This time last year, I came across Marie Kondo’s book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, and it completely changed the way I think about our possessions (hence the book’s title). In a culture where the name of the game seems to be how much stuff we can accumulate, she encourages a life that is simplified, content with less, filled with joy and quality but low on clutter. I was SOLD. It took months, but the Mr. and I went through our things and pared down to the essentials. We sold, donated, or threw out half of our things, and we immediately felt lighter in our spirits. Our house was easier and more enjoyable to clean, and it felt brighter and more peaceful. Since then, we have thought twice about buying things, and we are much better about throwing things out that are past their prime. We have loosened our grip on material things and have become detached from possessions and more connected to people. We still have a long way to go and a lot to let go of, but most of the things that fill our home mean something to us, and most of our furniture has been handed down and has great stories that come with it.
I have a hard time balancing the desire to be a minimalist with the urge to be hospitable. I have gotten to the point where I don’t want to have to store anything extra, but at the same time, if someone comes to our home, I want it to be enjoyable, comfortable, and exciting for our guests. So I have to decide what things are most important for creating a life-giving home for guests, while at the same time minimalizing clutter. It’s okay to have things, but if you are constantly feeling stressed out and anxious at home, consider minimalizing your possessions to create some room to breathe more easily. Your home should be a sanctuary for your family, not a storage unit that’s crammed full of things.
Below are a few tips inspired by Kondo’s book to get you started:
1. Take inventory of what you already have.
You can’t accurately assess your needs until you really take stock of what you already own. Conquer one category at a time (this is important; don't purge by room, but by category), pull out everything in that category that you own, and gain a visual perspective of just how much you own. You may be surprised how many pairs of pajama pants you have, while you really only wear one pair repeatedly. Or how many old T-shirts you’ve been saving for paint clothes. Seeing what you have helps you decide how much you really use and need.
2. Keep only what you currently have room to store comfortably.
I was doing laundry one day, and when I tried to put away my husband’s socks, I realized that no matter how much I stuffed the socks in, the drawer would barely close. Fed up, I emptied the entire drawer and counted upwards of 38 pairs of socks. THIRTY-EIGHT! That’s more than a month’s supply of socks, crammed beyond reason into a drawer. So I began pairing down. I encouraged him to keep only a week’s worth of socks, including dressy socks for work, athletic ankle socks, and tall athletic/casual socks. No one needs 38 pairs of socks. NO. ONE. (If you’re wondering, I do laundry about every three to four days, so a week’s worth is plenty.)
3. Keep only what is in good shape/of good quality.
Less is more here. You don’t need eight pairs of flip flops that you got from the Old Navy dollar bin. Pick one that is neutral in color, MAYBE a backup, and get rid of the rest. I have one pair of gold and one pair of black. I am a reformed flip flop collector.
4. Keep only what you actually use.
Do you own a set of hot rollers for your hair that you use maybe once every year or two? (I'm speaking from experience here.) Decide that maybe curling your naturally curly hair is not worth the hassle, and throw them out. It costs more to store them than they actually are worth. Think about the books you own. How many have you read more than once? Keep your favorites that you re-read, and take the rest to a used bookstore in return for some cash. If you enjoyed reading it once, then it served its purpose, and it's time to move on.
5. Keep ONLY the things that bring you joy.
Does that shirt accent your curves in all the wrong ways? Throw it out. Do you have pictures of your fifth-grade afro hair hidden in the bottom of your sock drawer? Seriously, rip them up and dispose of the evidence. Are there clothes that are outdated that you hang on to because they’re technically in good shape, but you haven’t worn them in a year? Donate. Only keep the things that spark joy deep inside. You’ll find that once you are only surrounded by things that comfort or excite you, you are less stressed.
6. Throw out papers.
The Mr. and I used to keep a year’s worth of statements to all of our monthly bills in file folders. I’m not sure why, honestly; I guess we thought we may need to dispute a bill at some point? Well, we never did. Chances are you will actually need to refer back to about 5 percent of the paper you keep around the house. (That percentage was totally made up, but you get the point. I’m probably right.) Take the time to put login info and passwords all in one place, on one sheet of paper, or better yet, in a digital Word document, and throw out the physical papers. If you actually do need to look up account information, you will more than likely be able to find what you need by making a simple phone call, and you will feel so much better not having to manage all of that clutter. When you think about it, you probably only need two file folders: one for things you will need later, and one for things you need in the near future. I promise you do not need files for every company you do business with or all the paper user manuals that come with products you buy (all available online, by the way).
7. Stop buying stuff.
The next time you are tempted to buy something that isn’t food or perishables you actually need, skip it. Try to get by without it for a few weeks, and see if that urge to buy passes. A LOT of the stuff we own were actually impulse buys that we didn’t give much thought to. If you are still thinking about it after a month and decide it is something that you need and will add value to your life, then go back and purchase it.
8. Keep everything of the same category in one designated place.
This is obvious for kitchen and bathroom items, and even most of our clothing. But how much time do you spend looking for items such as cords, batteries, light bulbs, or pens? How many places in your home will you find spare change or notebooks lying around? What about remotes? Decide where you want to keep things of the same category, and return items to their place when you are done using them.
9. Find a new use for old things.
Instead of running out and buying something new each time you have a need, try repurposing or making do with something you already own. For example, instead of buying an immersion blender, try using your regular blender. Or instead of buying a new article of clothing, try mixing and matching what you already have to invent a new outfit.
10. Remember what is most important.
The joy of this life is not found in more stuff. If you find you are constantly spending money on things you don’t need, stop and think about why. Personally, I notice when I go through seasons of loneliness or disappointment, I tend to spend more. The pleasure of ordering things online and having packages arrive in the mail, or having something shiny and new to take home from the store is a momentary break from the mundane. But in those seasons, if I realize why I feel the need for more stuff, I can identify behaviors that signify deeper issues, and deal with the real issues. And I can choose instead to do something that will nourish my spirit in healthier ways, either with self-care, connecting with a friend, prayer, or even exercise. The important things in life cannot be bought, so be careful not to buy into the lie that you can buy contentment.