On Minimalism & What It Means to Me

I'm so pleased to offer another guest post on my blog! Today you are hearing from my friend Stephanie, who lives in a pretty small home with her husband Josh and TOO much stuff. They have been on a journey to discover what exactly minimalism means for them. Her post is witty, practical, and a quick read. You'll love it!

"What is this?"

"Oh...that? I'm not sure. Wait, that's from my old apartment." 

"So you haven't used it in five years."

"Right."

"So that goes in the throw away pile, then."

"But..."

"What?"

"I might need it."

The process of decluttering, for my husband and me, starts with tossing out THAT conversation. Decluttering is a mental game, first and foremost, and it continues to surprise me how much of my identity is attached to stuff--and not always stuff I even like.

I've always been a fan of trinkets. Growing up in Franklin, TN, my favorite store was this one shop called Strange and Wonderful Things on Main Street in the bricks-and-columns historic downtown. It was full of international tchotchkes, beaded jewelry, rain sticks and hand-drums, hand-carved mobiles suspended from the ceiling. I would get lost in the color and texture, the whimsy and ethereal sound of chimes, in picking things up and putting them down again.

Forward to twenty years later, and I'm married and living in East Nashville in a 792-square-foot house built in 1957. These quaint little cracker-box houses are mostly getting bulldozed in our neighborhood to make way for condos, but we're hanging on and hoping for the appreciation to keep inching us toward a helpful refinance in the future. In the meantime? My parents moved from 3,000-square-feet in the suburbs to a 900-square-foot condo in the Gulch. They dramatically downsized in many areas of their life, and are nothing shy of thrilled with the resulting lifestyle. 

I couldn't let my folks out-hipster me. It was time to get ideological with my possessions.

Here are some things I'm learning about minimalism:

1. It's not about deprivation. It's about the essentials. I love color. My living room is painted orange. I have multicolor flowered curtains and pink dining chairs. I have a gallery wall and a big bookcase full of books. My shower curtain has a Mexican folk art mermaid on it. I can't do the Spartan, featureless, grey-and-white look. It's just not me--I get depressed if my house doesn't look like a Toulouse-Lautrec painting. The important thing is that I release the white-knuckled attachment to things--particularly things that are not useful or beautiful--that I, and we all, are prone to feel. I like that criteria: useful and beautiful. The first reminds me to keep the extension cords. The second, the cat. Both remind me to throw out old college textbooks. An object is not clutter if it adds value to my life, but an object also doesn't add value to my life simply by existing in my house. I'm steadily learning to recognize the difference.

2. Decluttering is not a fun date idea. This may be obvious to people who are not me and my husband, but the act of decluttering can create tremendous angst and ruin a perfectly happy Saturday. That said, it's important to realize that we're not the psychologically well-adjusted rock stars we think we are. Getting rid of mess is messy. Most of this angst is due to the toll that making so many decisions in such a condensed time frame has on your brain. If we make progress and reach the point that we either need to cry, scream, or deliberately set fire to the house, it's time to set aside the (now smaller) pile and make more progress later. After all, a smaller pile is an accomplishment.

3. Hospitality is so much easier post-minimizing. It's funny, I listen to these audiobooks and read these blogs by decluttering and organizational gurus (so far Joshua Becker, Marie Kondo, The Minimalists, and Andrew Mellen), and they note the dramatic lifestyle change many people take in minimizing. They moved into a tiny house! They only live in such-and-such square feet! I looked around at my sub-800 home and realized that I live in a de-facto tiny house. Okay, I guess it's time to make the things I own fit into it. We love hosting people for dinner or movie nights or backyard campfires. I'm still a long way from the purposeful, everything-sparks-joy environment that I hope we will enjoy in the near future, but hey, people fit into the house when we're not tripping over clutter. I worry less than ever before that the house is a wreck if someone shows up at my door. Yes, please come over. Anytime.

The decluttering course I'm undertaking through Joshua Becker's blog (http://www.becomingminimalist.com) and recent book release encouraged every participant to come up with a "why" for getting rid of possessions. My why was simple yet true to my ideals: I want my home to be peaceful and hospitable and my life to be full of opportunities to travel and learn.

This is pretty much my "why" for most of the good decisions I make in life. A life that is useful and beautiful, or becoming more so every day.