10 STEPS TO START MINIMIZING AND SIMPLIFYING YOUR LIFE

Our life is frittered away by detail. Simplify, simplify.
— Henry David Thoreau
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You need this.

You deserve this.

Your life would be so much better and easier if you had this.

When you’re constantly being bombarded by messages like that, it’s hard not to give in, to indulge, even if it’s just for a piece of plastic that spins.

There is a societal expectation that once you set out on your own, accumulation of stuff must commence to prove that you are entering adulthood. With each new job, promotion, hobby, or life-change there is a not so silent presumption that obtaining even more things is proof of your success.

Remember, you’ve been told life is better with these things. It’s almost your duty to get them and feed the never ending consumerist cycle. You’re guilted and shamed into having all the latest gadgets and trends that both the real and online worlds say you must have.

The problem is it’s never enough. Your home fills up with junk, and then the bills come in. So, you work long, hard hours away from your ever-more cluttered home so you can manage a lifestyle you were told you want. But did you really want it?

When you do finally come home, you find a living space packed with things you never use, clothes you don’t wear, and electronics that are obsolete. Each one a subconscious reminder of time and money spent, and often wasted. When your home is cluttered, your mind is cluttered. It’s not healthy. The stuff becomes a time-killer in and of itself, compounding the problem. You waste time trying to find one of the few things you actually need, sorting through a mess of items that have been left in the dark recesses of shelves, cabinets, and closets, most serving no purpose.

However, the last thing you want to do with your ever decreasing free time is spend it organizing and taking stock of what you actually are using and what could vanish into thin air, completely unnoticed.

Look, being a minimalist isn’t for everyone. But, for most people in the U.S., having less stuff is a good thing. I have yet to run into anyone that has regretted the decision to reduce the amount of their possessions, as long as they did it mindfully. The hardest part is getting started. It can seem overwhelming. The thing is, once you start, it’s like removing a burden. You physically feel better. It feels like a whole-body exhale.

So, here are 10 ideas to get you started!

 

STEP 1:

Grab one of the countless notebooks, notepads, or binders in your house and write down descriptive words regarding how you feel about the de-cluttering process. Next, write down why you want to do this. Finally write down how you feel when you look around at your home and in drawers, closets, cabinets etc. Now set fire to the paper.

Okay, I am kidding about that. However, you do need a starting point. Leave your house. Take one of those notebooks with you, or use your phone’s note taking app. Go to a park or a coffee shop and make a list from memory of the objects you would want to save if there was a disaster. These things probably truly matter to you. This gives you a place to start from, and a hierarchy of importance. These are the untouchables.

 

STEP 2:

Figure out how you and the people that you live with want to approach the process. Do you want to dive right in or wade in slowly? Either way can be successful, but know what works for you. You can arrange your approach in a way that fits your lifestyle.

Are you all go-getters that like to dive in and power through a task until it’s done? Great! Set aside a three day weekend, get the whole family together, and get after it.

Want to crawl before you walk? That’s ok. Set a goal of 10 minutes a day for 30 days. Or, set aside the first Sunday of each month for tackling a room, looking at each item and finding which box (more on that later) to sort things into. You can also make a game of it. Have each person in your household find 10 items to throw away/recycle, 10 items to donate, and 10 items to keep. First one to finish gets to have the others clean their room. Do this once a month.

If you’re unsure if diving in or wading in will be best, start slowly. Do not overwhelm or frustrate yourself or the others in your family unit or it will not work. Find out what the level of cooperation is in the household. You can always accelerate your pace later.

 

STEP 3:

Get materials to help in the sorting process. You will need:

  • Empty boxes (or trash bags), marked as follows.

SELL: If you think you will take the time to list items online to get money, or have a yard/garage sale, get boxes for that. This is a great way to pay off some of your debt, or fund your reward for goals achieved (again, more on that in a bit).

DONATE: Self-explanatory. You’ll just have to decide who or to what organization you want to give items to. Remember, depending on the organization you donate to, these may be tax deductible, so keep a list of the items.

E-TRASH/TOXIC: Unfortunately, you probably need to have this available. Make sure you dispose of these things properly. Look for your community’s dates to drop this stuff off. Sometimes it’s only once a year so mark it on your calendar and circle it in red or set your phone to remind you about it!

RECYCLING: Recycle as much as you can, even if it means you have to take it somewhere. This is really important.

Do not use this as an excuse to go buy storage totes. You probably have totes already. There are stores that exist to get you to buy more in the name of re-organizing. With more totes, the temptation will be to keep too much stuff, and fool yourself into thinking you’ve improved things because things are boxed up and out of sight. You’ll be lying to yourself. Getting more totes will equal more clutter. Hopefully, when you’re finished you’ll discover you could stand to give away a few totes…but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

  • A paper shredder. If you have one, great. If not, see if you can borrow one before you go buying another thing.

  • Camera or a scanner. For most people, your phone will cover this.

  • Large freezer bags, manila folders, & file folders.

