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Cleaning out my life

Minimalism in 90 Days Update from Week 8

These are the empty boxes & stuff that's going to charity - December 7, 2014

These are the empty boxes & stuff that’s going to charity – December 7, 2014

I am just over 8 weeks into my variation of Ryan Nicodemus’(of The Minimalists) “packing party.” I’ve been diligent during the last week about making a concerted effort to clean out my minimalism boxes, so most of what I’ve unpacked lately are items that are being donated to charity or surviving the final clean-out. There are still instances where I unpack things because I need them that day – like when I needed some of my fancy things to go to Julia’s wedding, my rubber gloves for dying my hair, and my black morphsuit to perform in Patrick’s piano concert as the unknown faceless person. I’m still documenting everything in my notebook.

I still have 10 boxes left in my minimalism pile and none of them are full. The interesting thing is I’ve made a lot of progress in the last week but it doesn’t seem like I have that much more stuff in my condo. I have 7 boxes of stuff to go to charity and more 6 empty boxes stacked up in my office. I went through one of my minimalism boxes on camera last weekend if you’re interested in hearing the monologue that goes through my head when I’m examining my stuff. (Warning: It was a full box and it took 19 minutes for me to sort through it – but it’s pretty interesting if this process intrigues you.)

There is a box of books in the minimalism pile. I’ve already pulled out the ones I know I want to keep and I put the ones that add no value to my life in the charity pile. There are at least a dozen books in the minimalism pile that I’ve never read but I feel I should read. Most of them are about investing or running a law practice. They’ve all come highly recommended, but it hasn’t been a priority to read them. I’m considering putting them in a stack in my room and giving myself until the end of 2015 to read them. There are so many books in general that I want to read; it’s hard to make it a priority to get to them all.

Overall I’m pleased with the progress I’m making with the final cleanout. I want to be as productive this week with going through my boxes and possibly making arrangements to have the charity boxes picked up so I can make space for what’s really supposed to go in the corner where I’ve stored them – an extra large plushy armchair that I can curl up and read in.

Other updates from the Minimalism in 90 Days project:
What was Unpacked During Week 1
What was Unpacked During Week 2
What was Unpacked During Week 3
What was Unpacked During Week 4
What was Unpacked During Week 5
What was Unpacked During Week 6
Minimalism in 90 Days Update from Week 7

Minimalism Project Update – One Year Later

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.

Part of the "Donate" Pile from Last Year's Clean Out

Part of the “Donate” Pile from Last Year’s Clean Out

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.

Various Club Cards I Don't Need

Various Club Cards I Don’t Need

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.

Minimalism Project Update – Cleaning Out Memories

I’ve been diligently and systematically working on my minimalism project. I’m going through all my stuff and getting rid of things I don’t use or don’t add value to my life. So far I’ve cleaned out my closet, dresser, and two bookshelves. The next section of the project is my memory boxes.

I’ve had four boxes in my closet for years that contain all kinds of stuff that date back to before my birth. I found a few sheets of paper where people tried to predict what day I would be born and whether I’d be a boy or a girl. No one got it right, but two people guessed the right date but that I’d be a boy (and given how unfeminine I am, they were kind of right). My baby box also had my baptismal gown and the first tooth I lost (creepy).

Everything in this pile is going away.

Everything in this pile is going away.

My boxes had a lot of paper – all my report cards and every certificate I got in elementary and high school for academics, sports, and random things like attendance. I enjoyed reading some of the comments that my teachers wrote for me on my progress reports during first-third grade.

  • Ruth is a very enthusiastic and peppy member of our class.
  • She has continued to amaze and delight her teacher with her diligence and great ability!
  • She is spunky and enthusiastic.
  • Her sunny disposition makes her a joy to see each day.
  • Ruth doesn’t walk, she flits.

It was fun to flip through all these papers, and now they’re in the recycling bin.

I’ve noticed that I had quite a few things in my boxes that seemed valuable at the time but do nothing for me now – like trophies and the honor cords I wore during graduation ceremonies. I am keeping the medals I’ve received from running races in the last few years. I’ll get rid of those in ten years when I realize they’ve been sitting in a box doing nothing for a decade.

My gymnastics ribbons: 1992-1997.

My gymnastics ribbons: 1992-1997.

The only things I looked at that I didn’t immediately know whether to keep them or not are my gymnastics ribbons. I was a competitive gymnast for eight years. I had three gallon-size ziplock bags filled with ribbons. Gymnastics was a big part of my life, and in some ways it still is, but the ribbons are just stuff. Owning them is not a requirement for retaining my memories or any of the lessons I learned from the experience.  As I laid out my ribbons to take a picture of them before getting rid of them, I realized I’ve already gotten rid of my ribbons from my first years in competitive gymnastics. Knowing that I’ve already gotten rid of a significant number of ribbons made it easier to let go of the rest.

I started with four boxes of my diplomas and sentimental items. After I’ve sorted all the things I’ve collected over the years, everything I’m keeping fits in one 32-quart plastic container. It feels great to get rid of the excessive stuff and have less clutter around me.