Note: This is a guest post from Zoë Kim of Raising Simple.
Finding our lives under everything we own is more than clearing away just junk. Often it requires removing good quality things. Expensive things. Useful things. Admired things. Fancy things. It means letting go of perfectly good stuff in order to pursue something more meaningful.
I began de-owning my excess six years ago. My husband deployed frequently and we had two children under five. I was spending more time doing something with our stuff than doing something with my family.
With my husband half-way across the world, the kids and I had to pack up to move again. It was our third move in six years, but this one was just down the street. How difficult could that be?
Well, the process of personally packing, unpacking, and organizing all of our stuff drained the joy right out of me—for two months. I wanted to take my kids to the beach, play at the park, and listen to their laughter. But I was exhausted, and stressed. Busy taking care of all our stuff.
It was in that stress, exhaustion, and desire to live better that I had an ‘ah-ha’ moment. I began to see the real cost of so much stuff— and it was way overpriced!
I started peeling away the layers of excess. And I was on a roll—until I hit that layer of perfectly good things! Valuable things that people spent much time and life to purchase. I felt wasteful and sick at the thought of giving it away. This was good stuff— wasn’t it? Maybe so. But I was learning, “The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it.” —Henry Thoreau
It is possible to break through the layer of perfectly good things. Through the process, I learned these practical steps:
1. Accept the mistake. Often, we will see many mistakes as we start to purge all the ‘good stuff.’ Acknowledge it was a mistake so you can move on. Keeping something that does not add value to your life keeps you stuck holding on to the mistake.
2. Shift your perspective. As I journey further into minimalism, I realized there is far more joy in giving things away than can ever be found in owning more.
3. Designate a spot. In the beginning, I would walk through my house and see things I thought I wanted to donate but they stayed put until I set up a spot to start putting it all. Set up a box, closet or room to place your donation items. Remove them from your house often.
4. Community. Share your excess with your community. Donate books to schools and libraries. Donate clothing and other household goods to local foster care organizations, shelters, and your local food pantry.
5. Experiment. Experimentation by elimination has helped me shed the layers of good stuff quicker. I simplified my beauty and bath routine by removing 60-80% of my products. Much to my surprise, many things I kept had no real value to my day.
6. Keep your eye on your why. In times of discouragement, make a choice to focus on why you are giving perfectly good things away. Remember, you’re giving up the good for the best.
7. Ask yourself better questions.
Does it serve its purpose—to serve my purpose?
We’re often not consciously thinking about our motives when we keep things, but everything has a cost. How much are you willing to sacrifice your passion and purpose for possessions? Some of our things serve a purpose. The important things give our lives meaning and joy. The useless ones just drain our time.
Can this be useful to someone else?
When we hold on to good things we do not need, we keep them from being helpful to others. I used to think it would be wasteful just to give things away that were barely used or not used at all—especially if they weren’t cheap. But then I thought, what if I just own my mistake in buying this thing by giving it away.
Would I leave this as someone else’s’ responsibility?
With my spouse deployed in harm’s way, I was expected to plan. I filled out the spouse deployment form—pages filled with detailed questions and answers should my husband be killed. Experiences like these gave me more prudence. What will the state of my stuff look like when I’m no longer here? Do I enjoy this enough to leave if for someone to take care of—because it will be my family taking care of it someday?
How do you want to live your life?
Own too much, and you’ll live a life owned by your stuff. Say yes when you should say no and you’ll live a life organized by others. Keep more than you need, and you’ll give less to those in need.
The journey to minimalism might look like it’s about going through and purging your possessions. But it’s much more about going through your heart. “The question of what you want to own is actually the question of how you want to live your life.” Marie Kondo
I’ve often wondered if I would have journeyed into minimalism had we not experienced the active duty military life. If we hadn’t moved so often and been stretched in stress, would I have kept it all put-away—like organized hoarding happily?
Nonetheless, I’m grateful for the experiences which brought me to the path to living more intentionally with a lot less.
Zoë Kim blogs at Raising Simple where she inspires others to live an intentional life by owning less, creating new habits, and cultivating opportunities to give. And be sure to check out her on Facebook.
Kim Taylor says
Thank you for your blog! When my husband of 29 years passed away in 2017, it was incredibly emotional to sort through all of his belongings…all his boxes from his childhood kept over the years. These things held fond memories for him, but did not hold the same memories for me.
I can relate to what you said about giving things away, and helping the community. I found homes for many of his things, and donated a lot to local second hand stores. It felt good knowing that a lot of his things were helping others!
I also learned to repurpose his shirts, military uniforms, and a bunch of saved patches. I gifted many items to his family and our kids with quilts, teddy bears, pillows and other items. That has really brought me peace through my grief!
