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 our 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.