The first decluttering I remember doing when I was perhaps ten or eleven years old. I wanted a more “grown-up” room with more aesthetic appeal. I always liked the “less but something I really love”-approach. I remember it being very hard because I felt guilty for tossing away anything. It was mostly broken pencils and some random plastic junk or a freebie sticker. A tiny bag, and I still felt bad about not wanting to keep that stuff anymore. Most stuff I couldn’t even have gotten rid of without asking my parents anyway.
This same feeling followed me around – I actually could not get rid of my first boyfriend because I somehow felt that when I started something or got something, it was mine to take care of forever. After a long time agonizing, I finally did dump the boyfriend, and I was single for a few years. I wanted to make sure he was a keeper next time so I was very picky! During this time in my early twenties I lived alone and got into my first truly minimalist kick. After losing the boyfriend it got easier to dump stuff too, though I still felt incredibly guilty, and I just didn’t really know what to do with the things.
I lived with quite little, yet I spent too much money on clothes and such. I had a fragile self-esteem and I used stuff to try and make myself more confident, make people like me and think I was cool, and trying to define to myself who I was. It is not uncommon for young people trying to find themselves to go through this, and some people are stuck in the cycle for a lifetime. When I met my now-husband and we moved in together, I lost the control of my living surroundings. Suddenly it wasn’t just my stuff, it was his stuff too and our stuff and I could not make decisions about keeping or not keeping it.And I am an all-or-nothing type of person. So if I didn’t have complete control, I didn’t even try to control our stuff at all. Not even my own – why would I have minimal personal stuff if I still had to live with all my husband’s stuff?
Early on living together, my husband would say that he hated cleaning, because it always made me mad. It made me mad because all the cleaning never made it look like I wanted. There was simply too much stuff. Yet it never occurred to me to talk about it and decide how we could make things better together. Until it did. I read Karen Kingston’s “Clear your clutter with feng shui”, and gave it my husband to read. It was an epiphany for both of us. I got my husband on board decluttering and it was great, but it was just the start of our journey a few years ago.
I was in art school and it meant A LOT of stuff. I was a prolific painter all through school and they made us students work hard. I have since got a separate studio (a separate headache!) so that stuff stopped spilling into our everyday living. There were other obstacles though. I’m mildly bi-polar (how fitting for an artist..) and after losing my mother and getting pregnant with my daughter, I just went a bit nuts with decorating our home, and buying baby clothes, and starting large scale craft endeavors, you know, things like that :). Soon after those patterned wallpapers were up I was regretting them, and my enthusiasm for the new craft hobby / business faded in a few months leaving we with bags and piles of materials.. And I realized I’d spent tons of money on clothes for a baby AND that now I had to figure out where to store all those clothes! Needless to say a lot of it was stuff we never ended up using anyway. Turns out I am not a mom who will dress her baby in cute outfits, little dresses and tights and such. Go figure.
The thing is I KNOW my taste, I have pretty much had the same aesthetic ideal for a home since I was seven years old. It was my aunt’s spare, bohemian flat in an old building with some old furniture and hardly any color at all and I remember being very impressed and the images from that apartment followed me as an example of how I wanted my home to look like. But this hasn’t stopped me from derailing from that knowledge. I used to read fashion magazines and decoration magazines and I’d let them influence me, or some weird mood would strike me. I didn’t realize that I could admire colorful, maximalist interiors but it didn’t mean that they were right for me. I will always, ALWAYS end up hating visual noise, be it clutter or patterns or loud colors.
When I was pregnant those things actually made me nauseous. My daughter is now two years old and the last year has been the most important year in my journey towards a minimalist lifestyle. I had to really look at myself, face some demons, and admit things about myself. One HUGE realization (simple as it may seem!) was that the clutter would never stop if I kept bringing in more. I had to get rid of the clutter AND STOP BRINGING IN MORE, whether it was through my own careless shopping to alleviate anxiety, or through gifted items, or through starting another craft project. I had to stop using STUFF to try to heal myself, to express myself. It only ever managed to make me feel worse in the end, and then I’d feel doubly guilty for getting rid of it.
We have donated a lot, but I have also made it my penance to sell some of the stuff. I hate selling so it helps when I consider buying something, to think about having to sell this thing later or dragging it to the charity shop. What a hassle! So now when I buy something it better be a keeper.
I also had to finally come to terms with what I truly liked to live like, not what seemed like a cool way to live. I am a highly visual person and I get very agitated and restless in a cluttered home (though other people’s maximalist homes don’t bother me and I even like them!). I do not like to own a lot of things, only what is actually used and loved. Things are not in short supply in this world, on the contrary, there is an excess of stuff and I will always be able to get more, so there is no need to keep reserves of stuff like craft supplies or clothes. More than likely it’ll end up unused because I’ve moved on! I have also realized that I dislike recognizable designer furniture and decorations and clothing with labels.
I have to ease up on my perfectionist tendencies. I’m very thankful for my husband being into minimalism too, so it’s actually pretty easy, though I’d rather not look into his desk drawers because he is so disorganized it makes my head spin! But I am sharing a home with two other people who have a right to have their important things too, even if I can’t always see the value in them. We recently up-sized from 600 square feet to 1000 sq ft because I thought I wanted more space. Three months later we are back in the same 600 sq ft apartment. I missed the friendly neighborhood, living right next to a beach and a community playground and just being in the middle of an active community, very important to me now as a stay-at-home-mom. I felt so at home coming back to our 50’s one-bedroom that is a bit rough around the edges.
I feel at peace when there is no thinking and planning of buying stuff, going shopping and buying stuff, and finding space for it and maintaining it and cleaning around it, to distract me from simply being there, doing nothing, playing with my daughter, hanging out as a family.
For this last move I had a friend to help me pack and we did the whole thing in three hours. With furniture, it took three trips with a small van (with some bits left over). After it was all here, my husband said half jokingly: ” Let’s reduce our stuff to one-third of this!” And so we actually started another round of decluttering, just when I thought we were surely done. The goal is, when we move the next time, to fit all our things in two trips with a small van, so more like reducing another 30%.
While on my journey towards a minimalist life, and since the life-altering events of losing my mom and becoming a mom, I have also shed my ambitions like an old skin. I used to dream of being a successful artist and all that jazz, but now I simply want to be. There is no career in the world that would be more important than taking care of my daughter. I also used to dream of a big house. Now I don’t ever want a big house. Small and cozy yet ascetic is the way for us. The ascetic part comes from having little stuff, and the coziness comes from natural materials and colors, a slightly worn look. I like my old stripy rag rugs that I can throw in the washer, and the small and light but very comfortable 50’s arm chairs, our simple set of dishes, plain linen sheets, only paper blinds on the windows, walls of unfinished cement that are simply painted over, and almost complete lack of decoration throughout. Our “decoration” comes from beautiful everyday objects, like a vintage enamel bowl full of fruit and a pot of kitchen utensils in the kitchen, handmade soap and organic cotton shower curtain in the bathroom and our daughters colorful toys in the living room. This home is for us, for living and laughing and loving. For making milk shakes and sleeping late and reading books. It’s not a place to display our good taste, or money, or artistry, or knowledge of what’s hip. In the end there is no reward for the one who finishes with the most money and possessions, biggest house, travels around the world, three doctorates, acclaim and fame. It’s just us and our creator and like my grandpa used to say: “There are no pockets in the last shirt”. ~~Thank you Colleen for asking me to write a guest post for you, and thank you to anyone who read it :)~~