I have never been a huge hoarder or an obsessive shopper. I have never bought a new pair of jeans every season, a new pair of skis every year, or a new iPhone every September, but I did always have a lot of stuff. Sentimental stuff. Travel stuff. Duplicate stuff. Nice stuff.
I’ve seen several people in my life declutter and simplify their life, and the concept always intrigued me. But, “I could never live like that”, I told myself at every thought of a purge.
After years of contemplation, I decided to dive in head first. For 30 days, I would declutter my life, one day at a time. Every day, I would challenge myself to find things that don’t add value to my life and throw them away, sell them, or donate them.
Here’s what happened.
I started going through my things, one drawer, one box, one room at a time. Some things were obviously going to stay. First target: my throw-anything-here drawer in the kitchen. Some things were obviously going to stay: a pair of scissors, a lighter, hiking map of my go-to mountain. Items that weren’t so obviously essential had to pass a test.
- Who are you?
- What do you do?
- What value do you add to my life?
If I had a hard time answering those questions, the item would probably have to go.
At first, it was easy. Old hotel pens, old string light spare bulbs, extra pins, brochures, and an old headphone cable from a broken phone case.
To pause here - some items I got rid of did add value to my life - pins, for example. But I had to ask myself a question - how many of these will I actually ever use? 5? 10? 20? However many I needed, I surely didn’t need a box of 200 pins. I ended up keeping a few, and recycling the rest.
After the first drawer, I was hooked. There was an incredible amount of satisfaction in playing the game of “Do I need this?” And removing the non-essentials.
I moved on to other locations in my house, my office space and my car and started finding things that I wasn’t even sure why I ever kept. I kept metal legs from an old desk lamp I no longer had, remote from a digital camera that was broken, and at least a dozen USB cables.
Clothing was a little bit more tricky. I’ve previously purged old clothing, but I looked at every article of clothing and tried to remember when I last wore the item. Things that I have not worn in over a year, no matter how nice or sentimental they were, had to go. They did not add value to my life, and they took up space in my closet. Things that I used once or twice in the past year, I still asked myself - did I wear them just because I had them, or did I actually want to wear them? Could I have gone without that item? Could I have worn something else instead that would be just as comfortable and practical? Most of the time, the answer was yes.
I have a lot of space in my house, I could store 10 times the amount of clothing in my walk-in closet, but the important thing to recognize is that things that don’t add value to your life, take up mental space as well as physical space. Out of sight does not mean out of mind.
I went on - a cowboy hat I always felt awkward wearing and didn’t have a reason to wear, old paperbacks I knew I was never going to open ever again, laptop bags I would never use, packaging from old gadgets I didn’t even have anymore.
It wasn’t all easy
Some things, like my Canon point-and-shoot, I couldn’t really justify keeping because I do most of my photography on my DSLR or my iPhone. But the thought of getting rid of my nice, fully functional camera was wild. Yet again, I had to ask myself the same question, “What value do you add to my life? Can I do without you?” And painfully, the answer was yes, of course I can do without you.
With valuables, I found it comforting knowing that if I sold or donated the item, it could bring joy and value to someone else’s life. I sold my Canon at a fraction of original price I paid for it, but it felt good getting rid of an item I didn’t really use, making some cash and knowing that someone else will benefit from that camera. The environment will also benefit because someone will now use my camera, rather than buying a new one.
Some items came back
The process of purging brought out some things that actually started to add more value to my life.
I have a globe I got as a kid. With a bright neon-blue plastic stand, it had no place in my adult, modern interior. It was silly. So I kept it in storage for years. I’d always had a hard time getting rid of it - I remembered how much I wanted that globe when I was a kid. That emotional attachment is perhaps the hardest thing about purging. But I made the call - the globe added no value to my life, so it had to go.
I’ve placed the globe in a donation bag. In a few days, I offered the globe to my friend who has a kid on the way. She told me how much she loves globes, and I remembered that I love gloves as well. The only thing I didn’t like about this globe is that tacky neon-blue stand.
Some things are easy to modify. I spray painted the stand matte black and now display the globe in my home office. I love to travel and the globe is a perfect reminder to get out there more often. It adds value to my life.
The process of letting go and reflection allowed me to bring an item back in a useful manner.
And on it goes
Week one was easy. The obvious things were easy to find and eliminate. One weekend day I got rid of over 50 items, large and small. But naturally, after the initial scan of your belongings, you start facing tougher challenges - trying to get rid of things that have emotional or historical attachment. I found it helpful to use two guidelines to help me keep the best, and declutter the rest.
- Was it something that I would be proud displaying for aesthetic enjoyment? At least for a part of the year?
- Are there duplicates or similar items?
If 1 was no, and 2 was a yes, then the item probably had to go.
Over the course of a month, I got rid of hundreds of items, large and small, cheap and expensive. I tried to practice responsible disposal where possible. If the item could be sold, I sold it on eBay. If it could be donated, I gave it to my family, friends, or brought it to a donation center. Most items can be recycled in my community, so 90% of the things I purged went into the recycling bin.
I made over $300 on eBay, selling items that added no value to my life. It felt good turning old junk into cash that I could actually put to good use. I donated close to $500 worth of clothing, books, and household goods - a tax write off for me and a pair of pants for someone in need.
Putting myself through a deliberate minimalism challenge encouraged me to be intentional about my belongings. Intentional about my life. Decluttering raised a lot of questions, not only about things and what those things do for me - but about life and what’s important in life. I have a long way to go to being truly minimalist, but it feels great to be on the path there. Minimalism is a journey, not a destination.
The common misconception about minimalism is that you have to live with less, suffer, cut back, make your life uncomfortable. That’s probably a 30,000 foot view of minimalism. In reality, I believe that minimalism is not about living with less - it’s about living with just enough. Minimalism is about keeping only the things that add value to your life. For one person, that might be just a book, a laptop and a coffee cup. I also happen to need a kayak and a bike, oh, and that fondue set - I love fondue. The point is - being deliberate about what you have feels great. The fewer unnecessary items in your life, the less you have to worry about and keep track of.
It enables you to spend time doing the things you love doing.