As a writer and editor, I’m not as attached to my words. It comes with the job, and I quickly learned in journalism school that I would have to be willing to let go and not treat my stories as too precious. What serves the story and, ultimately, the reader outweighs my ego.
It hasn’t been as easy for me to let go of my belongings, however. Perhaps because I need to be judicious in my work, my judgement to my “stuff” in my personal life doesn’t get the same consideration.
I still have thesis papers and essays from college.
I graduated almost 13 years ago. But, you know, my kids might want to read them someday, right?
Why do we have difficulty editing our own material goods? For many of us, we’re also influenced by advertising and marketing messages that tell us to consume more. Eventually, the stuff we keep begins to feel overwhelming, and the consequences all too real.
Being curious by nature, I started to ask others about the emotional toll of clutter and heard a similar outcry: a desire to have only what’s essential, and do away with the rest for simpler living.
This thinking has been afoot in larger numbers for several years now as part of the “minimalist” movement and has garnered more attention thanks to bloggers, books, and the new film Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things, starring and produced by Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus (known as “The Minimalists”). I streamed the movie after Christmas (smartly after Christmas, I’ll note) and immediately looked for items to donate to charity.
In one hour and 18 minutes, the filmmakers covered the variety of issues that make the material goods in the material world so complicated and troubling for us. A few to think about:
- More things = more important person. The idea that the more stuff we have, the more worth we have. It’s a concept that spawned after the scarcity of food and money following the Great Depression and World War II, and it has become more pervasive with our constant exposure to the barrage of advertising.
- A bigger wardrobe is the new standard. The concept that fashion has gone from two or three seasons to 52 seasons, urging women to shop “fast fashion” every week for something new. (Read more on the issues surrounding fast fashion.)
- We’re outspending our budgets. So many people are struggling to makes ends meet, and yet we often buy new items without need, to “upgrade,” or without more thought than simply desiring it. And really, can we afford it anyway? Would that money be better spent elsewhere, say making memories on a family vacation or enjoying a lovely meal with old friends?
- More (and cheaply made) stuff = more stress on the planet and its people. Cheap products are cheap for a reason: The people who make them are underpaid and have poor work environments. Any time you’ve paid less for a product, you probably also know that it doesn’t last as long. In the end, it winds up in a landfill. (Find more enlightenment in Annie Leonard’s animated documentary, The Story of Stuff.)
- Searching through our stuff is a time suck. It made sense, but seeing how various minimalists lived — how easily they left their house, their clean houses, mind you, because there’s less stuff to collect dust — looked so freeing.
There were other issues the movie covered, of course, but these five resonated with me — particularly the last item. Time is a big focus for me in my life right now, both in my job and as a mother. I’m always looking to find more of it, and savor the time I’m afforded. If I can get to what I need quickly, I’m left with more time to play with my child.
Most moms-to-be don’t need to be reminded of this due to a fascinating phenomenon called “nesting.” Whether that means remodeling a bathroom or the nursery, or simply organizing the kitchen cupboards, there was a clearly defined time in my third trimester when I had to declutter.
I chose the linen closet as my major overhaul, and found inspiration in feng shui and decluttering expert Andrea Gerasimo’s makeover in our Order out of Chaos series (get tips for your closet, car, home office, bill-paying station, entryway, pantry, bedroom, and laundry and mudroom, too!).
Using a system of baskets (another curious trait I developed during pregnancy: the love of collecting and utilizing baskets, a wish for containment), I placed face products in one, hair care in another, medicine in its own, and so on. Two years later, everything remains sorted. When one starts to overflow, I review and edit out what’s no longer needed.
It’s a real and valuable challenge we’d all do well to try: Review what you own this weekend, and decide what can go. Keep only what you truly love and use often.
Editor’s Note: This blog post is part of our team’s Decluttering Series, in which we investigate the stuff we hold on to, and resources for taking a fresh look at our spaces and places. We hope it inspires you to find satisfaction in a simpler and easier way to live. We’d love to hear how you are enjoying life more with less!