“It’s better to own less than to organize more.” When I read that sentence I felt a big wave of yes wash over me. Despite the fact that one of my mentors, Julie Morgenstern, drummed it into me that organizing is not about getting rid of stuff, I’ve always felt strongly that part of my job as an organizer is indeed to help people part with things that no longer serve them.
I know for myself that serenity does not result from keeping everything and just making sure it’s labeled and in nice containers. Serenity comes from making the hard decisions about what makes the “stay” or “go” cut (and then you organize). When we get really clear about our values and priorities, these decisions are easier. The trick is calling the time out to get that clarity and do the initial clearing.
Joshua Becker, the blogger who wrote that lead-in sentence and author of the book, “Clutterfree with Kids,” decided to become a minimalist when he realized he could either reorganize the garage or spend time playing with his son. It was a “the stuff you own ends up owning you” moment.
Most of us know we have too much stuff. One of the interesting things Becker discusses in his book is how we work toward security (roof, food), then comfort (bigger, better, more entertaining) and then, if we get where we’re headed, luxury (designer labels, diamond jewelry). But the higher up the material scale we go, the more time and money we have to spend caring for our stuff. It becomes a vicious cycle and you can never retire.
Look for where you’re already choosing to live with less. When I was a kid I thought success was a Mercedes and diamonds, but now I know that success for me is a Prius and jewelry that doesn’t require a body guard and a second mortgage. High maintenance and debt are not part of my definition of success, so in those areas, I’m a minimalist.
Maybe you use the library instead of buy books, or read magazines online instead of purchase paper copies. I salute you. Where else can you live with less? You don’t have to get rid of the family heirlooms and your shoe collection first — start with the easy wins. Maybe you can let go of a bunch of kitchen gadgets or duplicates of tools in the garage. Maybe it’s a box of old high school term papers.
Minimalism means never having to spend days getting your space ready for company. Vacuum up the cat hair, make the beds and you’re done. It will take some effort not to bring too many new things into the home. Recently I bought three really cute cardigans and I panicked a little bit on the way out of the store, wondering if I’d be able to find three things to let go.
It turns out that when I went through my closet, I found eight things that I was happy to get rid of because they no longer suited me. I more than doubled my “one in, one out” rule and felt really light rather than guilty and crowded. It’s amazing how even in my very organized closet there were unneeded, unwanted garments lurking.
Remember, you can’t, ultimately, take it with you. So if you’re not using it or loving it, let it go and lavish the time, money and energy you would have spent caring for it on someone you love. PS, that person could be you.