In thinking about minimalism, I realized I took my first steps on this journey three and a half years ago…New Year’s Day 2014, to be exact. I looked around and decided I was tired of all the clutter I saw. I liked most everything I saw–it was my stuff, after all. But there was just too much of it, and I knew I certainly didn’t need it all, so I decided it was time to start getting rid of the clutter.
I hadn’t heard of minimalism at the time, so had no idea that there was an entire network of people already doing what I wanted to do. I didn’t know there were websites, Facebook pages, books, podcasts, and everything else out there for the new minimalist to go to for help and advice. I just knew what I knew, that I had too much stuff and I needed to get rid of a lot of it. Otherwise, I just might go crazy.
So I devised what I thought was an ingenious plan. I would throw at least one thing away per day. Since opening myself up to the network of minimalists, I’ve read where others were trying this plan, but at the time, this was a new concept for me, and I was going it alone. I thought it was a great idea, to get rid of at least one thing per day. If I came up with two or three or more items to throw away in one day, then I could hold the extra as credit if I missed a day.
A great plan, I decided. A little loose, maybe, but at least there was a plan. And so, on that first day in January, I took my first baby step on my journey to declutter and threw something out. Five somethings, actually. I threw away five years worth of Tropical Smoothie Cafe key tags*. The tags were a “thank you” for a donation to Camp Sunshine, and were worth 10% off any order through the end of the calendar year, but now they were doing nothing but taking up space on my key ring. I took them off and threw them in the trash.
And it felt good.
The next day, I threw away two pairs of earrings. I could have counted those five tags as five days worth of throwing something out but decided not to. I wanted to get rid of those earrings, you see, and I didn’t want to wait four more days to do it. I knew enough about myself to know that if I didn’t do my new habit daily, the journey would end. So out they went. Quick, easy, and done.
And on it went. I kept that up for about two weeks without fail. Then I missed a day. No problem, I thought. I had credit for all the extra things I had already thrown out. I kept right on getting rid of things. A compact of eyeshadow colors that never looked quite right on me. An old bottle of hairspray where the nozzle had dried out from lack of use. A stained t-shirt. A book of puzzles I had no interest in finishing. A stack of magazines. You get the picture.
The problem with this plan, as I eventually discovered, was that it was taking forever to see any change. In fact, after a month, I didn’t see any difference. At all. Sure, there were a few empty spaces in my jewelry box, and my nightstand no longer held a sliding stack of magazines, but where was the significant change I was looking for? Why was this journey taking so long? Eventually, I did what every person without a serious plan for change does.
I gave up.
Between then and now, I would move stuff around, box some of it up and stash it in the basement, or just ignore it. Sometimes, I would even throw stuff away or donate it. I changed my immediate environment, but the underlying problem never went away. The constant feeling that I was responsible for too much stuff and that I had failed yet again on my journey to change my life. I didn’t like the feeling but didn’t know what to do to fix it.
Then my life changed.
If you read my first blog post, you already know that my life-changing event was the passing of my mother. Faced with the very daunting task of sorting through all of her things made me realize I did not want to live the rest of my life with all this stuff. Yes, there are memories attached to many of the items and most, if not all, are good memories. And because I have the memories, I don’t need all of the physical things to trigger the memories.
Holding on to one or two crystal dishes are enough to trigger memories of shopping in the German crystal factories when I was a child. I can look at one dish and remember how my family put those pieces to use over the years. These pieces weren’t just decorations. We used them on a regular basis. I don’t need to keep all 50+ pieces to keep those memories.
The same with the silver chafing dishes. I don’t need them around to remember the bed and breakfast my mother owned in the 1990’s. I have pictures to help relive those memories. The chafing dish might even be in one of those pictures!
I no longer needed or wanted these things around me, both her things and mine.
That’s when I discovered real minimalism.
Reading about the journey others have taken or are taking, the things they were doing to change their lives, made me want to change mine too. I began researching, and then I began doing. I had already ditched the “throw something away every day” plan because it wasn’t having an appreciable difference in my life, and there’s a lot of different advice out there on what to do and how to start–so much so that it’s hard to know where to start. So instead, I started following the general minimalist decluttering guideline, which is
Keep only those things that I truly want because I want them around me.
In my next post, I’ll tell you how I applied that principle as I embarked on my journey to declutter my—or rather, my mother’s—kitchen.