Thursday, 21 July 2011

My Top Ten Tips for Minimalism - A Primer for De-Clutterization

Okay, so prompted by a friend asking about how to scale back, I'm posting some tips for keeping it minimal.  Am I an expert?  I've essentially lived out of 2 Samsonite suitcases - quite happily - for about 3 years.  Confession would be a small storage room, which I have 1/2 of, and which is not at all full.  Everything I own, in one place and unpacked, could fit in an average sized bedroom.

Coveting these from Kate Spade - named for Alvin Ailey
Whether you're moving, or de-cluttering, less means more.  Back when I used to buy sunglasses for $5 and $10 a pair, I routinely had up to 10 pairs, none of which I could ever find, many of which got lost or broken, and had to be replaced.  At some point I realized that this was a losing proposition and that I needed better lenses between me and the strong California sun.  When I started spending 3 figures for sunglasses (yup, that's right) I had one and only one pair.  I've routinely kept those pairs for 3-5 years, so have actually spent less on sunglasses by spending more.  When you spend money on things like sunglasses, believe me, you always know where they are and you don't run around scratching them up.  My current handbag is an object of desire for many women.  It cost enough even at 80% off.  I only have one handbag.  When it quits, I will get another one.  (I also have one bag for clubbing and one vintage evening clutch.) to live like a minimalist.  This is for those who tend to stay in one place - not the gypsies.  For the gypsies, well, I'll probably do a special edition.  Here we go!

1.  Have one good one instead of lots of ok ones.  This not only means buying less, or bringing less into your home, it means actively going through what you have and culling out the overage.  You have 10 white t-shirts and 9 have stains you keep thinking you're going to be able to get out?  Get rid of the 9.  You only have 1, you've only had 1, but you've been telling yourself you have 10, storing 10, moving 9 to look for the good 1, feeling guilty about the stains on the 9 you never find the time or industrial strength chemicals to get out.  You have 1.  1 is good.  Start with that; it's probably all you need for now if you treat it nicely.  The other 9 can be rags or just plain garbage.  (NOTE:  Recycling is fantastic, but don't inflict your broken, stained, or otherwise truly undesirable objects on others.)
Sigh…had to bequeath this one sadly

2.  Love the one you are going to have.  Don't settle for okay, or on sale so why not.  Settle for love.  Love each thing you have and use it to death.  Only bring things into your world that you adore.  And yes, get rid of things you have that you do not adore.  Why look at something or use something that actively makes you feel bad?  Non-attachment means non-attachment.  Objects you don't like, or feel are inadequate for your current lifestyle, bring up emotions.  Emotions are attachment.  You are invested in the things that you don't like in ways you haven't imagined.  They bring up complex feelings that may point to inadequacy, feelings of not deserving better, and much much more.  When you love something and it is working for you, you just go on about your day around it.  You may adore your coffee pot, but I bet you won't fixate on it like you would if you didn't like it because it was cracked and given to you by your ex-mother-in-law. Conserve your energy by not attaching it to negativity that can be associated with certain objects you possess and the stories that may go with them.   Loving what you have cultivates gratitude, and we all know that's a good thing.

3.  Take great care of your things.  If your things are going to take care of you, then take care of them.  A broken DVD player is not a DVD player.  By definition if it doesn't play your DVD'S, then it's just a hunk of metal and plastic taking up space and collecting dust.  Get it fixed or give it away to someone who can fix it and use it.  Sew buttons on, take your boots to be repaired, don't surround yourself with things that don't work.  It sends a message of broken.

4.  Make space for what you do want.  Keeping the clutter at bay means the ability to actually bring in the things you want to love.  Getting rid of old things may even have a way of creating increased income to purchase those things.  Sell what you can and use the money to get one thing you truly love and need.

5.  Cleanse your media collection.  Yes, you.  It's 2011.  Pandora, Spotify, Netflix, Hulu, BBC iPlayer, iTunes, Google Books, Kindle, iBooks....what are you doing with CD's, DVD's and books you haven't touched in ten years?  Yes, you're smart, well-educated, and eclectic.  So put the music and video on a hard drive.  Keep the books that mean something to you.  Look around your living room right now.  All the non-personal media you have in there has been digitized by someone already.  Nothing is going away.  You will never lose the ability to read The Great Gatsby over.  Okay, bad example - I tend to read that one every year, so I keep it.  But truthfully, the books I love the most are the ones I can never keep - if someone comes into my house and hasn't read Their Eyes Were Watching God, or The Gift, they walk away with my current copy.  

The books I have are either books I refer to at least once a year, books related to research on a current project, poetry books, or books given to me directly by their authors, or signed by the authors.  The CD's I have are only those by friends, and same for DVD's.  If I made it, or was part of making it, I have those, too.  Keep your first editions and signed copies, but do you really need a disintegrating copy of The Republic you hated in college?  I mean it's in the public domain...

