9 Small Steps Toward Minimalism (from a former shopaholic)

For the past couple of weeks we've been engaged in a battle of the outbuildings.  When we moved to our home about 10 years ago, we downsized.  We lost an extra bedroom as well as lost space within the main living areas.  Add to that the fact that 5 years ago we started a business and continue to run it from our home.  All of this meant that excess items that couldn't fit into the house (or had to be moved with the business expansion) were placed into totes and placed into one of the 3 outbuildings.

So, as we began the battle of the outbuildings I quite quickly realized we still have a lot of stuff.  I must say, much less than previously, but I didn't remember that we'd kept a lot of what we uncovered.  It was a great reminder of the loss we previously surrounded ourselves with when purchasing it - loss of time, energy and money.  It was also a great way to begin this new year, serving as a reminder that I don't want to fill our home with "stuff".

I didn't want to bring any of it back into our home.  My husband had a hard time with that thought process.  I think because we own it, he feels we should find a space for it.  But, as Marie Kondo says, thank your possession for what it has given you, even if it's simply given you a reminder that you should think through your purchases more carefully, and let it go.  (anyone else love her show on Netflix???)  I love the fact that we have less in our home and I really don't want to clutter it back up again.

Shopaholics Unite!
We truly have everything we "need" in our home.  I've come to realize (and appreciate) this.  Despite the fact that the newest gadget is marketed to be so much better then the previous model (the one we all own), I've learned that I just don't need it.  As long as the gadget still works, it doesn't need to be replaced.

I think part of my challenge is that all of my childhood stuff equaled love.  It was easy for me to think of it as the more stuff you had, the more you were loved.  I came from a dysfunctional home riddled with alcoholism and violence.    My parents bought themselves a lot of stuff and gave me a lot of stuff, which made the connection between stuff and love easy, I suppose.  When I went out on my own I still equated stuff with love and, therefore, shopping was my main hobby.  I bought things every single week.  Clothing, home décor, whatever I wanted I thought I needed to buy.  And if I couldn't afford to buy it right there and then?  It went on a list and as soon as I had the money I would buy things from the list.

The problem?  Well, number one is that stuff absolutely does not equate to love.  But number two, I didn't save any money.  Not one cent.  I spent and spent and spent.  And of course, number three is that I wasted an enormous amount of time (shopping for the items, dusting the items, and later storing the items), money and energy on things that I didn't truly love.

Shopaholic No More!
Finally, in my late twenties I started figuring this out.  While I still had collections, I no longer needed every single thing that caught my eye.  Even while working in retail I was able to stop shopping for clothing and jewelry and handbags and home décor and....well, you get it.  And I was happier.  There was a release of stress that I hadn't even realized existed.  The stress of always being on the lookout for something.  The stress of wanting to be able to afford what I had convinced myself I needed.

And then, in my early thirties I got it even more and the collections not only stopped, but I sold them all off.  Gone.  I just couldn't stand it anymore.  I wish I could tell you what specifically triggered this, but I'm not entirely sure.  I just remember looking at a spare bedroom that had no furniture because it was 3/4 full of boxes of stuff (stacked to the ceiling, mind you) and thinking that it was really ridiculous.  I was holding onto hope that we would purchase a larger home just so we could unbox our collections.

We didn't need the future space for living, just for displaying stuff.  

Then I remember asking myself if these collections truly meant something to me or if it was more of an obsession at this point.  I determined that I really didn't have an appreciation for the collections, that it had just become habit/obsession to buy missing pieces.  And that's when I decided that it all had to go.

I had to consciously make changes in order to stop because shopping for the items was now a part of our regular routine.  We really had to change our routine of where we went and what we did during leisure time.  I found that if I went to a store that carried any of my collections I felt an impulse to buy.  And I didn't want that.  I had to break the addiction.  And so, it took a few months but that's exactly what I did.

It's hard, I'm not going to lie.  Especially with the conveniences of online shopping (and loads of free shipping) where you don't even have to leave your home.  If you are also trying to stop your own shopping addiction, please know that it's ok if you make mistakes and get back on the shopping high.  Forgive yourself and decide right then and there that the shopping will end and get right back on that horse.  It is absolutely possible to start to change your life.

