I grew up in a family who kept everything. The closets were full. The garage was full. There were shelves upon shelves of knick-knacks and photo albums. We had decorations and kitchenware for literally every occasion. Being surrounded by this, I did the same thing. I kept everything. What if I needed it someday? What if an item I didn’t appreciate now ended up meaning more to me in the future?
My bedroom was an absolute mess. It was cluttered with things I didn’t need. I couldn’t move around. It was embarrassing, and I took absolutely no pride in my living space. Any time I considered cleaning it out, I looked at this giant storage bin of stuff my parents kept from my childhood, and I thought, “What if I get rid of something and they get mad at me for it?” This stuff didn’t mean anything to me. The bin was collecting dust in my closet. Every time I asked about it, they would insist that I would want those things when I got older. I waited and waited, but I never started wanting those things.
When I moved out, I left half of the junk. I told my parents I would take the storage bin when I had a bigger place. I threw away a lot of stuff. I left a lot of the furniture that only served the purpose of holding junk. And I moved in with someone very much like my parents. Things everywhere. But this was my space now too, so I started experimenting with the idea of minimalism. I got rid of my own things, while leaving my roommate’s things in place. As more and more of my things left, the apartment felt less and less like mine. The experience was never fulfilling. I was trying to have a certain number of things, and I felt bad when I didn’t want to go below an arbitrary number that I had picked. I wasn’t approaching the clutter in a positive mindset.
Eventually, I moved in with my best friend. I checked out Marie Kondo’s The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up from the library. I listened to the audiobook to and from work, and when I got home, I got to work on my things. I didn’t follow the instructions verbatim. I never felt like I had to. The book was a guide, not a strict set of rules. Not all of the instructions worked for me. But I let them inspire me.
I didn’t follow Marie Kondo’s schedule. I did it at my own pace. I only discarded a handful of books (about 15 of my now 450+ book collection). I did not move all of my clothes from the closet to the dresser, simply because it wasn’t realistic for my living situation. I gave a few items to my parents, against Kondo’s insistence that this is a bad habit. But I did not give the items to them because I wanted them later. I simply did not want them, and I knew they would be upset if I got rid of them. I did not count how many bags of things I donated. I did a lot of the work in a few days, and I continued to do the work for the months that followed.
I wasn’t aiming for a certain number of things. I was aiming to love everything I owned.
It was after this that I realized what the clutter was doing to my brain. I couldn’t focus with all these things around me. Every item that I didn’t want was mental clutter. When I got rid of the clutter, I got rid of the distraction. Suddenly, I could focus better. I was happier. I was more productive.
One of the most important things I developed from listening to the book was an appreciation for the objects I possessed. They weren’t serving their purpose by sitting in the back of my closet. They had the potential to make someone very happy, but instead, they were making me anxious. Just this week, I donated a beautiful pair of brown fur boots. I loved these boots, but I never wore them because I never wear brown. It wasn’t fair to them to leave them in my closet when someone else could be enjoying them.
I started living this way 3 years ago. I lent the audiobook to my now husband, who leapt on the idea. He had a roommate who also kept everything. When we moved in together, we built the beautiful, clutter-free home of our dreams.
The home we have now is much smaller, and it is not a picturesque example of a minimalist lifestyle. Our closets are full, but not overflowing. Our kitchen table is usually crowded with books and papers, although never with items that we are not using often. We refuse to buy more hangers, which helps limit the amount of clothes we collect, but as we transition from an extremely hot climate to an extremely cold one, we do replace and donate clothes often. On average, we donate about a bag of things per month. When we replace the clothes, we try to buy more quality pieces that will last longer.
We don’t spend all of our time at home cleaning, but our home is clean all of time. We are able to concentrate on our work and spend more time with each other.
I’ve never donated something and later regretted it. I am better at not buying things I don’t need. I spend less time worrying about what I’m going to wear, because I love all of my clothes. I feel like I actually have more things now that I don’t have to sift through the things I only sort of like. The overall quality of my life increased when the quantity of things decreased. Now I can worry about what really matters.
Of course, minimalism and the KonMari method are not for everyone. No one is forcing anyone to get rid of their things. This is just what works for me. It’s okay if it doesn’t work for you.