Again, thank you for sharing!
Denise Rouleau says
My joy comes from giving. Granted, I truly don’t need to sell items, as I have an income that covers my needs. But, like many others, I’ve been holding onto clothing that I am never going to fit me again! I’ve lied to myself for years, & my daughter encourages me to keep the clothing. I’m done. There are so many people out there who’d benefit from some nice clothing. I’m happy that I’ve found a charity in my area that has a once a week dinner, with other services & goods offered at the same time. What they cannot logically distribute to their flock, gets sold in their store (proceeds benefit their mission). Now I just gotta round up some heavy bags!
SO GLAD I CAME ACROSS YOUR COMMENT TODAY TRACY! 🙏💛
I too have been going through very similar circumstances as yourself. Trapped in a vortex of need my things versus need to get rid of things but fearful of making wrong regrettable choices.
I lost close family (3 in 5 weeks just before Christmas 2018 and another the following Christmas 2019 just before the pandemic. Then with a house move (downsizing but without being able to downsize possessions – on the go after living in my present home for 26 years) in May this year being stopped after months of living out of packed up boxes due to the other party messing about. Then tragically and suddenly in June (less than 2 weeks after the house move falling through), my beloved partner of almost 30 years had a fatal heart attack and died on our doorstep. It’s been beyond nightmares and I’m still numb and dysfunctional from the shock of it 4 months later.
As I write this comment, I have a long way to go. I have been to-ing and fro-ing to local charity shops with car loads of loved belongings that I have barely even looked at, let alone worn (still with tags) and still I buy cute – must have trinkets – on an almost daily basis. I cannot live properly in my 3 bed home and spend 80% of my time, moving items, cleaning, moving back items, thinking I’m making some sort of progress. Buying fabulous cutesy pastel coloured storage containers to store my gorgeous cutesy trinkets until I get my house in the right order to get them out on display! Some stuff I have frustratingly broken before it’s even seen the light of day.
The vision I have for my beautiful end result home has been that long in the making, it’s got over 10 years of cobwebs on it! Everything has gone out of and come back in fashion! Seriously!!
I am at the stage now where the death of my partner has made me realise how fragile life is and how it can be cruelly snatched from us in the blink of an eye. Why is it though, that I am still at pains to part with my stuff, even though it gives me panic attacks thinking about our son having to not only sort through his Dad’s things (which we haven’t even started properly yet), but would be left with all my things too. My main dilemma has been the sell v donate stage. I’ve spent all that time and money and never even got to live with the stuff and use it for the purpose intended and now I don’t know where to start. I’ve also tried giving stuff away at front of house but that’s not easy either! Boot sales (I’m in England) and people want brand new clothes with tags and Radley/Cath Kidston bags and stuff for 10p’s or 10 cents. What’s the point?! It cost me more for the pitch so I tried the good old American Yard sale and people walked by bewildered! They must have thought I was just sittin there all day airing my wares out before cartin them all back indoors again.
So if anyone can help me move mountains – I’d appreciate your advice. Thanks in advance.
Tracy – in the meantime, I will keep far-reaching your comments so as to not lose sight of my end goal which is to live a life free of clutter and spend more time with family and opening my home up to visitors as I cannot get away with making them sit outside now winter is here.
This was touching to read, and so eloquently written.
I’m also sorting and decluttering after a close family member bereavement, and I’ve come to realise that none of this ‘stuff’ we surround ourselves with matters.
Some days the battle of inner dialogue of what to do with one item makes the whole process agonisingly slow, but other days it’s easy to rattle through it.
A lot of the stuff I’ve thrown or donated is long forgotten immediately and the original cost pales in comparison to the weight lifted off my mind.
So, my advice to you (and me) is just keeping going. You’ll feel much freer. Also, perhaps make a deal with yourself to stop buying more until the old has been cleared if possible, then you’ll deserve to buy more, or maybe you’ll feel you don’t really need it.
Thank you for your reply Justin – it means a lot. I agree totally with you about your views, you’re spot on. It is a slow process deliberating what to do with each item but at the same time great to shed the burden once they’re gone. Since my last comment, unbelievably I’m up to funeral 9 in 8 months!! If that’s not a reason to get rid of things of no true value as is human life and the precious time we are robbing ourselves of!
I too am sorry for your loss. Our loved ones would want us to be happy and free of restrictions to live the life we have been gifted to us. I wish that for you also.