Finding Contentment
Minimalism, I think, really begins with finding contentment.  Contentment with who you are and what you have.  This by no means is meant to say that you can't also be ambitious.  Rather, finding contentment with what you have means that you don't need anything more.  You are happy and grateful for what you have.  Contentment allows you to save more money as well because you are fulfilled.

5 Small Steps Toward Minimalism

This list certainly won't magically make you a minimalist tomorrow, but it will get you going on the right path.   The act of minimalism is to live only with things you need.  While most of us don't have aspirations to truly pare down quite that far (I certainly don't), I think striving to strip out things that aren't essential or that you don't enjoy immensely, can only help.  Removing unnecessary items gives you space and may save you time.  You no longer have to clean or organize things that don't fit your current or future life.

1. Determine Why You Want To Move Toward Minimalism
    Why do you want to own less stuff and, instead, spend more time, energy and money on living in the moment?  Is it the liberation of ridding the clutter?  Is it to get out of debt?  Is it to spend more time with those you love?  Is it to break the unhealthy addiction to materialism?  Is it to ultimately have the freedom of choosing what you'll do with your life?
     For me, I wanted to get out of debt, start saving for future goals, learn to live more frugally (still working on that one), break the addiction to materialism AND to get rid of clutter.  I can't stand clutter.  I am one of those who spends a ridiculous amount of money on organizational solutions just so I don't have to see clutter or disorganization.  This is exactly why I needed to stop shopping.....

2. Decide What Your End-All Goal Is
     Do you truly want to get rid of all items you don't need?  Do you want to keep only things that spark joy and/or things you need?  Do you have a collection or two you would like to keep but would like to purge other knick-knacks and miscellaneous items?
     Each of our journeys will look different and each of our end goals will be different.  Some will want to go for true minimalism while others may just want to clear some clutter.  While I admire those who are true minimalists, it's not my story.  I need things.  But, that being said, I no longer need a lot of things.  In fact, my journey is still evolving because although I'd put an end to much of my shopping years ago I was still working on feeling a sense of contentment until just recently.  I'm now working on living an even more frugal life.

3. Set Your Goals And Priorities
     What do you want the next 2, 5, 10, and/or 50 years of your life to look like?  A list of goals and priorities is helpful so that you can review when making a decision.  For instance, take our goal of living debt-free, including mortgage, as well as saving $10,000 or more per year.  I love books.  LOVE books.  So if I peruse a bookstore and see something that peaks my interest I now ask myself 2 things:  Do I love this/is this something really important to bring into my life?  If the answer is no, then I think about my long-term goal list.  Will the purchase of this item help get closer to our goals?  Because we've prioritized saving $10,000 per year or more as well as working on paying off our mortgage, the answer would be no.  Spending money on something I didn't truly love/find important would not be in line with our long-term goals.

     Honestly, I wish I'd had this thought process a long time ago.  I do believe it would have helped put things into perspective earlier on.

4. Get Rid Of Your "Just In Case" Items
     Am I the only one who has "just in case" clothing?  The smaller sizes (just in case I lose weight), the numerous dresses that haven't been worn in 10 or more years (just in case I need a different dress-up look).  How about bins of cables, cords, and such collected to maybe use someday (but haven't touched in 5 or more years)???  I understand that there's a practicality to storing some of these items (I hear it from my husband when I bring up his 4 junk drawers and 2 junk baskets....) but do you honestly need to keep it all?  Well I learned that the answer to that is "no".  Actually, it's NO!  :)
     I had to check myself on this when I brought up said junk drawers and junk baskets only to have my just in case clothes brought up to me.  And he was right!  I hadn't worn the clothing in a very long time so to the donation center they went.  And guess what?  I've never (ever) missed them.

