I used to be a messy person – like, can’t-ever-see-the-floor messy – but have turned a corner in the past few years thanks to one thing: dramatically reducing my belongings. My husband has thankfully been on board for the journey, too. I used to look around our apartment before we were married and think “How can two people make such a huge mess? How will we ever keep a house clean when we have kids?”
It’s taken me a long time and more than a few “aha!” moments to figure out what works for me and my family, but the more I commit to simplicity and living with fewer possessions, the happier I am.
Maybe you’ve read about families getting rid of all their kids’ toys, using the KonMari method or many others out there and you think it’s crazy. …Or crazy cool. Either way, I hope you’ll continue to follow your curiosity about this subject. If I can do it, you can do it.
I used to think the word minimalism was only for fancy white-walled apartments owned by architects. It seemed so remote and not possible for someone normal like me. I like the color white, sure, (<—understatement) but I do have stuff on my walls, full bookshelves and … other things. My home is not empty.
To me, minimalism isn’t about getting rid of everything you own and trying to be someone you’re not. Paint your walls whatever color you love and keep the things that you regularly use and make you happy.
I sometimes struggle with using the term “minimalist” to describe myself, because my home is very much a work in progress, but I continue to use this word because I think it’s good shorthand for downsizing, streamlining, simplifying and attempting to not only organize clutter but eliminate it almost entirely. Having a clean space gives me more room for living my life and less room for anxiety. Reducing my anxiety was the main initial reason I started exploring this lifestyle and while it’s not a cure-all, it has helped tremendously.
I don’t have everything figured out and there are days where my kitchen counter is entirely covered in dirty dishes, no exaggeration. My husband and I are still not amazing at being tidy all the time, but having less stuff is like having a shortcut to a clean home.
We had a few stops and starts on the road to decluttering and minimizing in a way that actually impacted our life for the better, and here are five top tips and advice to help anyone get started:
Seek out like-minded individuals.
Whether they are in person or online, hearing success stories or learning about families going through the same struggles or having similar ideas for what they want their life and home to look and feel like is extremely helpful and motivating. It can be isolating at times to attempt a lifestyle that some would view as extreme, and it’s great to have a support system, even if it’s people online or authors who may not even know you’re leaning on them for advice. If you don’t connect with a certain style or tone, don’t worry. Not all minimalists are alike but you’re sure to find someone’s tips and story inspiring. I like reading websites like The Minimalist Mom, Becoming Minimalist, The Art of Simple, Be More With Less, and Reading My Tea Leaves. YouTuber Light by Coco is fun to watch even though her lifestyle is very different from mine. I also like perusing Instagram for stories of #decluttering, #capsulewardrobe, and #project333.
Set up a giveaway/get-out-of-my-house box.
Right now. I’ll wait… Done? Great, glad you’re back. Don’t worry about sorting the items you place in this box (or bag, or bin…). Eventually, you might decide that different things will be donated, sold, or given away to such-and-such an organization or person. For now, place a bin or box of some kind in an easy-to-reach spot in your house. The bottom of a closet worked well for me. Now when you come across something in your home that you don’t use, don’t like and don’t need, you have a place to put it immediately.
Start with the easy stuff.
I got overwhelmed when I started thinking about big areas of my home that needed to be streamlined, like my overflowing closet or that big box of miscellaneous sentimental items. When I talk to family and friends interested in decluttering, they often ask me “oh my gosh, what would you do about ___?” Fill in that blank with the area that seems most daunting to tackle, whether it’s basement storage, their giant t-shirt collection, or kids’ toys. Tackling hard rooms or areas first can be really empowering, but if it’s causing you to stall, start small instead. Start by removing duplicates (you do not need 4 spatulas, trust me), broken items you know you’ll never fix or mend, and things you are sure you don’t like or do not use. Put them in the giveaway box or trash/recycling as you identify them. Start with one drawer, one box. This slow and steady wins the race technique worked for me for a long time. Even if you go big and take everything out of a closet/room (which is what I eventually had to do), you still might need to use this tip for maintenance later on.
Stop bringing new things into your home.
This is hard, but I highly recommend a shopping ban for at least a short amount of time. This excludes food and other necessary items but anything that you don’t absolutely need will have to wait. Have a strict plan for what happens when you or any member of your family inevitably brings something new home anyway – whether it’s a craft project or a new pair of shoes. Ours was/is: find a home for it immediately – in a drawer with like items, for example – or put it in the giveaway box. Another concept that worked for us was one in one out. If you want to get a new pair of shoes, you must get rid of the other pair (or pairs!) of shoes it replaces in style and functionality. Try not to stress if a bag filled with soon-to-be-broken or discarded plastic treats comes home with your kid from a birthday party, or somehow you end up leaving a store with more than what you intended to buy. Embracing minimalism for me is ultimately about reducing stress. There have been times where straying from the plan and subsequently being hard on myself about it caused me more stress than necessary. Be realistic, though. If you’re getting rid of stuff that doesn’t work for your home or life but also constantly bringing new stuff in, you won’t make progress.
Set up physical parameters.
Even if you technically have the space for more stuff, set up strict physical parameters for yourself. If you’re not interested in getting rid of a specific number of items or you don’t want to declutter your whole house all in one go, this is a good way to keep yourself accountable. Maybe say “I just have to clear out this one drawer” or “I can keep only what fits inside this box or bin and everything else has to go.” In the kitchen, if I found that stuff was spilling out of a drawer or didn’t fit well, I got rid of something… or several somethings. Offending items went straight into my giveaway box and I never looked back. I thought I’d miss a few things but I can honestly say that I haven’t missed my multiple extra corkscrews or fancy citrus juicer.
The process that worked for me was to blend different methods and techniques that resonated with me. It was a long process over several years. If you think going all-in on a single method like KonMari (outlined in the best-selling book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up) or signing up for a decluttering course with clear steps will work best for you, go for it!
There are days where areas in my home look like a tornado hit, but now instead of making me want to hide (or yell, or cry), I know it’s easy to clean up. I think that living more intentionally with less stuff would be beneficial for anyone – whether you start small or go for a big change.