Lisa x 🕊
This article gave me the nudge to FINALLY take the leap into the unknown. I’ve been unsuccessfully decluttering since my move from California to Massachusetts 16 years ago. One divorce, one break-up, several deaths in the family, 4 inter-state moves, one baby (now a teen), one car crash, a pandemic (which exposed deep rooted childhood and early adult trauma)….Here I am feeling weighed down heavy, unable to focus. I am worn to the bone. I am an empathic people pleaser who has neglected self. I am running on empty. I have stuff everywhere:
*My 2-bedroom apartment (balcony closet and basement storage room included)
2 storage units (separate locations) filled with Ebay inventory and mannequins
A basement at a friends (more inventory)
I have been a stay at home mom my entire adult life. I’m 52 years old. I am now a single mom with a teenager. I have decided to shed my previous lifestyle. All of it really, with the exception of my interest in photography.
I rented a dumpster today. 70-80% of what I own will be in it by Friday (5 days away). Extreme? Maybe, but long overdue. I am nervous and apprehensive that I will feel exposed and lost. But, my desire to feel light with the sun against my skin is far greater. I will be taking a loss of a few thousand dollars in inventory. Reselling is time consuming. I’d rather rethink my income source so that time is invested with my child instead. It will be difficult to see my money being driven away by the dumpster guy but, I’ll take the time with family and friends. I have to give myself a strict deadline. It’s been 16 years. A little progress in spurts but nothing transformational. I’m ready and this feels right; unlike all the other times. Good luck to everyone in search of less.
Thank you for that insite. I like your thought about it
Jessica Fowler says
Help ! As I’m reading this I’m thinking “ok, I’ve got this, I have too much ”
But ,I know when I get to my closet and am surrounded by 150 plus handbags and wallets, I’m going to cave. How many do I really need ? I can only carry 1 at a time. How can I accomplish this goal ? Any suggestions???
joshua becker says
You only need one. Why do you want to own 150?
Scott Schultz says
Jessica, I suggest this…. Start with getting rid of 50 or 75. Take your time and seperate them in to the ones you are parting with, and ones you are keeping (for now). You could sell some on Offer Up, but you have to ask yourself whether it’s worth your time that it would take. Maybe you could sell a whole bulk of them, (50 or 75), to someone who sells stuff on Ebay or OfferUp. Start there, see how it feels. Sort thru the feelings that come up… and then when ready, reduce them in half again! And again. Find out what is enjoyable about the reducing, and follow those feelings.
I have found it very helpful to visualise someone who is unable to afford to have nice handbags for example, receiving one for free or minimal cost. It gives me great joy to visualise their joy, and makes it easier to separate from my belongings.
Yes, I have doing the same thing- visualizing someone going to my local thrift shop and finding the perfect bedding set, curtains, mall rugs, handbags, etc, because I finally let go and donated it. It is so helpful. And I am truly loving the now open space in my home.
Karen Solomon says
I have an attic filled with barstools and tables from my previous home. I have downsized to a townhouse but keep that stuff up there incase I move back to a bigger place. That’s not likely to happen so why can’t I get rid of it
Mr. Mediumist says
The fact is, we work hard so we can buy ourselves fun stuff like bar stools and tables. If you have space in your attic that you don’t plan on filling with anything else, then why shouldn’t you keep it? “Storing for future use” is not “hoarding”, especially if it’s something you definitely want to see again.
Now, containers loaded with “sentimental” items that you completely forget about because you only open the bins once every few years (if that often)… that’s stuff you need to think twice about.
Photographs are in a separate category. They’re always worth holding onto.
That bird carving that Dad bought Mom 20 years ago? See if it has any value and if not, get rid of it. It was a gift bought for someone else and there’s someone out there who will cherish it on a shelf instead of keeping it in a box that resides in shadows.
But, again, I don’t see why you’d get rid of something that’s not in your way. Yes, it may be a pain to move later, but unless you have to move as often Mrs. Minimalist, that shouldn’t pose any real problem.
joshua becker says
Every increased possession adds increased anxiety onto our lives. They take up both physical space in our home and mental space in our mind. That’s the problem with keeping (and chasing) things we don’t need. It’s hard to understand the weight of physical possessions until we begin to remove them.
I been in minimizing my things and trying to simplify my life for last few years and got rid off many things as possible… but i still struggle to get rid of my study materials as I studied fashion design.. (still have some after got off rid many).. I always feel like I am revolving around cleaning and organizing rather focusing in my business and not able to focus in work I supposed to do.. any advise helps to let go of some study materials and books
I would suggest to keep only the best ones, the most important ones. Trust the intuition of your feelings when holding the items.
Guru Mahousma says
Try becoming a mediumist before diving right into the minimalist pool. It isn’t for everyone.