 

STEP 4:

Create a reward system, but don’t reward yourself with a shopping spree. Reward yourself with activities or experiences. For example: the closet is organized or we’ve donated 10 boxes of items and sold $100 worth of unused objects, so we’re going to the movies or getting ice cream. (Who am I kidding? It’s a movie AND ice cream). Remember: Take a break when needed. This isn’t a race.

 

STEP 5:

Assign an expiration date to items. A good example and rule of thumb is that each item has a one year shelf-life. If it hasn’t been used at all in a year, then it needs to find some other place to exist.

Go through your stuff and put things you don’t remember using in a box that is marked with the date. Put the box away. If you have to get into the box to get an item, then you must actually need it. Great, it’s a keeper. Find a suitable place for it back in the home. After a year, everything left in the box goes.

Another method is to get small labels and write an expiration date that is one year in the future on them. Stick those labels on every suspect item in your home. If you actually use an item, you can take the label off. Everything else is out when it expires after a year.

 

STEP 6:

Take pictures of sentimental things and keepsakes. I know you’re proud of the trophy you won in 2nd grade; the medal you earned in high-school. But these things sit in a box. You’re never going to display them (seriously, don’t embarrass yourself by putting them out). It’s time to let them go. Just take a photo and move on. This is going to be huge once you get used to it. You will be amazed at how much easier it is to go through and eliminate items once you get into a system of looking at each item, reflecting on its impact in your life, taking a picture of it if it is sentimental, and then placing it in its appropriate "go-away" bin. You can then take all the photos and create a slideshow to reminisce at will, and with much more ease then hauling out dusty boxes stored somewhere. It’s cathartic really.

For the things you can’t part with put them in freezer bags before boxing them up. That will help protect them from water and insect damage. This works for things like photos, certificates, and cards, not your wedding dress. For bonus points, you can sort these things by year and write the year on the bag. For extra bonus points, get rid of that dress. You're not going to wear it again. Ever.

 

STEP 7:

Set up a system to keep and organize your important papers, get rid of the rest.

You will find that a lot of clutter is paper. Some of it has sensitive information on it. You’ll need to shred it. You can recycle the shredded paper, or better yet, many animal shelters will accept shredded material. What better revenge is there than to have dogs and cats pooping on your old school loan bills?

There will be plenty you should keep. But just because you're keeping it doesn’t mean it should be cluttered. Make sure to organize your important papers. For bills, receipts, medical/insurance info, etc., use file or manila folders. Examples of categories are:

  • Medical/Healthcare
  • Credit card statements and receipts
  • Banking statements and receipts
  • Insurance
  • Utilities
  • Car Documents (titles, warranties, repairs)
  • House Documents (deeds, inspection reports, warranties)

You can get even more detailed. I’m all for that. Just find a system and categories that work for you. However, one messy pile is NOT a system.

Also, avoid future clutter by spending one of your sessions digitizing or eliminating as much mail as you can.

  • Sign up for e-statements for all of your banking, utilities, bills, etc. Don’t use the excuse that you’re worried about security. Yes, cyber-security is an issue. But, it’s easier for someone to open your mailbox and steal your information that way than to do it online, assuming you’re being smart and safe about it.
  • Stop getting catalogs. Remove yourself from mailing lists. These things are pointless and annoying. You can stop them by going here.
  • Stop all the annoying credit card and insurance offers. Here’s how.

 

STEP 8:

If there is a holiday or a birthday coming up, it's a great time to mindfully make subtle changes to your spending habits, and the expectations of those around you.

If you’re expecting gifts, consider asking people to donate canned goods or items to a charitable cause on your behalf instead.

If you know you are getting things, make room for the new stuff by getting rid of one existing item for each new item received. Gadgets, toys, clothes, and other items that are no longer getting love and attention can be donated to others who would love to have these.

If you’re giving gifts, spend the money for an experience based activity. People remember experiences more than things. For example, pay for classes or lessons that would excite the recipient (cooking, horseback riding, ninja skills)

If you do give items as gifts, limit them to ones that are really wanted and needed. Ask the lucky beneficiary of your generosity if you’re unsure. If someone tells you they don’t want anything, take them at their word and let them know you’ll be donating to a charity instead (see above). Just don’t get crap from a store that only sells cheaply made, useless plastic items that break before the celebration day is over, just so you can say you got someone something. Everyone is worse off in that transaction.

 

STEP 9:

Rest and repeat. When all areas have been purged, take a break. Wait a season, then do it all again. You have experience at this now. You’ve seen how much better you feel. It will get easier each time.

 

STEP 10:

Buy less and think about your purchases. Be mindful about what went into making a product and how much of your time will be spent at work to be able to purchase that item. Look at the packaging and the impact it has and will have on the environment. Will getting that slippery skillet that may work twice and then sit in the back of your cabinet, getting in the way of a pan you actually use, be worth all the hours of work? Were the materials that were mined and sourced and the gasoline that was burned to transport it around the world worth it? Probably not. Break the cycle.

You can do it. You will feel better for it.