I went to SXSW last year and one of the best presentations I went to was on business and minimalism. I wanted to minimize my life and this gave me the motivation I needed. By the end of the hour, I’d broken down the major areas of my house where I keep my into a list of areas I could tackle in a week’s time with the goal of having the entire house cleaned out over the course of about six months. (I <3 The Minimalists.) It felt really good to fill my entire trunk and backseat with unwanted stuff and drop it off at Goodwill.
My minimalism project was a huge success. I got rid of so much stuff that was cluttering up my life. I felt much more clear-headed as I decreased the amount of stuff around me. I also made it a point not to bring more stuff into the house. The hardest part of that is managing the amount of paper that comes into my life – business cards, flyers, receipts, etc. I try to get things put away or thrown away as fast as possible. I still get piles of paper around that I need to be better about filing or getting rid of faster.
Embracing minimalism helped me let go of the idea that stuff has meaning. Memories have meaning. Stuff is stuff. An item may be a visual reminder of a memory or an idea, but it doesn’t replace it. I still have the memory or the idea without the thing it’s attached to. I realized I fully learned this lesson last year when I lost my bear necklace while I was traveling. I’d worn this necklace almost every day for over 16 years. I had it when I left the hotel in Washington DC, but three airports, two airplanes, and two shuttle vans later, it was gone. I filed missing item reports with all the airports and the airline but they didn’t find it. About five years ago, I misplaced this necklace for a few hours and I was devastated until I found it. It was gone forever and I was ok with it. It was just a thing. I’m not worse off because I don’t have it; I wasn’t even sad, and I didn’t replace it with another necklace.
I’m pleased with the progress I’ve made in minimizing my life but there’s still work to be done. I think it’s time to take the minimalism project to the next level. I’ve been feeling like my world is still too cluttered and I’m noticing areas of the house that may have been overlooked in last year’s clean-out – like the little desk in my bedroom where I found my address book from undergrad and a stack of loyalty cards where most of the businesses have since changed their rewards program.
I think my new guiding principle will be, “If I was doing a clean out to get ready to move, would this item make the cut?” If the answer is “No,” it’s an item that needs to be thrown away or given away. I won’t do a systematic approach like I did last year, but I want make a conscious effort to clean out my life every time I clean up the house.