Ask yourself this about your fashion designs… how much room do they really use? Is anything else going to use that space?
Do what’s right for you. Don’t worry about what other people do.
We are individuals and nobody can judge anybody.
Aaliya Riyaz says
It is a nice article and I am inspired by it. Truly, to be simple is actually tough. Simple thought and simple life can never be achieved if you stay attached to so many things that don’t serve any purpose in your life. There are beautiful ways of following simple life and you have done just that.
Excellent article! I have kept many items from when my children were growing up. I kept a beautiful fuzzy baby blankent we used when our children were infants. I put the blanket in a sealed plastic zipper bag. I felt by keeping the blanket in the plastic zipper bag the blanket would be forever kept in great condition and might be passed to our children for their children to use.
That was one item. Multiply that by 50 or more items per child. We carried boxes of memory items with us for thirty years. I had a feeling inside my heart all those years that the memories inside my mind were more important than the physical items. However It took many years to actually get rid of the physical items.
What is it worth to each of us to have heart-touching items kept for many years in the garage and closets where the items cannot be seen and enjoyed. We carry emotional attachment to these items; yet since cannot see the items we kept, we must use our imagination to remember what the memory items mean to us. Why must we keep boxes of memory items packed away taking up space in our home?
How about displaying the most cherished items we keep where we will enjoy seeing these items daily? You can have a display box with the front that opens so you can take an item out once in awhile. Keep only the most precious of the precious. Then take photos of all the items and store the photos on a thumb drive. Give away the items that you do not need. The saying “if you own something that takes up too much of your mind’s time, then hasten to give it away!” You have better things to plan for.
Why not sort through the boxes of memory items we that most cherish and donate the rest? I did this and it was really difficult to do at first. I kept reminding myself what are the most important items, keep these, and get rid of the rest. I felt freedom from wanting these things and from wanting a lot of new things in the future,
Actually I had to go through my items several times over the years and let go a little at a time. The more I gave away the easier it became to give more away. I thought about selling my items and I could have made good money selling these. I asked myself how much time, effort, and my cost would it take to sell these items.
I decided I would rather spend my time on other activities than to use up my time to sell my stuff. I gave my kids what they wanted and gave the rest to charity. Whatever we do for others comes back to us tenfold. This is true for me.
Dawn Millar says
I finally gave my children’s clothing (from birth to about 5 or 6) away. It was all in black bin bags with labels saying Children’s clothes KEEP. All good hardly worn and perhaps my own children could benefit from the clothes if they are in financial troubles. OMG – seriously, what was I thinking? The children are now 23 and 21.
It was too good to give away or donate to charity and is it worth selling it – lots of people sell baby clothes, so they were “my” special baby clothes. My kids were delighted when I finally dispersed of the clothing. It ended up going to friends who had youngsters in the family and a man who was telling me his daughter was about to add to her young son by having twin boys – her partner then left. Moved back with her mum and dad but needs to set up again. They were delighted with the clothes and dare I confess to cot bedding and linen. Some baby blankets etc.
Loved your article. Dawn.
Charles Griffin says
I like your way of thinking. I am 60 years young a d have to much clutter. I was thinking the same thing you were. Why not sell these things an make some money? I think ever person situation is different and I don’t see anything wrong with selling a few things. As long as you are cleaning up and not buying new things with your profits. I understand that giving things away is more rewarding.
This puts me in the middle, should I stay or should I go.
I really think I should have said, should I sell or should I give this away?
What you wrote resonated with me especially the last two paragraphs. I have contemplated selling things too. Makes great sense abs has encouraged me to not do that. I’ll continue to give away as I always have. And not take a receipt for tax purposes!!!!
Guru Mahoushma Parati says
Items like well kept baby blankets can be used as tapestries, be transformed into a big quilt or comforter or passed down through your baby’s babies.
Just because it lives in the garage doesn’t mean it’s useless.
Is it in your way? Do you have other plans for that space? Are you thinking of “minimalizing” just because other people say it’s somehow soul cleansing?
Think thrice before getting rid of something you’ll regret not having later.
“Storing” is not “hoarding”, unless it’s encumbering your existence.
Brenda Harrington says
My late husband was career military, and, as I realized after his death, a sentimental hoarder. For 20+ years, we moved tons of stuff all over the country–it was stressful and exhausting. We were always buying things to “organize” our lives. It never worked. When I was left alone with two stories of a house, attic, and basement filled with things, I had literal panic attacks, wondering how I would ever deal with all of it and be able to move. A friend helped me get started on donating and something clicked. It became a joy to downsize and gain control. I wanted to live my life, not be a caretaker to things. I will never go back.