5. Choose One Room To Be A Clutter-Free Zone
     Thinking of decluttering your entire home is likely going to be overwhelming.  Instead, why not select one room per week or per month?  Chipping away at one room, and successfully clearing it out will help you feel empowered and motivated to do more.
     For me, I started with our bedroom because of my (ridiculously large) stacks of clothes and shoes after the above-mentioned conversation regarding my "just in case" clothes.  Armed with a list of our long-term goals I was able to go through our possessions and determine what to keep (things that I love, things that I need, and/or things that are in line with our long-term goals) and what to get rid of.     The papers in our home office were probably the most difficult for me, just because it was so time consuming to sit and go through it all.  I had everything organized into folders and bins but the reality was, it all needed to be reviewed because there was plenty of papers we no longer needed.  I saved the office until the end (or procrastinated, however you'd like to see it) and told myself that I had to do it.  I made sure I had plenty of folders, label tape, and bins for business paperwork (I don't drink or that would have been considered as well....) and I made stacks as I went through it.  We burned the "dispose" pile and I filed the remaining.  Now I purge the files on an annual basis.

6.  Practice the One In, One Out Method
     Particularly if you are a shopper, once you've decluttered this may be the best method to ensure you don't fill your home back up again.  The process is simple:  if you buy something then you must get rid of something.  This has worked for me for clothing, shoes and books.  The items I continue to struggle with at times.  I still have impulses to buy things that I like, regardless of whether or not I need them.  Once I implemented this for myself it has given me reason to pause and really consider a purchase.

7. Consider Decluttering Other Aspects Of Your Life
     Do you feel like hyperventilating when you look at your family calendar?  Do you avoid your email inbox because of the sheer volume of unread email?  Do you still believe multitasking is a worthwhile endeavor?  Just a few of the areas you may consider looking at in order to give yourself a break.  For me, this was a great challenge because it felt SO GOOD when I'd gone through computer files including photos, emails, files, etc.  I chipped away at it every night so it wasn't so overwhelming.  It actually didn't take nearly as long as I'd anticipated.

8.  Create A Savings Account (Or Increase Your Contributions To An Existing One)
     Cutting unnecessary spending is a big part of minimalism with financial freedom being the ultimate goal.  Financial freedom means you have the ability to do what you would like to do with your life whether it be leave your career, travel, or just increasing your nest egg for the someday.   This is how we were able to begin working for ourselves.  I stopped most shopping (I've since cut it back even more), learned some frugal ways (again, I've since adopted even more), learned to truly feel content with what we have.  And now we are working even more diligently at saving, saving and saving.

9.  Remember To Live Intentionally
     A huge part of minimalism is focusing on the here and now, thinking about the future, and cutting out things that don't fit with either.  This will actually promote more happiness as well.  Small daily actions can either work toward or against living the life you really want to live.  If you live with intention you can ensure you are working toward the life you want.  This means turning off auto-pilot and being present in the moment.  It means planning for the expected (so you can more efficiently deal with the unexpected), as well as expressing gratitude for small and large things.

Have You Worked Toward Minimalism In Your Own Life?


Kathy said...

I loved watching Marie Kondo as well and it came about a week after I helped my sister pack up her house [1 person] which took us 12 hours days and days. I came home determined that my house [family of 3] would not be like that next time I moved. Then I watched Marie Kondo and I was even more determined to get rid of the clutter. I will never be a minialist as well and I love my stuff however like you there's stuff and then there's stuff...stuff you want and stuff you don't really need anymore. Marie Kondo has had such a huge affect in Australia in January that the charity shops are over flowing with things [stuff].

Cindy said...

Great post. I love home decorating and reading all the blogs. I have bins full of seasonal decor that it is getting harder and harder to find storage for. I'm starting to re-think some of that.
Havent been to your blog in a while. I was sorry to read about your beloved dog passing. My deepest condolences. I know your heart hurts terribly. Our dogs really do become our family dont they? My husband and I dote on our Havanese and love him just as much as our human children and grandchildren I think.

Staci at Life At Cobble Hill Farm said...

I so agree Kathy! Isn't it funny how real it gets when you're helping someone move? It became real for me first the last time we moved and then again when my mother-in-law passed away and we were going through the mounds and mounds of things. That's funny about the Australian charity shops! I guess if you don't have aspirations toward minimalism now's the time to shop!!

Cindy - welcome back! Thank you for your kind thoughts for our loss of our sweet boy Emerson. Yes it does hurt. I hear you on the seasonal décor. I ended up purging that a few years ago and I haven't missed one item. Good luck to you!!