep track of each time you wanted to spend on stuff. New or used - no craigslist or consignment shop either. This is another eye-opener. When you realize how much of your spending and accumulation is ‘entertainment’ rather than necessity, you never look at your consumer habits the same way again.
Dawn Murphy is the author of "Physical Stuff & Mental Junk: A Minimalist Path to True Abundance." Her work has been been endorsed by Dr. Will Tuttle, author of "The World Peace Diet," Phil Borges, Ph.D of Bridges to Understanding, and Dr. Howard Zinn. She’s currently working on her fourth book, "So Vegan Easy" available in 2017. Visit her Blog/Website: www.veganminimalist.com