I love books. I wrote one and have more to go.  But don't let yourself be boxed in by these objects.  The art is eternal and it is not going anywhere.  Keep the books you reach for at 3 a.m. on sleepless nights and the ones that have true personal meaning.  Invest in a library card - they are usually free.  This is a great way to have constant access to paper and binding books.  One tiny card gets you thousands of books for free!

Get rid of your VHS's and cassettes.  There's no excuse for keeping inferior formats at this stage.

Keep your vinyl - and your turntable.  You have my permission.

Carson only gives you ONE season!
5.  Get rid of any clothes you have not worn in the last 2 active seasons.  (Carson would only give you 1 year - I'm being generous!)  Exceptions are very expensive well-made shoes, bags, evening dresses/men's formal wear and accessories. Be reasonable.  If you live in a warm climate, but have Patagonia long underwear for those occasional trips to cold places and they're in good condition, hold onto them.  Don't get caught up in the vanity of "can I wear it next season if I get skinny enough" ask yourself if you'd actually wear it if you were skinny enough now, or would you want something else.  Just because you wore it when you liked the way you looked better does not mean you like the item now or in the future.

Still got Grandma's table?
6.  Do not hold onto anything you did not choose to have in your life.  Okay - this is a big one.  And very, very difficult.  But you have your grandmother's kitchen table!  Well, you've always wanted a colorful little round mosaic table, but you've always had your grandmother's vintage 1950's Formica table. never wanted that table; it's not your style.  You wanted something else.  But you moved out after college and it got handed down to you for free and you've had it ever since and how can you get rid of it now?  Every time you walk by that table or use it you think about the colorful mosaic table, then feel guilty about your grandmother and her table, and do not realize that you can change.

Here's the beautiful thing:  someone somewhere absolutely desires a 1950's vintage Formica table in perfect condition.  It might even be someone you know and they might be willing to pay you well for it.  Maybe enough to get a colorful mosaic table that suits your lifestyle and doesn't make you feel bad every time you pass it.  Putting these things back into the world means that someone may receive them who actually values them - that's great feng shui.  Check in with hand-me-down furniture and other items, presents that you never found a use for or really liked, etc.  There is someone who does want them and will use them joyfully and it isn't you.  If you are not going to get rid of it, that means you choose it.  Do you?

A pretty BaGua
7.  Do not keep anything broken, over-used, or worn past usefulness.  If it's broken and you are going to fix it, then fix it.  Or pass it along to someone who can and will.  If your style is worn, then keep the worn stuff that works, but ditch the stuff that doesn't.  Repurposing is great as is maintaining what you have.  Just don't hide behind old, useless stuff that's crowding your world.  Feng Shui principles differ somewhat from Wabi Sabi here - but the main question I would ask is:  How does it make you feel?  I aim for it either makes me feel nothing - i.e. I don't even have to notice it, it's there and it's functioning as it should - or I feel happy when I see it.  If there are negative attachments to worn or broken objects, then they are pulling on your energy every time you interact with them.  They are telling you stories of another you and reinforcing them.  They are taking up time in your head.

Here's a secret: if you know you don't want it, but can't part with it for sentimental reasons, take a picture of it.  I've done it with shoes I loved and knew were too worn out to keep.  It's made me feel better.  It might work for you, too.
The 2010 Derby Dolls

8.  Do not keep ANYTHING that makes you feel bad or negative when you look at it ("my ex-boyfriend gave me that before he cheated on me with the entire Derby Dolls* squad!").  This is really important!  This is the most freeing thing you can do for yourself.  We are not talking about your great-aunt's earrings which make you sad, but also make you remember loving her.  We are talking about anything and everything that makes you feel less than.  Honour your own energy by removing these things from your life.  Someone can and will use them happily somewhere if you release yourself from them.

*I just made that up.  The Dolls are not implicated in any actual wrongdoing.

9.  Get rid of anything that does not make you smile.  Simple.  My favorite rule.

10.  For every new thing you bring in, something has to go (or preferably has already gone).  Hard and fast rule.  You can actually start with this one if you don't think you're ready for full-scale minimalism.  It will keep you from continuing to spread.  New pair of shoes?  Get rid of a pair that have outlasted their usefulness.  New cell phone?  Donate or recycle the old one - immediately.  It can be apples and oranges - you can get rid of a sweater when you bring in a new throw pillow - but it must be something.  Conservation of mass.

Those are my top ten.  Be gentle with yourself, but hard on your stuff.  My experience has shown me that Americans really do have a lot  more stuff than most people in the world.  They dedicate space ($), time ($), transportation ($), and energy ($) to keeping the stuff they have.  Occasionally, they get overwhelmed, and then consumed by their stuff.  Sometimes, they lose their identity to it.

Trust your instincts.  Clearing is essential to growth.


Nancy Nalven Dismukes said...

Great advice Beth! Wish I was more disciplined. My mom lives by most of these rules and at 78 has a lovely, uncluttered home. Carries a real LV purse, only NAOT shoes..just a couple pair. Etc

E. Amato said...

I think having tiny apartments in Manhattan really helped me! When you can't close the closet door, or things fall on you when you take stuff out, something has to change! Thanks for reading, Nancy! xo